How TEN Creative Congregations Are Growing In 2020 

How TEN Creative Congregations Are Growing In 2020 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

COVID19 may be a serious problem, but the real damage is the affect it has had on congregations who are tempted to just throw in the towel. These congregations are just hoping that next year will be a better one. It’s this mindset that makes some feel like God has somehow lost control over this year— is God smaller or weaker than the virus? Absolutely not. 

Here are TEN creative congregations that have decided to adapt and overcome some of the challenges of 2020— and they’re working! Who’s to say it won’t work for your church family? 

  1. The Hebron church of Christ in Grant, Alabama, despite a smaller building, bought new microphone equipment so that they are able to have drive-in services and members are able to listen through their car radios. An un-intimidating way for visitors to be able to drive up and hear the gospel preached from the comfort of their own vehicles. Many other churches are also doing this, bringing people from the community to hear the gospel preached.
  2. The Chase Park church in Huntsville, Alabama, has implemented the local police force to help people exit in and out of the building in an orderly fashion. This has developed a great relationship with the police officers who have shown interest in the church after meeting some of the loving members. 
  3. The Farley church in South Huntsville, Alabama, had a food drive for those in the community who have fallen on hard times. Gloves and masks were worn to load the groceries up in people’s cars. Some church pamphlets were given, emails and phone numbers were written down, along with any prayer requests they might have. It has resulted in several local contacts. 
  4. Many of the Lehman Avenue church members in Bowling Green, Kentucky, led by the elders, have been driving around every Sunday afternoon to visit shut-ins. They deliver bread, sing, and pray with them. It has made a great impact on the morale within the body there. 
  5. The Wisconsin Avenue church in Huron, South Dakota, have come up with a creative way to reach out to the community by building what they call a “Blessing Box” in front of the building. In this box the locals have access food and Bible study material. 
  6. The preacher of the LaFollete church, Ben Shafer, in Tennessee, has been producing daily devotional videos to help the members stay connected and in the Word. This is also being done by Bud Woodall, the preacher for the Northeast congregation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Andy Miller, a minister for the Southern Hills church in Franklin, Tennessee, and in countless other congregations.
  7. The hispanic minister, Chase Turner, at the Jackson Street church in Monroe, Louisiana, has discovered that posting videos/messages in Facebook groups that locals are a part of is a great way to get people interested in spiritual conversations. It has proven to be very effective! 
  8. Colt Mahana, who ministers at the Dahlonega church in Georgia, has started a daily college Bible study over Zoom. This daily study has made the college group there more engaged than they were before the pandemic. 
  9. Dr. Bob Turner had this to say about a church in Mannford Oklahoma: “I visited with several elders from numerous congregations over the last few months…I wanted to share what an eldership in Mannford, Oklahoma, has done over this period of time. While they do their classes over Facebook live, they have done additional things to help the congregation. First, they spend their Wednesday night time for prayer. Instead of teaching a class, they invited people from the community to submit prayer requests and they spend Wednesday evening praying for all the requests they receive. Second, they make special use of each holiday. For example, at Easter, since they could not host an Easter Egg hunt at the park with a potluck, the elders and wives stuffed eggs and the elders went to every home with children in the congregation and hide eggs for all the kids to have their own hunt at home. For Mother’s Day, they made a customized card and personally wrote a note and signed each card for every mother in the congregation. These are a few of the areas they have been creative to do and help members know they are cared for, thought about, and prayed over during this time. They have also emphasized that when they get back together, they want to do it right in order to make a good impression on anyone that might visit. They have constantly communicated with everyone in the congregation each week to make sure they have opportunity to share anything they might be dealing with.”
  10. Chuck Ramseur is working with a congregation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This church family set up the Marco Polo app and encouraged everyone to share anything and everything going on during the day in their lives. It has helped them stay connected daily. Another area they took up working on is helping with the Crisis Pregnancy Center (alternative for woman thinking about abortion).This ministry has been one of the best outreach programs for the church. They’ve also planned services in the park on Sundays when they could not meet in the building, but could meet with social distancing in an open area.

So, there’s the proof! God is bigger than COVID19.

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What Is The Church To Be?

What Is The Church To Be?

