5 Simple Ways To Have a Missional Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving isn’t about Pilgrims with Funny Hats and Big Belt Buckles

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:4-7

Thanksgiving brings to mind many things. Me? I think of:

  • Dudes with weird hats and belt buckles having a huge dinner with Native Americans
  • Even though I’ve never seen one in person, or have any idea of what it represents, I think of the cornucopia
  • Turkey
  • Football
  • Stomach aches
  • Family, which also causes stomach aches

Notice that most of these things revolve around a major theme.  Me.  They are all about what I get out of Thanksgiving. To me, Thanksgiving is a date on a calendar, not a state of being, as we are called to in the Scriptures.

When most of us think of Thanksgiving or the term thanksgiving, we usually think of what we say, or what we think.  Rarely, do we think of a life lived that is a giving of thanks.

Imagine if you give a gift to your son or daughter and they say “Thank you” but don’t show that they are thankful by their actions.  Instead, they take the gift, don’t utilize it and eventually waste it.  How thankful would you honestly think they were?

A new identity

Many of us have done just that with what we’ve been given by God.  God has given us a new identity found in Jesus.  He no longer sees us as enemies, but instead sees us as sons and daughters with full rights to his throne.  Seriously. This is why thanksgiving has always been a mark of the followers of God.  No matter what has been given to them, or what has been taken away from them, they know they are mere sojourners and have rights to an eternal Kingdom.

If anyone does a better job at living a life full of thanksgiving, it should cause us alarm.

[pullquote position=”right”]Thanksgiving isn’t about Pilgrims with funny hats & big belt buckles. It’s about mission. @sdmcbee [/pullquote]


With the day Thanksgiving coming upon us, let’s take a look at how we can utilize this day, this American holiday to point to the one who gives us ultimate thanksgiving in both our hearts and actions.

Some of these ideas will give insight right away to who people are. Others are a great way to engage others so that you can build relationships with them.   Jesus was about relationships and he loved and served others, not for what he could get out of them, but because they were his Dad’s kids and they were made in His image.

Here are some simple ways to do so:

1. Spend Some Time Writing Down and Sharing What You Are Thankful For

This is a great way to see how God has shown you grace throughout the year.  Don’t get fooled into thinking this is only a time to write down all the good things that have happened to you, but also think of all the times things didn’t go as planned but God brought you through it and showed you why his plan was better.

Do this as a family, as a Missional Community and then don’t stop there…share it with others.  Here’s what you’ll notice.  Most people are thankful for the shadows, not the substance. They are thankful for what God has given them, not thankful for God himself. By doing this and sharing it with others, you’ll have a great chance to get to know the stories of others in your neighborhood, in your Missional Community and even in your own family.

[pullquote position=”right”]Putting words to your thankfulness will help you understand where you put your trust and what you deem to be your “savior” in life.[/pullquote]  Knowing not only where you put your trust, but also hearing where other’s put their trust, will give you a chance to speak the good news into the lives of others in your community, and know how you can serve them best.

This is a great way to spend time during a meal with others during this season that is so surrounded by food.

2. Turkey Bowl (of Course)

This is one of the easiest things to participate in or start.  But please, don’t start a Turkey Bowl that is played at your church building…please.  I’d rather play on a dirt field with nails than invite someone to a Turkey Bowl at someone’s church building.

Go out and be where the people are.  Invite outsiders to come with you.  Join someone else’s Turkey Bowl.  Who cares if you don’t like football or have two left feet, a Turkey Bowl isn’t about playing a good game of football.  Turkey Bowl is about hanging out, getting dirty and having stories to tell after dinner when your full belly is hanging out like you’re at a NASCAR race.

Have your Missional Community serve hot chocolate and other refreshments….make it an event, not just a Turkey Bowl.  Make it something that people will talk about and truly enjoy and want to do again. A Turkey Bowl immediately gives you a shared story with others, which is far stronger than merely a story to tell others.

