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church church growth fellowship friendliness Uncategorized

The Same Minute From Many Perspectives

Neal Pollard

A visitor comes to worship services for the first time. This person is searching for meaning, purpose, and answers, perplexed and troubled by life and wanting to know the way. The services have already started, and the visitor slips into the first vacant seat available. This one is intrigued and engaged by what has gone on, benefiting from the preaching, appreciating the singing, and eventually standing with everyone else for a final, uplifting prayer. The visitor has experienced enough to consider returning. The prayer concludes, and the visitor, with everyone else, begins to head for the aisle.

So much, good or bad, can happen in these next 60 seconds.

  • The visitor, not knowing a soul, either stands or slowly walks out of the auditorium, hoping for a friendly face, a smile, or words of kindness and encouragement.
  • The family seated next to the visitor have wrestled their baby throughout services. Exhausted and flustered, they hurry past the visitor never making eye contact.
  • Several members, each on an important “mission,” walk past the visitor to talk to that person or do that thing that, if they don’t hurry, they’ll forget or miss.
  • The visitor does make it to the preacher, shaking his hand and thanking him “for the service.” While standing with the preacher, the visitor notices a handful of those who are apparently members warmly greeting the preacher but feeling the full force of being treated as if invisible by them. These folks are good folks, but they just aren’t observant (or accustomed to being “on the lookout” for visitors).
  • Moving past the preacher, the visitor encounters the eye contact of a few people who politely smile or even say hello. These good people wonder if this is a member, someone they should know, and, afraid to offend this one, do not follow up with conversation.
  • The visitor walks past a shy member, one who would like to greet the visitor but who is afraid of being embarrassed in some way.
  • As the visitor departs, ignored by and large and concluding that while the services were unique and intriguing the people were cold and unfriendly, God looks down from heaven. He has seen that last minute unfold. He knows the tagline under this church’s bulletin masthead asserts that this is the friendliest church in town. He watches members who know one another and are comfortable with each other laughing and talking together, wanting to be together, but are oblivious to the precious opportunity embodied in that visitor. God sees that visitor as a soul precious enough to give His Son for, an impressionable person reached or rejected by the reception (or lack thereof) made by His people. He knows this visiting one has heard truth and experienced worship in spirit and truth, but that this one also believes that the participants are exclusive and disinterested.
  • The devil has to be delighted that this visitor leaves dejected and resentful, determined not to visit that unfriendly congregation again.

Though I would like to say that the scenario above is far-fetched and purely fictional, it is one I have seen play out repeatedly over a quarter-century as a preacher.  Our efforts (or lack thereof) to engage and show interest in those who visit our assemblies is our only opportunity to make the first impression redeemed, soul-conscious Christians should make. We must never assume that it’s others’ job to or that others are doing the job of making our visitors feel appreciated and welcomed. What if every Christian present would take every opportunity presented to make every visitor feel as though they’ve “come home” when they come to our services? Will you consider what you do with your first minute after the last “amen”? Who knows the eternal difference it will make, especially with some soul searching for the Savior?

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Categories
attitude friendliness kindness

Warming Up The Cold Shoulder

Neal Pollard

Occasionally, a Christian who has fallen away and is approached by a concerned elder, preacher, or other Christian will respond by saying the people at church were cold, unfriendly, or unwelcoming.  They complain that they get the “cold shoulder” from the folks in the congregation. Could most of us try harder to reach out to each other, as well as our visitors?  Undoubtedly!  Of course, all of us know that this is a pretty flimsy excuse for forsaking the One who suffered and agonized for each of us in order to make heaven a possibility for us or the One who provides us with such abundant blessings throughout every day.

However, the Bible does seem to show us a pretty clear case of a new Christian who dealt with the collective cold shoulder of the very first congregation of the Lord’s church.  In fact, he also knew that those from his former religion were trying to kill him.  Suffice it to say, he faced some enormous pressures and adversities as the result of his obeying the gospel of Christ.  As he lived out the rest of his life, he suffered a lot just for teaching and preaching Christ, like being stoned, shipwrecked, scourged, slandered, and scrutinized.  People questioned and doubted him.  He did jail time.  But in his early days while still a new convert, he felt the effects of the cold shoulder.  The Bible says, “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26).   Imagine trying to place membership at a local church and having people avoid you, doubt your conversion, and rebuff your attempts to fellowship them.  That would be devastating.  Would you continue worshipping at a place like that?  Saul did.  How did he warm up the cold shoulder?

First, he had help (Acts 9:27).  Thank God for people like Barnabas, whom the Bible calls “the son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36).  He intervened.  He took the new Christian under his wings and brought him more into the fellowship of God’s people.  God always needs and makes use of willing Barnabases who will help those on the outside looking in to “come inside” more fully.

Second, he spent time with the leadership (Acts 9:27b).  Barnabas takes Saul to the apostles.  So far as we know, churches at this time were not yet organized with elders.  The apostles were the first leaders in that first church.  Saul got to know them, and they got to know him.  Luke, in Acts 9:28, simply says Saul “was with them.”  God’s leaders are a crucial part of integrating those feeling the chill of the cold shoulder.

Finally, he proved his worth as a Christian (Acts 9:28-29).  He was active.  He reached out.  He was involved.  For Saul, that meant speaking boldly in Jesus’ name and defending His word.  There is absolutely no proof that Saul ever lamented or complained about how the Jerusalem Christians were treating him.  He just got busy.  What was the effect of that?  The first time Saul has a need, “when the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out toTarsus” (Acts 9:30).  They reached out to him.

Ever think you see a spot of frost or icicle on the shoulder of a brother or sister in Christ?  Consider several things.  First, you may be “reading” him or her wrong.  Second, they may be carrying some huge burdens that effect both their countenance and their demeanor.  Further, even if you are right and are experiencing a Frigidaire moment from the faithful, remember the warmth of God’s love.  It’s His church, part of His eternal plan, to which you have been added.  He will never give you the cold shoulder.  Then, remember Saul.  Even if you don’t have a Barnabas, reach out to your elders.  No matter what, remember that you serve the Lord and for that reason must keep your shoulder warm!