What Are We Saying About The Church?

Neal Pollard

Recently, in an excellent lesson about gossip, the teacher recounted an incident I, and many others, could echo from the background of our own experience either in ministry or our personal lives. A mother asked her wayward daughter why she no longer was a member of the church. Her convicting reply, “The way that you always talked about the church, why would I be?” The way this daughter heard her parents talk about the church, she concluded the church was full of hypocrisy, flaws, and inadequacy. She was simply modeling what she heard them say throughout the years.

I’m thankful for the sound counsel we received well before we had children. We were advised never to speak ill of the church in front of our children, to run down elders, deacons, preachers, and other members. Knowing Kathy, she would have done this intuitively. For me, it was extremely helpful with my impetuous nature. Even whispered words in the front seat of the car, going home from church, will inevitably be heard by the little ears in the back seat (the same is true of the dinner table and other times the family is together). We may be blowing off steam, we may not have deep vendettas against the object of our criticism and complaint, and we may soon forget what we’ve said, but impressionable ears and hearts may internalize the words and materialize the message with their deeds and lives. 

The attitude, relationship, and loyalty our children have toward the church is most shaped and determined, for good or ill, by our example as parents. What will help us speak well of the Lord’s church? 

  • Remember who conceived of it, from nature to organization to purpose, etc. (Eph. 3:9-11).
  • Remember whose it is (Mat. 16:18-19; Eph. 5:33).
  • Remember our mission to bring others into it and that our home is our primary mission field (Mat. 28:19).
  • Remember how Jesus feels about the church (1 Tim. 3:15; Eph. 5:25).
  • Remember that the church is the location of the saved and we should do all we can to help our children make up that number (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 12:13).
  • Remember all that the Bible says God seeks to accomplish through the church: growth (Eph. 4:16), His glory (Eph. 3:20-21), and His grace (2 Cor. 8:1), among so many other things.

We may struggle to see our family harbor grudges and hard feelings against the church. Many factors may contribute to that, but we should begin with ourselves. What are we saying about the Lord’s bride? What is our attitude toward her? I cannot imagine that anything is more impactful than that, and that is probably the thing we can most control! May our family remember that our theme song, concerning the church, is, “I love Thy kingdom, Lord!” Surely this will influence how they feel about her, too. 

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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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Still Restoring

Neal Pollard

The idea of restoring New Testament Christianity is “that God set forth His standard of acceptance in salvation, worship, church organization and daily living” and “to follow the teachings of God, revealed in the New Testament, to direct our lives in the same way as He did first century Christians” (therestorationmovement.com/about.htm). We can open our Bibles and find a pattern for what the New Testament church is to look like, not in customs and culture, but in commands and cause. Yet, a tendency we must guard against is a haughty spirit that portrays the idea that we have already arrived. Consider four areas where we need to keep at the restoration plea and overcome neglect.

  • CHURCH DISCIPLINE. For years, I have seen this referred to as “the forgotten commandment.” At times, people will say of it things like “it doesn’t work,” “it’s harmful,” “it runs people away,” etc. Were we to substitute that argumentation for subjects like women’s role, worship, or baptism, wouldn’t we cry heresy or apostasy? However, in far too many instances, we have simply ignored and failed to practice this plain, New Testament teaching (Mat. 18:15-17; Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Thes. 3; Ti. 3:10-11).
  • EVANGELISM. It is so much easier to focus upon ourselves, to devote all our resources to internal issues.  Is there a spirit of evangelistic zeal running rampant among us? Is this an area to restore, to be like the early church? Perhaps we may be intimidated by the culture of political correctness. It could be the risk of ruining relationships or even rejection that causes us to avoid efforts at soul-winning. It could even be that we need to build our conviction for or commitment to this imperative given by the resurrected Savior Himself (Mat. 28:18-20;Mark 16:15-16;  Luke 24:44-47).
  • CHURCH ORGANIZATION. It is very likely that the number of churches of Christ which have elders are in the minority. At times, the reality of a shortage of qualified men is to blame. At other times, preachers or others prefer not to have elders. But, even where churches are “scripturally organized” (i.e., having elders and deacons), there is room for restoration— Preachers preaching and evangelizing, elders leading and shepherding (pastoring), and deacons actively carrying out  and administrating the ministries and works of the local church.  At times, there is a need to restore the roles of each of these works so that the proper, appointed men are doing the work Scripture outlines for them.
  • BROTHERLY LOVE. This is difficult, in a world increasingly characterized by hate, discord, and general worldliness. In our culture, where it’s easy to become disconnected with others—even our Christian family—we must strive to restore the beacon and central identification mark Jesus urged when He said, “ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Isn’t there room for more concentration upon this command, which will be reflected in how we treat each other locally and in the brotherhood as a whole (1 Pet. 2:17)?

