I have had many years of involvement in junior sport as a parent, coach and official and it has taught me a number of lessons that seem to translate across all areas of life.

For example, with every new season, comes the opportunity for the armchair critics to be back on the sidelines, throwing their brickbats. Such people always find something to complain about be it the club’s coaching approach, the state of the facilities, referee standards, lack of fundraising or maybe even the canteen prices.

While this group will whine from the sidelines, others will have their sleeves rolled up in service making a real difference, keeping the club ticking. They will be there week in and week out—sunny and wet days—doing what needs to be done, including setting up the grounds, cleaning the change rooms, manning the gate, cooking the BBQ, running the lines and the list goes on. Not to also forget—putting up with the whingers!

How it plays out in sporting clubs across the country is how it plays out in all aspects of life, including sadly in the church. In fact the older I get the starker the divide seems to be.

Yes, commonly there seems to be two groups of people in almost all gatherings of people, be it the local school P&C, a local church community, in many workplaces as well as larger organisations. There are those who all too often choose to stand on the sidelines and bemoan the change they don’t see—and then there are those who choose to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty in becoming the change they desire. The former can always find reasons to complain, while the latter are getting on with it, building local communities and making the world as a whole a better, more equitable and caring place.

US politician, activist and author Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm, who in 1972 was the first African-American woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination, understood this clear difference. She penned: ‘You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.’

In other words you play your part in making the world a better place by actively and intentionally entering into the brokenness, pain and messiness of humanity and injustice and doing what you can to make a difference as an agent of change; as a beacon of light in a dark world.

In over 30 years of ministry leadership I have come to see that such people are marked by their gratitude attitude; by their thankful hearts, which is at odds with the critical and cynical spirit of those who bemoan from the benches.

Yes, there is a direct correlation between gratitude, advocacy and service.

People who are genuinely thankful to God for His robust and transforming love and who have authentically experienced His grace in their lives tend to be people, who no matter what life throws at them, always prioritise a heart of thankfulness.

Their gratitude attitude flows out in the way they live their lives and their approach to disadvantage, injustice and those in need.

Take Mary for example, one of my BaptistCare community services managers, that I am privileged to work with.

Mary knows personal pain and brokenness in her own life, but she also knows the transforming difference Jesus brings to life. She has taken seriously the call to serve others in his name and every day she rolls up her sleeves at our Mayfield Community Centre and enters into the brokenness and at times hopelessness of others.

Thankful for all she has in her life she can hold strongly and maturely to the tension that goes with her work. And I sense we all need to embrace this tension in the way we live and work as servants of Jesus.

Mary humbly and lovingly stands with some of the most vulnerable in her community. She tackles injustice. She advocates for change and a better deal for people doing it tough. She is often confronted with disappointment but doesn’t give up. She is not satisfied with Government responses to issues like homelessness and refugee support. She at times rightly and respectfully challenges me as her manager.

But Mary does all of this with the right perspective—with a Christ-like gratitude attitude.

She doesn’t whinge or complain, she doesn’t pull others down, she values the organisation she is privileged to work for, she is a great team player.  Mary holds strongly to her faith in Jesus. She expresses his love in the way she serves. She extends hope to others. She lives the change she yearns for in a broken world.

I’m thankful for people like Mary. I’m thankful for her example and her challenge.

It’s easy to retreat to the sidelines, even in ministry service. It’s easy to be vocal about things we don’t like. It’s easy to forget how good we have it compared to most of the world.

Jesus calls us to something different. He calls us to gratitude and contentment. He calls us to thankful grace-centred living. He privileges us with service.

Thankfulness transforms our perspective and our focus, where we embrace what Martin Luther King Jr described as life’s most persistent and urgent question: ‘What we are we doing for others?’