3. Inclusive Dinner

One year a neighbor was home by himself with the kids while his wife was out of town on Thanksgiving. We invited him over to have Thanksgiving dinner with us. At first he balked, until he saw how serious we were. He knew our sincerity and decided to join us with his kids.  Now, you could tell that some of our family was a little perturbed about him joining us, even if they were all smiles when we told them.

[pullquote position=”right”]God created meals as a way to show off who he is.[/pullquote] He is dependable and never fades. Our hunger reminds us how much we need God to provide for us and how fleeting food actually is. Jesus even told us to remember him through a meal. If this is true, then our Thanksgiving table should be a time that is a shadow of what God’s dinner table will be like in heaven. Don’t close this off to just your family.

Pray today that God would give you opportunities to share this meal with others that have yet to see your Dad as the provider of all things that will never fade.  If you pray that God would give you someone, or a family, to have over for Thanksgiving, I guarantee you he will start pushing people your way to sit down and eat with you.

4. Party Time

I wrote this in my Halloween post, Jesus partied a lot.  When we look at the life of Jesus and our God, we see that they always pursued the sinner and the world.  They love us right where we were and engage us in the ways that help us understand who God is and what He has done.

Jesus used everyday celebrations as a way to build relationships so he could speak into the lives of those around him. He was continually at parties.  So much so, that when Matthew was called to follow Jesus, it seemed normal to Matthew to invite Jesus and all the apostles back to his house to party with all his “sinner” friends. (Matthew 9:9,10; Mark 2:14-17)

Cooking all that food is definitely a headache.  Turn some of the cooking to a time of having fun and celebrating.  This year we are going to have a time with our Missional Community and others where we are going to bake pies together.

Now, I’m not sure how much the dudes will help in this, but there will either be a football game on or a UFC fight to watch.  Not only will we bake pies, but then we’ll take them to our neighbors to bless them during this holiday season.

There are tons of ways to incorporate parties during Thanksgiving.  Have a recipe swap night with wine and beer (or grape juice and root beer) or have a dessert party where everyone brings their favorite dessert to share.

Think of practical and easy ways to party this Thanksgiving where people will share stories.  When you swap recipes, or share favorite dishes, it automatically builds an environment for story telling at the party.   People are proud of their recipes, or they have some sort of sentimental meaning to them.  And they usually love to tell others about their memories of the dish.

This gives us great insight to who people are and what makes them who they are.  This builds friendships and relationships and helps us stop seeing people as projects and turns them into who they truly are: image bearers of our Dad.

5. Help People Who Need Help

Many families don’t enjoy the holidays because it’s not a reminder of who God is, but a reminder of their failures in their life.   They truly need help.

Instead of just picking up a list at the grocery store and buying what’s on the list to give to a family in need, think longer term.  Call the food bank, or the places that are taking donations and ask them what they need.  They might need another bag of food, but they might need you to help pack the food that is distributed.

We’ve called local organizations and it’s funny what they actually need.  One year, the food bank told us they didn’t need anything at all because they already had way too much food and way too many people helping.  This freed us up to go and help out the local woman’s shelter in our town instead.  They really needed our help.

[pullquote position=”left”]This Thanksgiving think partnership, not merely benevolence.[/pullquote]

If you have kids, make sure they are part of this process.  Our kids always help out in these ways so that they see, not only with their eyes, but with their hands how blessed they are and how much of a blessing they can be to others.  Children aren’t merely future missionaries, they are present missionaries and they need to understand in their head, heart and hands what it looks like to serve because they have been served.

Wrapping Up

These five things will help you and others understand what Thanksgiving looks like.  Doing the things on this list will lead you away from a me understanding and into a we understanding.  How can I not just say thank you to God but learn to walk out that thankfulness in the everyday.  The principles above can start to be walked out in many ways that don’t have to happen just at Thanksgiving.

You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

2Corinthians 9:11