3 Reasons Vacation Bible School Is Worth It!

3 Reasons Vacation Bible School Is Worth It!

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

Dale Pollard

This time of the year congregations are planning and preparing for another Vacation Bible School. When and why was this summer tradition started? It seems that even those who aren’t “church goers” still share childhood memories with those of us in the religious world. Across America kids will soon be drinking kool-aid and making Noah’s ark out of Popsicle sticks. They’ll also make memories that will stick with them for their whole lives.

The Hazy History 

 As much as this week means to many of us, one might assume the history to be well documented. However, who started the first VBS and when— is still debated. Some claim it all began in 1870, while others place the date closer to the 1920s. So the “when”’proves to be a little fuzzy, but the “why” seems constant. A thread that can be traced through many a VBS origin story is the reason it’s done. It was always designed with our children’s spiritual growth in mind. The goal was always to provide them wholesome entertainment while at the same time, introducing them to God and the Bible. 

So with that in mind… 

Here are 3 reasons why VBS is a worth the effort: 

  1. Youthful brains need this week. Studies done by Psych INFO, ERIC, MEDLINE, and Google Scholar as well as the University of Virginia library, all seem to agree that kids from 12-18 years old are the most impressionable. Meaning, the things they are taught and their experiences in these years will often impact their worldview for the rest of their lives. Any program within the church that’s geared towards teaching young people about Jesus can only have a positive influence on them. That window is relatively short so it’s crucial that parents do all they can to set them up for spiritual success. 
  2. Church families need this week. VBS takes a lot of work and it’s the kind of work that brings the church together. It’s mainly about the kids, but it’s not all about the kids. This is a time where members have an opportunity to bond and grow closer through the planning and preparation. Work days, crafts, skits, staff/teacher curriculum, decorating, T-shirt’s, and advertising all take teamwork. Team work is good work for good teams. 
  3. Adults need this week. The happiest among us are typically the children. With all of that work, the sweat, tears, and time that’s shoveled into this event— the payoff is the sound of an auditorium filled with energy and excitement. It’s good for adults to spend a week listening to the sound of voices singing loudly and unashamed. It’s good for the teachers and the chaperones to act and look a little ridiculous. There’s value in letting kids see us trade the khakis and neckties for face paint and costumes because it will send a message. To be a christian doesn’t mean to be serious, stoic, or stern— all the time. Those of us who have been members of the church for sometime know this to be true, but children who’s parents don’t think or speak highly of Christianity now have a chance to experience something to the contrary. 

While there might be mixed feelings about VBS within the church, there’s no denying it’s potential to effectively introduce Jesus to the young and young at heart. 

A picture of a Wyoming VBS from several decades ago.

Capitalizing On Visitors

Capitalizing On Visitors

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

pollard

Neal Pollard

It is a pretty courageous move for someone to make the decision to attend a church they are unfamiliar with full of people they do not know. From the moment they park, they are deciding whether or not this is a one-time deal or the first day of a beautiful relationship. Church growth statistics say that things like the cleanliness and attractiveness of the facilities, the preaching and worship services, and the location of the building are important, but so many of the factors revolve around how members respond to them. Thom Ranier gave a list of 10 reasons why over 1,000 people surveyed never returned a second time. The list included unfriendly church members, no place to get information, bad church website, poor signage, insider church language (not theological terms as much as initials–think CYC, EU, MPR, etc.), and members telling visitors they were in their pew (Source). How can we prepare for, then provide for a great experience for visitors, then make progress with those who “check us out”?

TEST. Evaluate.How are we doing at this? Every single church whose members are asked, “Are you friendly?,” invariably answers “yes.” Most visitors, when asked by poll-takers and surveys, say of a church that they are unfriendly. How could that be? We are more often friendly to those already “part” of the group, but not to people we don’t know. We’re uncomfortable talking to “strangers.” We’re afraid of offending someone who we find out is already a member. We’re unsure of what to say. But, we need a way to evaluate where we are and how to improve. This may be done through something akin to “secret shoppers,” perhaps brethren from far enough away not to be known to local church members who pose as visitors and report their experiences to church leaders. This can be done by QR codes and/or Google forms hosting.a brief survey evaluating their “guest experience.”

