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”

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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A Warm And Welcoming Church

Neal Pollard

Once, I received a call from a woman who watched our TV program. She shared her religious background with me, including the fact that she was raised in a church of Christ. While she was baptized many years before, she committed fornication, became pregnant, and had a child out of wedlock. She said that she publicly repented, coming forward to ask forgiveness. While some forgave, one prominent member wouldn’t let her forget her past sins. Ultimately, she left that congregation and soon after left the Lord’s church altogether.

She joined a large denomination in the area in 1985. She gave some interesting reasons for joining them. Reflect upon them for a moment.

(1) She received personal visits from church members.

(2) She was warmly welcomed by many who greeted her when she attended the services.

(3) She was quickly put to use in the church’s works.

Very simple formula, wouldn’t you agree? Some fundamental needs were recognized by that religious group: Approach. Accept. Assimilate. While their doctrine was wrong in vital areas, their practical wisdom was on target! While she traded truth for error regarding their teaching, she sought but didn’t find among God’s people the very things many seek today. None of the things she sought were wrong.

In the church, the main emphasis should be serving rather than being served. But look at what she sought. She sought personal contact from concerned people. The denomination responded. She sought acceptance, not of sinful choices, but of herself—the sinner. She received that. She sought ways to be involved, ways to serve. She was given opportunities despite some physical handicaps that restricted her.

There is much to do, much more than is being done, though we are doing much. Some bare essentials that all of us can be doing is visiting our visitors, making visitors feel like honored guests, and finding ways to include those who become members in the work of the church.

We have opportunities every week that walk through our doors. Are we doing our part to make ourselves a warm and welcoming congregation? People will form lasting opinions about the Lord’s church by what we do to make them feel welcome. Each individual Christian is accountable for visiting (Mat. 25:34ff), accepting (Js. 2:1-13), and including (1 Th. 5:11).  Let us glow with the warmth of Christ! Who knows who we will turn onto the narrow path or who we will help stay on it?

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A Family, A Fraternity, And A Fellowship

Neal Pollard

A little over a week ago, my son Dale called me to tell me one of his elders gave him tickets for the Georgia-Missouri football game. He asked if I could swing coming. Thanks to a generous travel voucher from American Airlines, I was able to go on short notice on their nickel. The best part of this trip was getting to see one of my adult children for a couple of days. We made the most of those moments, and that game between the hedges was not a disappointment. Though Dale had watched games with me on TV, he was not the diehard fan I have been since 1979. We made the drive from Valdosta to Athens. Once on campus, he got his first glimpse into “Dawg Nation.” By the time we left the game, he was hooked. Georgia has another diehard fan. What did the trick? Perhaps the camaraderie between people who otherwise would not come into contact with each other. There was the shared lingo, shared knowledge, shared passion, and even shared clothing color schemes. There were traditions to partake in. People were excited for every play and intensely interested in the outcome. That was infectious! It was an unforgettable experience we plan to duplicate in the future.

As I look back on that great memory, I got to thinking about an infinitely stronger bond I have. Even regarding this game, I think about the part they played. I’m talking about the Lord’s church and the Christians who make it up. There was Doug Jones, the elder who gave us the tickets. There was Wes Hazel, who let Dale borrow his car so he didn’t have to pick me up from the airport or carry me around on the back of his motorcycle. There were Lance and Susan Leavens, who opened their home to allow Dale and me to take a nap before I caught a flight back to Denver yesterday morning and Dale drove back to Valdosta. While I was in Georgia, Kathy was in Texas doing a ladies day, and Carl was experiencing major trouble with his truck, an overwhelming, generous response from literally dozens of Christians helped make it possible for our youngest to resolve that heart-sinking trouble.

All too frequently, I see people who major in pointing out the perceived problems and seeming shortcomings of the saints. To listen to them, we do nothing right and even do those things from sinister motives. As a preacher’s kid who’s lived a life of a full-time preacher for more than a quarter century, I am far from naive. The church, without exception, is comprised of flawed, faulty, and finite folks. I have been extremely disappointed in the actions of church members, from the leadership to the membership. I have tearfully witnessed Christians abandon the church for the world, breaking many hearts in the process. But, the church is special. It is unique, from the doctrinal standpoint, dedicated to speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where it is silent and seeking to replicate New Testament Christianity.

In addition to that, there is the common bond we share. What a fellowship! What a family! What a fraternity! You read it when you open up the New Testament. As importantly, you experience it today when you open your heart and life to all the others who make up this special group. We’re incurably imperfect. We should strive to be more patient and gracious. But, God’s people are the greatest in the world! Thank God for that blessing today and every day.