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Conceived of in God’s mind in the eternity before time (Eph. 3:9-11), purchased by Jesus’ blood (Acts 20:28), spoken of as the body (Eph. 1:22-23) and bride (Rev. 19:7) of Christ, and described as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16), the church is valued and treasured by Him. As members of that church, we might develop a distorted picture of what the church should look, feel, think, and act like in our ever-changing world. What is the church to be?
A Museum? Is the church meant to be a relic of the past, a historical marker where the past is revisited, revered, and enshrined? No doubt, we stand on the shoulder of great workers and warriors of the past, but we are not meant to devote our focus to days gone by. It is but a slight renovation to go from museum to mausoleum.  Our best days should be ahead!

A Marketplace? Some see the church as a direct reflection of the culture. Stands on moral, social, and doctrinal issues are dictated by the views of the moment. “Change” is the key word, and selling the gospel becomes the preeminent goal (John 2:16; 2 Pet. 2:3). A church built foremost on society rests upon sand (Mat. 7:26-27). 

A Monastery? The church–though a haven from the craziness of the world–can become insulated and isolated. It is great to let our closest friendships and relationships to be fellow Christians, but we can become so secluded and shut off that we become a cloister that ceases to be soul-winners. Our worship services and Bible classes can be so full of insider language that the unchurched have no idea what we say much less what we mean. 

A Movement? Sometimes, we speak of the Restoration Movement whose leaders were trying to get people back to the Bible for “rule” and “practice.” But the New Testament church did not begin on the American Frontier during the Great Awakening or even shortly before it. It is not to be a political, national, or even social movement. To think of it on those terms is to degrade and devalue it. 

It is to be a model, safe to follow and imitate by others because she follows Christ (Mat. 5:13-16; 1 Cor. 11:1). It is to be a militant group, whose weapons build and save and defeat the devil (2 Cor. 10:3-5; Eph. 6:10-17). It is to be a mission, on a mission for the Master (Mat. 28:18-20; Eph. 4:11-16). It is to be a medicine dispensary, offering salve and healing from the Great Physician (Luke 5:31-32). It should reflect the Master in thought, in tone, in teaching, and target! May we all think more critically about what we think about the church!

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 The People Project  

 The People Project  

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

This post is for the lady across the street. She works at the gas station. This post is for Charles. That’s the guy we always call when the office printer breaks down or a leaky roof needs repaired. This article is for my family. My family means the world to me and if my life can help ensure an eternal future together (and I mean every one of them) then I have accomplished something truly great. This post is for my wife. My wife will be in heaven with me— she must be! The truth is, this post is for the faithful child of God, the disgruntled member in the pew, the discouraged elder, and frustrated preacher— this post is for people. It’s for the new child of God that is still dripping wet from the waters of baptism, to the battle-hardened Christian with years of faithful service. God drew a line in the sand long ago after humans fell from grace and separated ourselves from Him. On one side of that line you have the lost. Their sheer abundance in our communities and the world has caused many congregations to become numb to their horrific eternal state. Still, on the other side of that line you have the faithful. No, not the uncommitted pew-warmers, but the faithful. Sadly there are those inside the church that are on the wrong side of the Divine line. Often they blend in with the faithful because they look and act like the faithful do. This is nothing new, but elderships still scratch their heads over stunted growth and disappearing members. Preachers lose their voices as they pound evangelism and outreach from the pulpit. The reservoirs are being depleted by years of drought. 

You’ll hear a lot of this kind of talk in some men’s meetings as the guys will sit around the table. After drinking coffee and filling their bellies with biscuits and gravy, it’s common for them to kick back and discuss what’s going on in the church. Obviously there are some big issues! So, who’s to blame? In an attempt to unmask the villain, one middle aged man exclaims, “if the leaders would _______”. A couple of his friends, who have clearly visited this topic a few times, nod their heads in approval. Another gentleman, with a white mustache, grunts as he repositions himself in his tin folding chair. Talk like this is uncomfortable, and it’s exhausting for many of them. The head hog at the trough clears his throat to let the others know he’s about to offer his respected opinion. He squints his eyes, leans back, then makes this statement. “It’s really society, you know. People just don’t go to church like they did when I was growing up!” Following this declaration, most of them will give their affirming “Mmm”’s and “exactly rights.” It’s at this point the tragic generational blame game begins. The wheels spin for a while, then everyone gets up and goes back to their homes to enjoy the rest of their Saturday. Tomorrow morning they dress up in their suits and ties and drive to worship. At worship they sit in the same spot, as the service carries on in it’s usual order. 