TEACH.  What the leadership emphasizes, the membership internalizes. What does Scripture have to say about this vital interaction? James 2:2-4 is the most explicit New Testament passage, warning against personal favoritism with such encounters. But Matthew 4:19 says we’re to be fishers of men, and these are fish who have fallen into our own pond. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 reminds us of God’s feelings toward every “all men” and “all,” which certainly includes those who visit. We are to be “finders” (John 1:40-41), and who is easier to find than one who comes to us. These are just a few passages which should build our conviction to connect with visitors.

TRAIN. We may need help to become more effective at making the most of the visitor’s visit. That includes emphasizing the discipline of simply looking for those who may be new or what to say when inviting someone to come. It includes getting organized, properly utilizing the welcome center, greeters and/or ushers, new member orientation, and all that needs to be implemented and improved to make us intentional with newcomers, first-timers, and returnees. It is really the whole-life mentality that we must incorporate to further this precious relationship.

TIME. In the 1980s, Herb Miller published the statistics that 85% of visitors return if visited in the first 48 hours, 60% if in the first 72 hours, and 15% if visited in the first seven days (Source). Today, that may mean text, email, or call, but even in today’s tech-first world, it’s hard to beat even a brief, friendly face-to-face visit. But, following up quickly is key to success. Taking it to the next level includes building a way for more than elders and preachers (or even deacons) to be the one making contact.

TRANSFORM. What is or should be our interest in visitors? We are trying to move them from the “visitor” column to the “member” column. If they are not New Testament Christians, that means something totally different than if they are “transfers” moving from another location. To transform the relationship, we must inform them. That includes where to go, who we are, what we are doing, etc. That can be in a welcome brochure or packet, or with an attractive, informative web site, or with a key “front man” or “front woman” who connects with them when they come through the door. Ideally it is all of the above. Likewise, to transform the relationship, we must communicate with them. Where’s the bathroom? Where’s their child’s classroom? Why are we taking the Lord’s Supper, singing instead of having a concert, or doing X instead of Y? That can be done in a user-friendly rather than confrontational way that is positive and helpful. The point is, we often assume people understand more than they do. To transform the relationship, we must connect with them. They will need to form at least five connections, according to experts, in order to “stick.” Again, this must be intentional. To transform the relationship with specifically non-Christians, we must study with them. At some point, we must work up the courage, when we know they have not obeyed the gospel, to ask them if they will study the Bible with us. That takes us back to the “training” step because the more of us trained to do that (and the follow up with new Christians), the more we will grow and the better we will transform those who come among us.

Consider this list more of an appetizer than a five-course meal. There’s so much needed to leverage these crucial relationships. This is the easiest opportunity within the Great Commission. These are the “come into all the buildings” rather than “go into all the worlds.” Let’s be good stewards of our visitors. The stewardship principle includes the idea that the better we manage what we are entrusted with, the more opportunities we are given! Let’s make the most of those opportunities (Col. 4:5)!

hospitality-greeter

Made To Be Functional

Made To Be Functional

Wednesday’s Column: “Third’s Words”

Gary III

Gary N. Pollard, III

Ephesians 4 describes some spiritual gifts. Their purpose is to allow the church to function as it should. A properly functioning church spends eternity with God. 

A functional church is on the same page (one mind), has spiritual depth, and is workable (more on that in a bit). 

Ephesians 4.12ff is about members’ roles. What are they for? Everyone serves to equip saints. Saints are people who have pledged allegiance to God. 

We train for morally good works and become stronger through encouragement (12,16). We work toward a unified mindset, knowing Jesus, spiritual maturity, and we pursue the highest standard (Jesus) (13,14). 

We work to avoid immaturity and gullibility (14). We pursue maturity until our mindset emulates Christ’s (15). He’s described (multiple times) as the standard we have to have. There’s no room for spiritual laziness here. 

Jesus causes growth spiritually, but only if we’ve become soil that can be worked. If our minds aren’t mature, we aren’t workable. Elders are spiritual farmers, our hearts are the soil. If we use Jesus as our standard, we are workable. If not, we’re spiritually dead. 

So, what can we do individually? Make the church strong by pursuing unity, by having spiritual depth, and by being workable. If we work on those things we will spend forever with God. 