I love to spend as much time as possible talking about what the church is doing right. It is doing so much right. By following the New Testament pattern regarding salvation, worship, the church’s purpose, and the like, we stand out in a religious world that has lost its way. Meanwhile, however, let us stay at the business of restoring the church to the pattern revealed in Scripture, even in areas that are more difficult and demanding though just as necessary.

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“What’s Your Passion?”

Neal Pollard

Most of us, repeatedly throughout our lives, get asked or ask ourselves the question, “What’s your passion?” The word, defined as “a strong and barely containable emotion,” is one we may use for ourselves but one as likely to be used by others to describe us. Thanks to social media, we can see people’s interests, hobbies, and diversions whenever we choose. They post pictures, make comments, and talk about them with great frequency. However, there are some people whose focus is so intent on some topic that their emotion spills over. If anyone else brings it up, they cannot refrain from jumping in “with both dogs.” Yet, they themselves are always finding and sharing relevant material that supports or upholds their views. Maybe it’s guns (for or against), race (black, white, or hispanic), politics (R or D), illegal immigration (for or against), or some equally charged issue. Have you ever noticed someone whose passion seems to be for being argumentative and disagreeable? Passion is unmistakeable.

Not only through social media, but through my every social interaction, my life is declaring what my passion is. Those closest to me are best equipped to reveal what that is, but everyone who is exposed to me for any period of time can figure it out. What a sobering thought! I know what I would want that to be. Paul said, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). In Philippians 3:10, he simply says, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings…” We have the corpus of Paul’s inspired writings, and it is filled with his expressing that passion. We have eyewitnesses to his ministry, especially Luke, who verify that this is what drove him and ignited his passion.

A lot of people know that I enjoy dark roast coffee, all things Georgia Bulldogs, running, peanut butter, traveling, and my family, but do they see passion for Christ in my life? I don’t get to say what my passion is, simply by thinking about what it should be in some moment of reflection. It is what my life shows that it is. When all is said and done, what will have been the great passion of my life? What about you?

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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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Working Together To Survive The Hunt

Neal Pollard

1 Peter 5:8 calls the devil a roaring lion prowling around seeking someone to devour. It is obvious that Peter’s readers would have seen or at least heard about these kings of the jungle for the analogy to make sense and be practical.  Lions lurk, longing for lunch.

In the savannas of East Africa, their meal of choice is usually either the wildebeest or zebra. Despite this, these two animals continue to graze and migrate together. In fact, because they are chief prey of the lion (and other big cats), they need to stick together. Various observers and experts give different explanations for why. Zebras have great farsightedness and the wildebeests have excellent peripheral vision, but each are poor at seeing what the other sees well. Others explain that wildebeests have mouths better suited for short grass while zebras’ are made for the long grass that grow intermittently together on the plains. Still others point to the zebras superior memories, recalling the safety routes of the previous year, and the wildebeests uncanny ability to find water even when such is scarce. Probably, it is the combination of these facts that cause the symbiotic relationship between these two large mammals. They do not all survive, but the vast majority do. The reason is because they utilize their own abilities but also because they rely on the abilities of others.

In a letter where Peter is addressing a people who were at times spiritual prey, he does more than use the simba simile. He urges Christians to stick together and look out for one another. He calls for sincere, fervent, from the heart love for one another (1:22; 4:8). He urges complaint-free hospitality toward one another (4:9). He commands serving one another (4:10). He teaches there to be mutual humility displayed toward one another (5:5). He ends the letter exhorting an affectionate, loving greeting of one another (5:14). As much as anything, this is a recognition of mutual dependence.

If we understand that we are not at home in this world (2:11) and are living and longing for the inheritance in heaven (1:4), we should come to understand our mutual need of each other. That does not just mean looking for others’ help, but also giving it. This is by God’s design. Notice, for example, the proactive protection we provide each other by being “harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead…” (3:8-9a). Right before the lion passage, Peter talks about different groups looking out for and helping each other (5:1-6).