In a world full of people intent on destroying and demonizing one another, the church needs to be the church— now more than ever. Our communities, friends, family, and nation need us to be the church. That starts with you and me. Paul said, “Encourage and build one another up…” in 1 Thessalonians 5:11. We can’t do this enough, and we can’t overstate it’s importance. Who have you encouraged and built up this week? How will you do it today? The church is God’s way of improving people, and  the church is God’s perfect project— for people. 

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Defeating The Adversity of Loneliness In The Communication Age

Defeating The Adversity of Loneliness In The Communication Age

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

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Brent Pollard

Human connections are necessary. Though stated in the context of needing a mate comparable unto himself, God nevertheless said of man it wasn’t good for him to be alone (Genesis 2.18). Thus, God provided Adam with Eve. Elsewhere, the wise man of God reminds us of the advantages of having companions:

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. (Ecclesiastes 4.9-12 NASB)

Hence, even if being around many people wearies our soul, we admit it’s a blessing to have those precious few upon whom we can depend to be there for us when we emerge from our solitude.
Jesus had His close companions. We don’t doubt He loved all those men He chose to be His apostles, but He singled out Peter, James, and John to be His “inner circle.” They were His confidants. It was to these three alone He shared His true glory (Matthew 17.1ff). Peter, James, and John also went further into the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus as He prayed (Mark 14.32-35). In addition, John refers to himself throughout the Gospel he was inspired to pen as “the disciple whom the Lord loved” (John 21.20). This same passage also shows us that John leaned against the Lord during the last Passover (Can you imagine?).

God never intended us to face life alone. As mentioned previously, God provided the foundation for the family in the very beginning. The family has often been called the “bedrock of society.” Aristotle wrote in Politics that humans organized themselves first in families that birthed villages which, in turn, gave rise to the polis (i.e. city-state).  As we live in a world into which sin was welcomed, we understand people bound to us, even by ties of blood, may betray or abandon us. We see, then, the wisdom of God in giving to us the church.
It’s a sad paradox in a world of virtual, perpetual interconnectedness people feel lonelier than ever. The HRSA reveals that loneliness and social isolation is as bad for one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! 1 Just type in the words “loneliness epidemic” in a search engine and see what pops up. This isn’t a problem just for our seasoned citizens either. 2 There’s no excuse for the child of God to be lonely, however. Christ instituted the church to be God’s Household on earth (Ephesians 2.19). If we assemble as we ought, we will be stirred to love and the performance of good works (Hebrews 10.24-25). Furthermore, we encourage and build up one another in the church (1 Thessalonians 5.11; Ephesians 4.15-16).
Yes, we’re currently facing a global epidemic not physical in nature. It’s a disease of the heart perpetuated by loneliness, which focuses one’s attention inward on troubles and wants. God didn’t create you to be alone. Dismiss the foolish notion that the church is for the weak and embrace the strength it supplies the lonely heart. You’ll never find an app that can do for you what the church can.

References

1 “The ‘Loneliness Epidemic.’” Health Resources & Services Administration, HRSA.gov, 10 Jan. 2019, www.hrsa.gov/enews/past-issues/2019/january-17/loneliness-epidemic.

 

2 Howe, Neil. “Millennials And The Loneliness Epidemic.” Forbes, Forbes Media LLC, 3 May 2019, 13:21, www.forbes.com/sites/neilhowe/2019/05/03/millennials-and-the-loneliness-epidemic/#77096a8f7676.

 

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A Swinging Beaver Church 

A Swinging Beaver Church 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale, with his wife Janelle

Dale Pollard

For a small child, having an open space park just outside your neighborhood was a dream come true. My younger brother and I would spend entire summers exploring, building forts, and fishing in that beautiful place. One day, as we were playing in the creek, we found a beaver laying in the middle of the water— it wasn’t moving. Without getting too graphic, we made several plans for this new prize find. We could make a hat out of the skin, or perhaps stuff it and put it in our room. The only problem was, mom would never allow us to drag this fifty pound beaver into the house. Besides this, the house was almost a mile away. In order to preserve our trophy we decided that the safest option would be to string the beaver up by the tail and hoist it up over the branch of a near by tree. That branch sagged under the weight of the beast while water dripped from it’s wet coat and onto the bike trail directly below. Without thinking about the terrible location we had chosen, Carl and I gave a high-five and began the long walk back to the house. We were beaming with pride and excitement because this was our little secret. A few weeks later, we returned to the spot and were outraged to find that someone had cut our swinging beaver down! Looking back, we still laugh as we think about the many bikers and joggers that ran down that path only to be surprised and confused by this animal carcass hanging over the path.