WHY PLANNING IS POWERFUL

WHY PLANNING IS POWERFUL

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

 

 

 

 

 

Neal Pollard

  • It forces us to focus. So often, churches just “do stuff.” We don’t ask who, what, where, when, or how. We don’t ask if the thing is effective, evangelistic, edifying, or empowering. Is it outmoded? Is it merely self-serving? Can it be improved? Planning clarifies. 
  • It makes us intentional. Whether we are looking at what is currently done or what should be done, planning makes us deliberate. Especially is this true when we consider whether or not the activity, program, or work is merely internally-focused (for us) or externally-focused (for lost souls). Do we plan to grow? Reach a tangible number of people each year? Increase the depth of our footprint in the community? If so, how? Specifically how? 
  • It says that leadership is thoughtful. Planning takes precious man hours from the leadership, but how it pays off! Personal analysis, congregational analysis, and biblical analysis require thought. Done well, it will build conviction that doctrine is never to be tampered with, but that methods and means in harmony with Scripture require judgment, discrimination, and scrutiny. Putting thought into the church’s works and needs is Acts 20:28 in motion.
  • It combats chaos. So often, a church’s works lack cohesion and coordination. There are no filters in place to ask if an individual work fits with the church’s vision and mission. Works may be good, but who knows what goes on with them or if they are working. Who is accountable? To whom are they accountable?
  • It expresses discontent with the status quo. It is easy to continue with works, programs, and activities that are already in place and have people managing and executing them. But, most of our methods and means of doing church work need to be evaluated regularly to ask if changes are needed. Change brings discomfort and takes work, but as our resources change–time, talent, treasure–we may find that we are more or less able to engage in the various works of the church. We should always be looking for more and better ways to serve and glorify God. 
  • It is biblical. Jesus had a tangible plan for world evangelism (Acts 1:8). Paul had a tangible plan for growing the church through the missionary journeys (Acts 15:36ff). Look at how 1 Timothy reflects and requires planning to help the Ephesus church (1 Tim. 3:15). Paul had a tangible plan for establishing elders in congregations throughout the island of Crete (Ti. 1:5ff). Something that was in God’s mind in the eternity before time (Eph. 3:9-11) deserves our best effort, using our brightest minds to find biblical ways that are most effective to grow and strengthen it! 

Goals, dreams, intentions, and ideas will not, by themselves, accomplish anything. We must work to make those things a reality. But, a crucial first step is to articulate where we want to go. That makes planning so powerful! 

“First, Sit Down…”

“First, Sit Down…”

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Not pictured: Riley, who was under the weather. 

Neal Pollard

In Luke 14, Jesus gives a couple of short parables about counting the cost of discipleship. He prefaces them by saying, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple” (26-27). If we drink deeply of this statement, we see exactly how challenging it is. The choice is always between Jesus and everything and everyone else. How badly do we want what only Jesus can give? Think hard, then decide!

Then come the parables. The first is a construction parable, of one building a tower. He first sits down and calculates the cost in order to be able to finish and avoid ridicule (28-30). The second is a military parable, of a king going into battle. He first sits down and considers whether or not he can win (31-32). The common denominator in both parables is to first sit down and deliberate. Ultimately, there is action which follows, but the planning precedes it.

In how many congregations do elderships or men in the absence of elders never get proactive and formulate a plan for the immediate, intermediate, and far off future? Leadership must cast the vision and deliberate about where that congregation is going and how it will get there. What will be done to grow? How can we get more members active? How can we best utilize the collective resources of the congregation? The Bible reveals all the answers, but it is essential for the church’s leaders to gather around the drawing board.

It was exciting to spend a few hours at the Lehman elders’ 2019 retreat to discuss the short-term plans of the congregation. These men are convicted about the stewardship of the work they eagerly consented to do as our shepherds. They want us to be more effective, but they are determined to set the tone and example for us. I’m amazed at how deeply they care about us and the growth they want us to collectively experience. Words like emphasis, accountability, and purpose continually came up. Building a biblical culture, which works against our contemporary culture of consumers rather than producers, is foremost in their minds. They desire for us to “grow together” as a church, drawing those outside of Christ to our spiritual family.

I cannot wait to see what God will do through such capable leaders in 2020 and beyond. We are blessed with such godly, conscientious elders. Please don’t miss a day praying for Russell, Riley, Kevin, John, Darrell, and Bobby and their families. Also, please never miss an opportunity to express your love, encouragement, and support of them as they strive to do their best to fulfill their God-given duty. Or, as Paul put it, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (1 Th. 5:11-12). 