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REDUCING RIOTOUS RACE RHETORIC

Neal Pollard

At various times when I was growing up, I called Hawkinsville, Rockmart, Cairo, Sylvester, Franklin, and Hinesville, Georgia, home. While my dad was once fired from a congregation for converting a black woman, race relations in those rural towns—at least among us children—were excellent. While High School was very cliquish (along a great many lines more significant than racial ones), many of us had close, great relationships across racial lines. Certainly, there were instances of prejudice—from every race toward every race—but it was not characteristic. Perhaps it was because we were not constantly obsessed with it. We just got along.

Are you getting sick of hearing politicians, the media, and even social media (including from some members of the church) fanning the flames of dissension on this topic? I am. From my imperfect observations, I see the following:

Less Productive:

  • Placing blame on any one side
  • Having our minds closed to discussion
  • Stereotyping and pigeon-holing
  • Guilt-tripping and manipulating
  • Living in the past rather than dealing with the present
  • Categorizing everyone on the basis of their skin color
  • Blaming or praising based on geographic or political boundaries
  • Cherry-picking historical incidents to validate one’s point of view or assertion
  • Thinking our personal experience is indicative of everyone else’s

More Productive:

  • Eradicating concepts like “predominantly white” or “predominantly black” congregations
  • Showing Christ-like love and acceptance to people who look and sound different from us
  • Showing hospitality and associating with people of every race and walk of life (publicly and privately)
  • Getting to the point where we don’t associate anyone with their race or ethnicity
  • Teaching our children to choose friends and spouses based on the content of their character rather than color of skin
  • Extending the “Golden Rule” to race relations like we should every other issue
  • Selecting preachers, deacons, elders, and other church leaders with no regard to anything so superficial as skin color

The Bible says that God made every race (ethnos—nation, culture) from one man (Acts 17:26). The Bible says the whole earth was populated from Noah’s three sons (Gen. 9:19). The Bible speaks of the “human race” (Jas. 3:7), and doesn’t emphasize a red, yellow, black, or white race. The Bible says that heaven will be populated by people of “every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Rev. 7:9). Let us make sure, especially as Christians, that we are not fanning the flames of division, animosity, controversy, and hatred by treating this important subject in a way that takes people’s eyes off of Jesus or the church’s true mission! Surely this will reach more people of every nation, tribe, people, and tongue.

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Traditions Of Men Versus The Word Of God

Neal Pollard

For as long as I have been preaching, I have had at least one copy of the Alvin Jennings’ book bearing the title above. The book was originally printed in 1972, but it has been reprinted several times. Jennings clarifies the way he uses the word “traditions” in his title. Rather than the sense of being a writing handed down from God (2 Th. 2:15; 3:6; 1 Co. 11:2), he used the word to refer to “religious laws and traditions originating from the minds of men and handed down orally and/or in printing from generation to generation” (iv.). He rightly points out that such traditions were condemned by Christ (Mat. 15:2-3,6; Mark 7:3,13; Col. 2:8; 1 Pet. 1:18; Gal. 1:14). Some of the problems with these traditions were that they got in the way of obedience to what God commanded, caused negligence regarding and the setting aside of God’s commands, enslaved one to something or someone other than Christ, and created a zeal that could lead to unhealthy consequences. The traditions Jennings examines substituted  false, human ideas for clearly revealed, divine truth. Anything that binds where God has not bound or gives permission where God doesn’t permit must be rejected. It’s a tradeoff with the gravest consequences (cf. Rev. 22:18-19).

However, I hope that as we strive to follow the pattern for New Testament Christianity we will be careful about elevating any tradition to be on a par with Scripture. There are some traditions we may choose to observe (or not):

  • Offering an invitation after every sermon
  • Having worship leaders, including the preacher, wear suits and/or ties
  • Women wearing dresses to church services
  • Songs or songbooks reflecting a particular time period (whether old or new)
  • Mandating a specific Bible version be utilized in the public assemblies
  • Choosing to have an evening assembly
  • Replicating the format of the morning assembly (in lieu of using the time for class, for example)
  • A particular order of worship (including whether the Lord’s Supper precedes or follows the sermon)
  • Offering the Lord’s Supper on Sunday evening
  • Any practice or tradition that arises from expedience or the realm of judgment, but that is not specifically mandated in Scripture

The church finds itself at a crucial crossroads. Undoubtedly, there is nothing new under the sun, but we do find ourselves at a unique place in cultural history. Since we live in an argumentative, rancorous atmosphere fueled by everything from cable news to social media, we should be careful to maintain a spirit of love and kindness whenever we sort through matters like these. We should never cherish non-binding traditions more than we do people. Those of us who are older and presumably more mature should consider carefully where and when we might compromise regarding matters not tied down in Scripture. More than that, we should foster rather than fear an environment that allows for such discussions to occur—without animosity or distrust. This will mean spending much more time developing our relationships with one another on the local church level (across generations). The better we know each other and the more we grow our love for each other, the better equipped we should be to sort through such things. Coupled with serious Bible study, this will hopefully sharpen our ability to distinguish between traditions and truth. May we have the grace to listen to each other without prejudice or minds already made up. Instead or ridiculing or caricaturizing the church in demeaning ways, let all of us “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone…” (Col. 3:12-13a). 