The church is a wonderful place to be, especially when you find yourself a member of a healthy congregation. When the church is functioning in accordance with scripture, the impact She can make is endless. One aspect of keeping God’s family healthy on the inside is keeping sin on the outside. Sadly, there are some congregations that have blatantly accepted the sinful lifestyles of individuals. It’s as if there were dead beavers hanging in their midst, but instead of cutting it down they choose to turn a blind eye. The longer it stays, the stinkier it becomes. This is a gruesome, but appropriate description of sin. Paul spends two letters rebuking the church at Corinth because they had allowed several horrific sins to divide and erode the Body there. They didn’t sever the hanging carcass, and as a result the stench of sin provoked Paul to write some of the harshest words to be penned in the New Testament.

Paul will give them five commands in chapter sixteen that we would do well to apply to our own lives as well. He says, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all you do be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:13-14). With these two short verses you can backpedal through the letter and see how these five imperatives would have saved them from not only a harsh rebuke, but many heartaches that were also consequences of their sins. They were stricken with disease and death in both the physical and spiritual sense. The apostle commands them, through inspiration, to be aware of their surroundings. Be alert. He reminds them to firmly stand on the truth of the gospel. He bluntly tells them to act like men, because they were acting like children. Then he tells them to be strong, but in a different sense. This strength is that inner strength that it takes to conquer temptation and carry on righteously in the midst of evil. These four commands are then to be carried out with love. A sacrificial love for one another means having the willingness to confront sin problems that are damaging the Bride of Christ. Not out of anger, but out love for His church and for the soul of the guilty member. This is the recipe for a healthy congregation through every age. It worked in Corinth, and it works today.

If there’s a beaver hanging in your congregation, the best thing to do is to cut it down! 

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God’s “House-Law”

God’s “House-Law”

Wednesday’s Column: “Third’s Words”

Gary Pollard

Every home has some kind of system in place to keep order. Maybe you were told to take your shoes off at the door, keep your elbows off the table, make your bed in the morning, or brush your teeth more than twice a month. Every home is different and the expectations for conduct and cleanliness vary accordingly. However your home was structured, you were at least bound to a set of rules in some form.

God’s house is no different. I’m not just talking about the building we meet in for worship, but that anytime His family offers up worship to Him we are expected to follow His rules. I Timothy 1.4 talks about God’s “house-law” (often mistranslated “stewardship” or “godly edification”). The word is οικονομία (oikonomia), combining οίκος (house) with νόμος (law). What does this mean in context? In I Timothy Paul publicly berates two members who were teaching “myths and endless genealogies which do not promote the house law of God in faith” (1.3, 4; 20).

If any teaching goes against what God has told us He wants, it’s a violation of His house-law. We understand this when it comes to daily life outside of religious activities. If we break the law we are held accountable to it. We understand that violating the laws our governments put in place to maintain order and promote justice carries consequences. Some, though, do not act as if the same applies to God’s people in a religious context.

God’s house-law is more specifically defined in I Timothy 2.1-8. Anytime and anywhere Christian men and women offer worship together, God expects qualified Christian men to lead. This is made clear with the phrase, “…in every place” (2.8). God’s house, God’s rules.

Not just any man can lead, though! He must be someone who is able to lift holy hands (that is, he is pure in life and can offer worship without the stain of sin), he must be cool-headed, and he can’t be unstable in his faith (2.8). God’s house, God’s rules.

God expects women to avoid drawing undue attention to themselves (2.9, 10) and are to allow godly men to lead them in worship (2.11-14). His house, his rules.

In all of my vast wisdom and experience as a child, I didn’t always agree with or like all of my family’s house rules. Probably every teen and their unfortunate parents experience this. My feelings about a house rule did not alter its validity in any way. It was not my house so I was not in a position to change or violate the rules. Trying to do so was not only futile but often carried consequences.

God’s design for His church is not acceptable to the secular world. In their disagreement or downright hostility toward it they have pushed many churches into changing God’s house-laws. This doesn’t fly in the legal world, the home, or in any setting where rules were set in place by those most qualified to make them. Why would it work with God?