They are first sitting down this weekend, but then they will challenge us all to “rise up and build” (cf. Neh. 2:18). 

Be Dependable!

Be Dependable!

Neal Pollard

One of the hamstrings of most every church is a lack of dependable Christians. When Christians do show themselves undependable, they contribute so much to a church—much frustration, disappointment, and friction. We should all be dependable. You probably know little about Shelemiah, Zadok, Pedaiah and Hanon.  Little is said about them. But listen to what is said.  They were placed in charge of the storehouses because “they were considered reliable” (Neh. 13:13).

What a glowing epitaph. One the other hand, David wrote of some wicked individuals, of whom he said, “There is nothing reliable in what they say” (Psa. 5:9). Too many otherwise good people are leaving such a reputation for themselves. In frustration, sometimes elders may join Solomon in asking, “Who can find a trustworthy man?” (Prov. 20:6). But, good news!  We can all be dependable.  Why?

First, we are ABLE. God blesses us with talents, time, and treasure. With them, we can (as good stewards) use our resources to God’s glory. If something hinders us from doing our duty, we can let others know and cover for us. But, whenever and wherever and however we can, we use ourselves as workers in the kingdom (Mat. 9:37).

Second, we are DEPENDENT. God pours blessings into our lives (Eph. 1:3; Js. 1:17). Without Him, we are nobody! Except God provided all our needs, we would be nowhere and have nothing. We are obligated, and our best efforts could never earn or repay God’s graciousness (Lk. 17:10). But, surely, appreciating His grace, we will be workmen (Eph. 2:8-10). When needs are made known by our elders or other church members—food or teachers or folks to visit or calls to make or new Christians to aid or missions to encourage or elderly, shut-ins to help—let us remember our dependence upon God and be dependable for those dependent folks around us.

Finally, you are thereby DEEPENED. When we do what we can in the kingdom, giving it our best, we are enriched and strengthened thereby. Our relationship with Christ is deepened, for we are imitating Him. Our appreciation for God’s blessings is deepened when we sacrifice and extend ourselves. Our faith is deepened by our interaction with those in need and by our participation in what needs doing. Our joy is deepened by being active and involved in the Lord’s work.

One song in our song book asks, “Can he depend on you?” If He has no hands but our hands to do His work today, shall we allow our hands to sit idle? Christianity is a commitment. It’s a wonderful commitment, but commitment nonetheless. Let us take it seriously and be a brother or sister upon whom our brethren and our God can rely!

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“You’ll End Up Naming Everybody On The Team”

“You’ll End Up Naming Everybody On The Team”

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Neal Pollard

Quirky closer (a redundant statement) Sean Doolittle was interviewed last week right after the Washington Nationals clinched the city’s first trip to the World Series since FDR was first inaugurated there. Asked how they did it, Doolittle said, “I think once you start naming guys that stepped up in different ways, you’ll end up naming everybody on the team. We got so many contributions from different guys who had to embrace new roles. There are so many examples of that up and down this team” (MLB.COM). That’s frequently the testimonial of winners. It takes everybody pitching in and doing their part, All-Stars or role players, starters or reserves, veterans or rookies. However you distinguish between them, each person must step up and successful teams do just that!

Have you thought about how the church was designed to be that way? Congregations successful in executing the mission of Jesus are filled with members who step up in different ways, make contributions, embrace new roles, and exemplify team spirit. Paul tells us that “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). Notice the all-inclusive wording of Paul, pointing out what Jesus desires for His church. “Grow up in every way…” “From whom the whole body….” “Held together by every joint….” “When each part is working properly….”

God expects each of us to step forward, using our talents, opportunities, financial blessings, influence, time, energy, and intellect to reach lost souls, strengthen the church, and meet needs. A church filled with people stepping up and embracing Christ’s mission will stand out in a community and glorify God. We will grow and be built up. 

In 1895, Vilfredo Pareto observed that society divided into what he called the “vital few” and the “trivial many.” There is a top 20% and a bottom 80%. From such a genesis, we ultimately got the 80/20 rule, that 20% of the people in an organization do 80% of the work (Explained here: FORBES.COM). Maybe, we’ve heard that so much that we’ve just resigned ourselves to it being a universal truth. Do not be content until you discuss the growth and work of this church, and by the time you’re done “you’ll end up naming everybody on the team.” That’s the goal! Let’s pursue it!

