Millard, Kent. The Gratitude Path: Leading Your Church to Generosity. Abingdon, 2015 (75 pages)
by Rosanna Anderson
Meet your Gratitude Coach, the Rev. Dr. Kent Millard. He serves in that capacity for thousands of congregations in the Midwest.
“The Gratitude Path,” Millard explains, “is the path in life that Jesus followed and the path he invites us to travel with him” (x). This biblical approach has led to spiritual growth for individuals and families in the churches he has served. “We discovered that when we followed the Gratitude Path of thanking God for all our blessings, we arrived at the garden of abundance and there was always more than enough to support God’s work through our congregation” (xiv). Millard’s caveat is that the Gratitude Path should be part of a congregation’s balanced practice of ministry, where members give and receive loving pastoral care, as well as reach out in mission to the world. He believes that this process of faith formation can transform your stewardship from a once a year event to a year round practical philosophy of generous giving.
Celebrating a Gratitude Campaign is Millard’s recommendation for every congregation. All five sessions of the study lead to the culminating chapter on how to implement a Gratitude Campaign in your context. As people meet in small groups and Sunday school classes to talk about each chapter, the Lord will help them to become more aware of his work in their lives through small and great acts. Your church may even become ready for a Miracle Sunday of giving for a special purpose (p. 49). This five-week study would be great for Lent, or at the start of the New Year, or in the fall kick-off season.
Millard is confident that a Gratitude Campaign will “not only generate generous giving but it will also lift the spirits of people and change the cultural mood from fear to faith, hate to hope, and pessimism to peace” (p. 16). Pastors and church members have been delighted to find a new sense of God’s providence and grace as their eyes are opened to God’s goodness. Millard sums up the experience of walking the Gratitude Path: “we discover that God still works miracles in our world and gives us even more reasons to give thanks to God and sing God’s praises” (p. 50). May people of all ages experience this renewal of gratitude through their community of faith.
With a pastor’s heart, Millard reflects on ways that key Bible passages relate to us today. Often it is in the midst of difficulties that the Lord strengthens our faith and gives us a new appreciation for God’s presence in our life. Millard commends a rich array of uplifting music on gratitude in traditional hymns, African-American spirituals, contemporary praise songs, and camp songs that share the joy of the Lord. He highlights ideas on giving and gratitude from the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart (p. 13) to the Rev. Grace Huck (p. 23), one of the first Methodist woman elders in America to be received into full connection (also citing Norman Cousins, Albert Einstein, and Larry Dossey along the way).
The greatest influence on this book, beyond the teachings of Jesus and Paul, is the work of Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California Davis. Emmons specializes in the academic study of gratitude. His studies have shown the positive personal effects of keeping a gratitude journal, in which people regularly write down what they are thankful for over a period of time (p. 31-32). Millard describes how he and his colleagues have utilized gratitude journals in a congregational setting.
Millard weaves his gift of storytelling into each chapter as he sheds light on his theme. He includes stories from his personal faith journey as well as inspiring examples from his various ministries. Although Millard had been reluctant to begin tithing as a seminary student, God surprised him and his wife with a generous gift from a farmer who tithed (p. 24-25). Later, Millard’s fifth-grade son Kendall was sad and challenged when they had to move to a new place. During a time of loss and change, their family received an especially warm welcome from the church in their new place. Kendall felt so grateful that he gave half of the contents of his piggy bank as an offering to God. As Millard writes, “Our son realized that he had been given some unexpected generous gifts from God and he wanted to express his gratitude to God by giving some of his money to God, ‘just to say thanks’” (p. 3). As even our youngest members show, gratitude for the Lord inspires this kind of joyful response in our hearts and lives.
Dr. Millard’s ministry spans from his seminary days at Boston University when he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, through pastoring churches of all sizes, and serving as a District Superintendent, to his distinguished tenure as senior pastor of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. He distilled his wisdom into this five-week study to equip and encourage leaders in local churches.
The Rev. Rosanna Anderson is the Associate Director of Stewardship at Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Church.