We may not always understand why God made the laws that He did, but this is where the faith aspect of 1 Timothy 1.4 comes into play. We have to ask ourselves, “Do we trust that God knew what He was doing when He made these laws, and do I really want to challenge Him on the rules He made for His own family?” At the end of the day we must remember that in God’s house we follow God’s laws. Many of the problems facing the church in 2020 can be solved simply by accepting this fact! If we do – as in any family – we will not only have harmony in the church, but a permanent, peaceful home with God after this life.

Job 38.4-7

Dark Churches

Dark Churches

Neal Pollard

I was intrigued by an article written by Janet Thompson of crosswalk.com. The eye-catching title asked, “Why Is The Church Going Dark?” She meant this literally. Her complaint was about the design of many auditoriums having dim lighting and being windowless, almost like a movie theatre or concert venue. She wondered if this was to reach a younger generation or to set a certain mood. 

While I prefer a well-lit room, there is a more significant concern. Jesus taught, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:14-16). His words have nothing to do with church building designs, LED lighting, or window sizes. Preaching to His disciples, Jesus wants us to know that those reflecting His light cannot be hidden, but shine in such a way that others will see our good works and glorify God. 

  • Dark churches are situated in neighborhoods that know nothing about them.
  • Dark churches are so indistinct that the world can see no difference between themselves and those churches. 
  • Dark churches have no vision or plan to fulfill God’s purpose for them.
  • Dark churches exist to assemble, but not much more.
  • Dark churches focus inwardly, but neither outwardly nor upwardly. 
  • Dark churches operate from fear and prefer the safe route, taking no risks and attempting only what they can produce.
  • Dark churches are disconnected from the Light of the world.

It is good for us to constantly challenge ourselves, when setting budgets, making plans, gauging our true priorities, or evaluating the leadership or the pulpit. Are we doing what will help us be “Light-Bearers” or what will cause us to be “Dark Churches”? What an important question! Our actions determine the answer. 

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A Strong Sense Of Family

A Strong Sense Of Family

Neal Pollard

Trevor Matich was being interviewed on ESPN radio, asked about why he thought that Clemson had built such a strong football program in the last few years. His quick response was, “They have built a strong sense of family.” He talked about how Head Coach Dabo Sweeney and his staff wanted players to see their coaches not just as coaches but also as husbands and fathers. Consequently, the coaches’ families spend a lot of time around the athletic facilities or hanging out with the players. They have intentionally built a strong family environment that doesn’t compartmentalize but rather coalesces. Recruits talk about sensing it when they make a visit, but, more importantly, players on the roster speak just as strongly about it. 

How many teams make such an emphasis isn’t clear, but you don’t seem to hear that said often enough. While I find such human interest stories heartwarming, it makes me wonder, “Do people describe our congregation with similar terminology?” Are we creating, developing, and nurturing a strong sense of family?

The early church definitely majored in that priority. From the time the first church of our Savior was established, we find this emphasis (Acts 2:42-47). Often, New Testament writers spoke of the church with family terminology (Eph. 2:19; 3:15; 1 Tim. 3:15; 5:1-2; Ti. 2:1-8; etc.). The church exists as a sub-community within the broader community around them. People from that broader community are looking for greater intimacy and meaningful relationships. One place they often turn is to various churches. Whether through our efforts to evangelize or through their seeking that brings them within our walls, we have an opportunity to expose them to a “strong sense of family.” 

But, by being faithful to New Testament teaching, we offer this in the context of truth rather than error. We cannot settle for simply offering truth, as eternally vital as that is. Along with it, we must love, embrace, and work to incorporate them into our family. God has His church designed to follow His written will in the context of a tight-knit, spiritual family. A true sense of family will draw them into a relationship with us. It will better open their hearts and minds to being drawn into a relationship with Christ. The net effect will be greater than a national championship. It will be many, many souls won to eternal life. We cannot afford to miss the opportunity to be spiritual family!

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Dabo in his early days at Clemson
VISITORS—HANDLE WITH CARE!

VISITORS—HANDLE WITH CARE!