 

“Hello, My Name Is Roger Johnson”

“Hello, My Name Is Roger Johnson”

Neal Pollard

Yesterday morning, I learned how much of a sense of humor the Lehman Avenue church members have. I prefaced my sermon by sharing a great tip a fellow-preacher passed along to me last week. He told the folks at his new work, “Please introduce yourself by name until I greet you by name when I see you.” So, I decided to give an example, saying, “Every time you introduce yourself, say, ‘Hi, Neal, I’m Roger Johnson (if that is your name)…” Well, that helped me ferret out some of Lehman’s finest comedians. Did you know there are 15 or 20 Roger Johnsons here (except that the guy I thought was Roger introduced himself as “Frank Sinatra” after church). But, everyone was upstaged by young Kamdyn Depp. Kamdyn came up to me right before evening worship, promptly shaking my hand and saying, “Hello, my name is Roger Johnson.” She deadpanned it perfectly, and it took me a while to stop laughing.

Kamdyn may never know how much it meant to me that she did that. First, it meant she was listening to my sermon. Second, as I found out it was her own idea, it meant that I meant enough to her for her to take the time to come tease me (side note: my mom used to tell me that people only tease you if they like you). It told me she was thinking about me. Third, it meant she was willing to engage me. We don’t know each other very well yet (though last night was a great head start), but she took the initiative.

Much talk is made of being a friendly church and how important that is to church growth and evangelism. All of us should take a page from Kamdyn’s playbook. Pay attention to people. Care about them. Don’t be afraid to engage them. You may quickly forget your act, but the recipient won’t!  We will have visitors at most of our assemblies. Your taking just a moment of time with someone might be the first seed that germinates in such a way that he or she ultimately is in heaven. It’s that big of a deal! So, go on up to that new person, smile, look them in the eye, and introduce yourself, but it’s probably best if you use your real name. Even if it isn’t Roger Johnson!

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This is NOT Roger Johnson

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. 

dark churches

Satan’s Schemes

Satan’s Schemes

Neal Pollard

Paul makes an interesting statement while addressing the successful effort the Corinthian church made in disciplining an erring brother along with the successful outcome of his having repented. He urges them to show him love, comfort, and forgiveness. The bottom line Paul gives for the urgency of their obedience is “so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). Back in the first letter, the church’s attitude and actions regarding a brother needing discipline was horrible, and Paul commanded them to act (1 Cor. 5). Here, they have acted and their efforts worked. They were in a prime position to grow and thrive. Yet, Paul reminds them of Satan’s motivation (to take advantage of us) and means (his schemes). 

But, when does Satan like to try and employ his schemes and take advantage of us? When we aren’t being sober and vigilant (1 Pet. 5:8). When we aren’t focused on resisting him (Jas. 4:7). When we aren’t standing firm in the Lord or against his schemes (Eph. 6:10ff). When we aren’t exercising self-control (1 Cor. 7:5). If you study those contexts and others that mention Satan more closely, you will see that he would like to take advantage of us in good times and bad times. He may be at work through the willing choices, words, and actions of people who unwittingly aid his cause through their sins. 

When might he seek to employ his schemes?

  • When new elders are appointed
  • During building programs
  • As numbers swell through baptisms and families placing membership
  • When preachers come and go
  • In a flurry of exciting activities
  • In the heart of some church problem or struggle
  • At the center of some personality struggle or conflict within the congregation
  • Through some controversial doctrinal, moral, or even cultural issue
  • When brethren put politics, race, or another issue of lesser importance over Christ and His church

Obviously, there are many more examples. The point is that Satan would love to use the good times or bad times we experience as a church to undermine and harm the work of the Lord. That should not make us paranoid, so paralyzed by fear that we refuse to act, or petrified to make needed changes. It does mean that we must not be ignorant of the fact that he doesn’t want the church to grow or move forward, and he will do what he can to stop it. What is so exciting is that he stands no chance against God. James says, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (4:7). Let us never be afraid to “dare and do” for God. We can do great things for Him and keep an eye out for the devil’s schemes.

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Picture from my last trip to Ngorogoro Crater, Tanzania, 12/17.