Gratitude the focus of Pre-Lenten gatherings

The Rev. Dr. Kent Millard speaking at the Pre-Lenten Gathering Jan. 29, 2016. See more photos in the album at right.

January 31, 2016

"Leading with an Attitude of Gratitude” was the theme for Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar’s annual Pre-Lenten Gatherings for clergy. The gatherings were Jan. 29 and 30, 2016.

This year’s guest, the Rev. Dr. Kent Millard, told the 150 clergy who attended the two sessions that Lent is an appropriate time to “refocus our attention on gratitude, on simply leading our congregations to look at life with an attitude of gratitude.”

“I know we generally don’t look at life that way,” Dr. Millard said. “We talk about the lacks; complain about the things we don’t have … I think the challenge is to always be remembering – and reminding people of – the blessings that God has given us. It changes the conversation.”

And at this time when conversations in our churches and in our nation are so negative, Dr. Millard said, finding ways to count our blessings will help combat that negativity.

“We have to be the ones who change the conversation,” he told clergy.

How we make decisions in the local church can influence the tenor of our conversations, too, Dr. Millard said. He talked about a method for making decisions – or to use in any process of discernment – that he discovered during a spiritual retreat.

It was a process he used when the congregation of St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis was equally divided over whether to build a larger church on its current site or build on a new site. While this church was debating where to place a new 1,600-seat sanctuary, the process will work in any size church, he said, and it involves remembering three things:
  1. Don’t be afraid – As human beings, fear is our response to change, he said. So the members agreed to never start a sentence with “I’m afraid that …” but instead would “start with ‘we’re trusting God to lead us.’”  
  2. Listen – Listen to each other and listen to God. He paired off members who were on opposite sides of the relocation issue and asked them to “listen to the other person until you can articulate their position to their satisfaction.” The point was not to change anyone’s mind, he said, but to gain a fuller understanding of each other.
  3. Finally, Look for a sign – In this case, Dr. Millard said, the sign was unanimous agreement that the church needed to hire an architect to determine whether there was enough space on the current land for the church they needed or not. Unanimous agreement was a “pretty good sign” that they were hearing God, he said.
During Lent, Dr. Millard said, we should all think about how we can surrender ourselves to God, surrender that sense of wanting to be in control, and replace it with gratitude.

“When we let go, when we say, ‘God it’s in your hands, we’ll follow your way,’ things miraculously work out,” he said.
He told the story of his father who, when he finally confronted his alcoholism with the help of AA and an encounter with God, began taking the family to church.

Dr. Millard, who was 10 at the time, had never been to church; he asked his father why they were going. His father told him, “To give thanks to God.”
“I said, oh, that’s why people go to church. To give thanks to God for what they already have,” he said. “I learned later in seminary that’s pretty good theology.”

 “All of us need to find ways of continually expressing our thanks to God, and leading our congregations to thank God,” he said.

About Dr. Millard

Dr. Millard retired in 2011 as senior pastor of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, one of the 10 largest United Methodist churches in the country with a congregation at that time of 6,000. Rev. Millard, a native of South Dakota, had served churches there before coming to Indianapolis in 1993.

In January 2016, he was named interim president of United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

He is the author of several books including: The Passion-Driven CongregationThe Gratitude Path: Leading Your Church to Generosity, which is on Bishop Devadhar’s 2015-16 reading list for the Conference, and Lead Like Butler: Six Principles for Values-Based Leaders, which he co-wrote with Judith Cebula.