Neal Pollard

I’m not sure where the phrase, “handle with care,” originated. It’s usually reserved for advice regarding that which is fragile or even volatile. It really is applicable to those who visit our assemblies because of their value and importance. They came through the doors of our church building intentionally and with a purpose. Initially, we cannot know why or how sincere their purpose. That process of discovery could not be more important. Consider some reasons why we should handle every visitor with care:

  • Each has an eternal soul (cf. Mat. 25:46). 
  • God could not love that visitor any more than He does (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:6).
  • God loves that visitor as much as He loves you and me (Acts 10:34-35). 
  • That visitor is likely seeking spiritual guidance (cf. Mat. 7:7).
  • Each visitor is subjected to a first impression, being left by you and me.
  • That visitor is going to make judgments about the church, the Bible and Christ based on what he or she sees (or fails to see) from you and me.
  • The smallest gesture of kindness toward such a one could lead to the salvation of a soul.
  • We cannot know what anyone else is doing to make their first visit a good one.
  • Each one is being exposed to the Bible and to New Testament worship, and follow up can lead to further interest.
  • That soul is connected to many others, who might subsequently be reached (2 Tim. 2:2). 
  • You and I are official ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).
  • The Golden Rule should prompt our warmth, helpfulness, and sensitivity (Luke 6:31).
  • We are each part of a team, trying to connect each of them with what only Christ can offer them (1 Cor. 12:18; John 14:6).
  • There is no guarantee that there will be a next time (Prov. 27:1).
  • Statistics tell us that most visitors find the churches they visit to be unfriendly toward “outsiders” (see, for example: Thom Rainer).
  • Loving others is commanded, and visitors are included in “others” (Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; Jas. 2:8; etc.).
  • Visitors constitute perhaps the easiest inroad to developing interest in a Bible study, as such have reached out to us by attending.
  • Our excuses (“I’m shy,” “That’s not my job,” “I’m not good at it,” “I’m busy”) ring hollow when carefully examined. 
  • We love the church and believe in its relevance and importance.
  • Each contact is a valuable way you and I can contribute service for our Servant-Savior (cf. John 13:12ff; Mat. 20:28).

The list is far from exhaustive. I am convinced that none of us neglects a visitor out of contempt or even indifference. Yet, it is good for you and I to encourage each other, to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” especially as it pertains to assembly-related matters (Heb. 10:24-25). Wouldn’t it be exciting to be the friendliest church around, especially if our message and practice is faithful to God’s Word? What a powerful combination! Let’s help each other earn such a reputation, for reasons such as the above. 

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“I Praise, I Participate, I Proclaim”

“I Praise, I Participate, I Proclaim”

Neal Pollard

Yesterday afternoon, the Bear Valley eldership stood before us one by one to talk about their priorities both for themselves and for us. They distilled them into five simple words that describe five profound concepts: (1) Worship, (2) Communication, (3) Fellowship, (4) Accountability, and (5) Leadership. They told us that as the religious world is growing more homogenous in their worship style (a la community church model; rock concert-ish), distinctive New Testament worship has a chance to stand out even more. Yet, we need to always be improving our efforts in leadership and participation. They emphasized that communicating news, ideas, and needs is a process that will always need work and priority. No church ever arrives in this regard. They spoke of the importance of building a closer church family, knowing each other through age-related opportunities and entire congregation opportunities. This happens when we’re all together, in the classroom, and away from the building. They stressed the importance of holding one another accountable, for faithfulness, commitment, and support. Otherwise, there is no way to move from ideas to action. They told us that all of us exert leadership in some area. There is formalized leadership positions, as outlined in the New Testament (elders, deacons, preachers, teachers). But, inasmuch as we all have a sphere of influence (cf. Mat. 5:14-16), God expects us to lead. Throughout their entire presentation, they were specific about strategies aimed at helping us be successful. I appreciated the great challenge this was for us to work and grow. There were so many quotable sayings from their collective lesson, but the one that struck me most was made near the end. As we have adopted three planks of emphasis as a church, based on Acts 2:42-47 (praise—worship, participation—fellowship, and proclamation—evangelism), we were challenged to think: “I praise,” “I participate,” and “I proclaim.” It can be so easy for us to approve the church’s need to grow and improve in these areas or to expect the elders to do these things. But, no matter who we are, we can and must ask, “What can I do?” The key to being a great church is the willingness of every member to make personal application. It’s not, “What are they doing?,” “what are you doing?,” or even “what are we doing?” No! It must always primarily be, “What am I doing?” I’m thankful that our elders spoke with confidence and clarity about the fact that there is plenty of opportunity to be involved in making Bear Valley a strong, relevant church, a city set on a hill shining a light in spiritual darkness. Thank God for strong leadership, which encourages me to say, “Here am I, send me!” (cf. Isa. 6:8).

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