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Is The Church Broken?

Neal Pollard

You hear comments in Bible classes that amount to what’s wrong with the church, what we’re doing wrong, what we’re not doing, and what it’s doing to us, our children, and the world. You read people’s minds through their social media rants, raves, and ramblings, and the bottom line message is that the church is inept, irrelevant, irresponsible, or, worse, insidious. To hear some tell it, the church is not only unhelpful, but actually hurtful.  I know that we can be prone to say things out of hurt, disappointment, anger, and bitterness, but the words themselves are no less potent even if influenced by such emotions.

Is the contention, as one Christian sister put it, that “the church is broken,” true? Another way to put that is, “Are elders, preachers, deacons, Bible class teachers, and every other Christian broken?” Perhaps we impersonalize it and overly-institutionalize it with a nameless, faceless designation of “church.” But the church is, as we were taught as children, “the people.” People who are prone to say the right thing at the wrong time, the wrong thing at the right time, and, sadly, the wrong thing at the wrong time. We disappoint, we mishandle, we poorly execute, we unfairly judge and criticize, and we simply blow it. That is definitely not an excuse or a permission slip for bad behavior. Yet, it is not likely to ever change.

Because the church is made up of sinners saved by grace, the church is broken. We who are quick to condemn the church as broken need to face that we ourselves, as those placed by Christ into that church when we were saved, are broken, too. Show me the perfect person who never mishandles a situation, never sins with tongue, attitude, or deed, and I’ll show you someone who will stand before Christ at the Judgment saved on the basis of their own merit and goodness. That won’t happen.

Let’s be reminded of what the church is.  It is the precious, beloved bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-25; Rev. 19:7; 21:2). It is that institution purchased by His very life’s blood (Acts 20:28). It is that which was thought up by God from the eternity before time as is the expression of His manifold wisdom (Eph. 3:9-11). It is the place where Christ is glorified (Eph. 3:21; 5:27). It is the present the Son will present to His Father when time is no more (1 Cor. 15:24). It is that and truly so much more.

God designed the church. Reckless criticism of it is reckless criticism of Him. All of us should be determined to improve in every area of our spiritual lives, to be for others what we need to be, to conquer faults and sins in our lives. We should also extend to others the grace we intensely desire to receive when we stand before the King at the last day! Yes, the church is broken, but not in the sense that it cannot help, serve, minister, love, and encourage. Let each of us strive to be the church we want the church to be. Model and exemplify it. Emit the fragrance of Christ. That way, the broken church can help mend the broken lives that make it up.

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Victories Of Our Friends And Family Day

[Disclaimer: I mention specific names, knowing that I cannot possibly know every story and detail. These are included to encourage. God saw it all and will reward accordingly!]

Neal Pollard

  • There was an air of excitement. We did not meet our numerical goal, but there was a noticeable buzz yesterday. So many new faces milling around and so much focus on that, from Bible class to worship to the sermon, just charged the atmosphere.
  • We were very deliberate and thoughtful about how we approached worship.  Thom Vaught and Michael Hite put together the “explanation slides” for the acts of worship (which would be great to use every Sunday, I think). Doug McNary did a masterful job planning the worship and each man shined in leading us. There appeared to be such enthusiastic participation. Thom’s elder remarks at the end were worth the price of admission!
  • Many of our members got out of their comfort zone to meet and greet visitors. This is a significant area where we need to grow, but where we have grown. While there will always be some who do not step outside the known, so many did!  Some were “pulled in.” Others did the pulling in (Mike Ripperton was almost like a traffic cop in the foyer!). A warm, loving church is merely reflecting the face of Jesus.
  • We got future commitments from invitees.  Many of us invited several people to come, but they did not come or even backed out. Madie Murphy had two friends back out yesterday morning, but one is coming next week and bringing her mother! The Parkers and Maria Thompson invited a wonderful young couple who are searching for a church home. Look for that to bear fruit! I believe we will see people show up in the weeks and months to come because of our Friend And Family Day.
  • We asked people to come to church. Dean Murphy called this the biggest victory of the day, 100 people asking people to come to church. That is who we all need to become if we are not already that. God saw your attempts and was pleased. And if you, like me, had to fight nerves and fears to invite friends, keep practicing! It gets easier with the effort.
  • We planted so much seed. I am convinced that efforts like these will pay off in many ways we do not anticipate. I have never seen an endeavor like yesterday fail to yield return visits, Bible studies, community impressions, and unseen impacts that yield souls won to Christ. What we did in inviting friends and family was right and pleasing to God! He will not let that work produce nothing.
  • There were great, individual victories. Many of us did have non-Christian visitors in the assembly. The Walkers had a neighbor there. Danielle Thompson had her husband there. Guy and Kathryn Lindsay had a guest. The Fleury guys were back. No doubt there were other individuals. Derek Rose tracks our visitors and says that our response was off the chart. But the day would have been worth it if the only success was Janice Edwards. She’s not been a member of the Lord’s church very long, but she had NINE family members come with her yesterday—four children, two in-laws, and three grandchildren!
  • We focused on our “3 P’s.” Our mantra is “devoted to getting it right, inside and out” from Acts 2:42-47. That involves praise (worship), participation (family/community), and proclamation (evangelism). The more we can remind ourselves of our purpose as a church, the more productive and successful we will be at accomplishing the Lord’s work to His glory.

