The following post was written by Zac Workun. Zac serves as the Student Ministry Training Specialist for LifeWay and is one of the co-founders of Youth Ministry Booster, Lifeway Students’ collaboration and training network. He has served the local church in various youth ministry roles for over 15 years.
Every day is a gift, although sometimes I wish more had more recipients.
As a youth pastor, you understand the importance of imparting lasting spiritual practices for student ministry. It’s the thing that we actually want most for our students, but one of the hardest works of youth ministry is making the time to help students form those healthy spiritual habits.
The best hope for a faith that will carry our students beyond our 3-6 year time with them is to equip them with tools that they can carry. The most impactful and under-practiced spiritual habit is gratitude.
Some faithful practices form around developing better daily habits. We know it’s true; this is why we push so hard for quiet times or morning devotions during camps and retreats. We want to model, even a week at a time, that starting every day in the Word is vital to living in the world. As my early-rising grandfather likes to say, “Your day is usually determined in the morning.”
Gratitude is the work of disciplining our perspectives and attitudes. It is a daily work that begins in the reminder of what God has done and is doing. It is an anchoring of our souls in thanksgiving and praise. As Paul writes, it is a state of being: “be thankful (Col. 3:15).” Paul invites us to, exist in this world in a way that from inside out you radiate and overflow with thanksgiving (2 Cor. 4:13-15).
A Simple Guide to Practicing Daily Gratitude
One of the first lessons of practicing gratitude is silencing our thoughts and words enough to notice the world around us and the work of God in it. This is an active listening for what God is speaking through Word, world, and the truth that your family, friends, classmates, or neighbors might share. It is a simple thing, but an important shift to pause in our busyness and to gather perspective on what God is doing.
The best way to help formalize the act of noticing God’s work in your life and world is by noting it.
You can use whatever tool you prefer (analog journal or digital app) both work can work well! But the practice of gratitude can only become internalized if we get it outside of our fleeting thoughts and busy brains and commit to writing them down. It turns the wishful into fulfilling!
This daily, repeatable action of noticing and noting where God is working and what we have perhaps missed or taken for granted shapes our attitude to be more aware, present, thankful, and kind.
One of the most important aspects of gratitude as a spiritual practice is specifying our thankfulness to other people. It is true work of thanksgiving to those who have blessed us, challenged us, encouraged us, served us, and simply been present with us. We are often good at acknowledging, but rarely do we specify to them how very much their work has meant to us.
The move from simply saying “thank you” when it is polite to saying it specifically is powerful.
A simple, “thanks everybody” to your volunteers carries less weight than, “Thank you _________, your compassion during small groups when the kids were stressing me out was a blessing. Naming into your thankfulness into a specific gives a weight, marks a moment, and helps others to see the real care you put into your thankfulness.
It is easy in our fast-moving world to skip over important, relationship-building work. We need to lead at high levels, but we pause to nurture the relationships that make leadership enduring.
The big move to enable gratitude to grow in our lives happens when we nurture it beyond ourselves and into our relationships. If the attitude shift of noticing and the act of noting are the roots, then this is the work of gratitude blossoming, growing into our everyday relationships.
There is a healthy and hopeful fullness for youth ministry leaders who can pause long enough to listen and breathe in all that God is doing, and then breathe out the words of specific kindness and care.