I loved the Bear Valley church of Christ before yesterday, but I love her even more this morning! Thank you for loving the Lord and souls enough to do what you did. Now, let’s keep doing it.

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Caesar’s Citizen Headline: “The Jerusalem Church Splits Over Politics!”

Neal Pollard

Barak monitored the results of the latest Imperial policies out of Rome. And he hashed it and rehashed it with his brethren at the fellowship meals, on his job at the fish market, and definitely, with vehemence, within his inner circle of friends and family.  Elchanan came from a long line of zealots, and, although he had become a Christian several years before, his leanings and passion about the matter were well-known to anyone who spent any time with him. Michael, Zechariah, and Esther voiced their empathy for Elchanan’s position, while Gaius, Claudia, Junius, and Manius, ever loyal to the politics of their native homeland, aligned themselves with Barak. Unfortunately, they all also were Christians who worshipped together or in neighboring congregations around Jerusalem. They got so caught up in it that they marched, they protested, they pledged allegiance with oaths, they argued, and they held one another in contempt and suspicion. Meanwhile, Jews and Gentiles all around them lived and died without hearing the message of Jesus and the purpose He died to make available to them. They did not associate those early Christians with love. They had no clue about the heart of the gospel message, the good news they needed in the unstable times in which they lived. They failed to see distinctiveness and kindness. They saw a mirrored reflection of their unregenerate selves. Mired in the smallness of contemporary concern, the church at Jerusalem, distracted from their mission, never taught lost souls, devoted themselves to service, or lived lives that showed utmost trust in Jesus and His power to save and transform. Predictably, these small bands of disciples circled their chariots around themselves and hid their lights under their baskets.

That’s not quite the way Luke records it. Politics was a constant, headline news matter in the first century. There was volatility and polarization. With the theatre and stadiums, there were no shortages of entertainment diversions, too. But, reading the book of Acts, you find a quickly growing band of disciples reaching the thousands in number precisely because they stayed above the sensual fray of politics or any other ephemeral concerns. They understand what lasted and what wouldn’t. From the first verse that records their collective activity, they were “devoted” (Acts 2:42). Their devotion was powerfully, primarily, and passionately Jesus and His will.

It doesn’t matter that we’re 2000 years removed from that, or that our situation isn’t exactly parallel. Our mission hasn’t changed. Our primary focus must be the same as theirs. Ever wonder who benefits the most from our getting mired in the mud of these carnal things? It isn’t Jesus!

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Going Places (GUEST BAKER: Trent Woolley)

Trent Woolley

The other day I stumbled upon this rather innocuous quote – “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before” (Life’s Little Instruction Book).  Obviously, this quote is talking about travel, but I would like us to think of it as challenging ourselves to do things that we may have never done before. So, let’s take a look at some things that might help us, as a church, go places that we may have never been before:

  •   Volunteer to teach a class, or help teach a class, or help teach others how to teach a class
  •   Offer to pick-up someone who needs a ride to church
  •   Spend a month at the greeting table getting to know our visitors
  •   Prepare and present a 90 Seconds of Power
  •   Pray with an elder
  •   Commit to visit all the shut-ins this year
  •   Write a note of encouragement to all our members whose last name begins with R,
  •    or M, or C…
  •   Host a devotional for: the teens, the young professionals, the young families, the
    tweeners, the seniors
  •   Teach the congregation a new song, or an old song we don’t know
  •   Stand at one of the doors and greet everyone who comes in

    This is just a short list of some places we might have never been before, I’m sure
    there are other places that we all would like to try and go to.

    And if we start to think “I can’t do that”, let me remind us of what God tells us in Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded, you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

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