Any of us, through suffering, temptation, doubt, or some other factor, could drift away from the safety and security of the fold. Let us be more than mindful of each other. Let us depend on each other to survive the hunt and make it to eternal safety.  I will face the lion many times in this life, and I depend on you to help me survive.

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Putting A Price Tag On The Value Of Our Youth

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you’ve seen the news story about the six year old boy who made $11 million dollars this year on YouTube reviewing toys. Ryan, of Ryan ToysReview, has been reviewing toys since he was three years old. He has over 10 million subscribers to his channel, which had a 40-week streak of most viewed YouTube channel this year. He even had NBA star Kevin Durant appear in one of his video reviews in September. His videos are described as simple, innocent, and personable (Samantha Schmidt, Washington Post, 12/11/17 via www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix).

That’s incredible! Such savvy, drive, and entrepreneurship. One of the traps we need to avoid is selling the intelligence and abilities of young people short. That’s even truer in the church than in the world.

When I look at our youth, I see perhaps the most evangelistic demographic in our congregation. Teens invite classmates to church just to “see what it’s about.” Then, our other teens reaching out and welcoming them into the group. They have a fearlessness about them that can drive the rest of us to greater effectiveness in this arena.

When I look at our youth, I see tenderheartedness. It doesn’t just drive them to be baptized or to publicly respond to the invitation. It moves them to be compassionate, to help the unfortunate or to be concerned for those who others may overlook. They are shamed by their sins and moved by praising the greatness of God.

When I look at our youth, I see a boundless resource of energy. They are active and alive, and when they channel that to serve–whether our elderly, the homeless, or each other–it’s exciting to see. You see it when they get together, talking and laughing. So many of us feed off of their vitality.

When I look at our youth, I see hope and idealism. Life too often depletes them of these priceless commodities. We need to do more to build them. Hope is about confident expectation, and isn’t the Christian life to be founded upon that (Romans 8:24)? Idealism may be seen as having higher expectations than are realistic, but it’s this mountain-moving faith that causes churches to grow and do what only can be done when God is factored into the equation. He is perfect and able (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Through their evangelism, example, energy, and expectation, our youth are of inestimable value to the church as a whole. Let’s nurture them and help them grow. Let’s give them opportunities to make an impact right now. All of us will reap infinite value from these infinitely valuable ones (cf. Matthew 18:1-6).

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Biggest Misunderstandings About Public Responses

Neal Pollard

There are a couple of examples of public responses to the gospel message in the Bible, both in Acts.  One is positive and the other is negative.  As Peter was preaching that God has made Jesus Lord, the Pentecost crowd interrupted him with the question, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  As Stephen was delivering a similar message, his audience stopped listening and they cried out with a loud voice before putting the preacher to death (Acts 7:54ff).  Mention is made of a one another response that could apply to the corporate assembly, confessing sins (Jas. 5:16; 1 Jn. 1:9).  How public the setting was when Peter called for Simon to repent we do not know for certain (Acts 8:18-24).  So, why do we end our sermons with a call to publicly respond?  Is this simply borrowed from the denominations or is it just a rote tradition devoid of deeper purpose?

Often, we have explained the invitation as being an “expedient,” which I think it is.  When we speak of an “expedient,” we refer to a practice that is thought convenient, practical, suitable or appropriate but neutral (neither right nor wrong) and a-biblical (not found in the Bible but not unbiblical).  It is a sensible activity.  Hopefully, the sermon contains a call to change and is persuasive in nature.  Maybe, the person comes in the door that day convicted of his or her need to become a Christian or repent of public sin.  Affording a moment that makes it easy for one needing to obey Christ in one of these ways to do so is appropriate.

I have been in assemblies in this country and overseas that do not have such a time set aside or that do so at other times during the gathering—some do so at the beginning of the service so that a person can worship without being alienated from God (cf. Mat. 5:24), some invite anyone who needs to publicly respond to remain standing after the lesson and a song, some encourage people who need to respond to write their need on a card or piece of paper and hand it to an usher, the preacher, the elders, or someone designated to collect such communication.

While I think it is good for us to consider that there is more than one way to do this and that we are not mandated to do it at all in the assembly, I believe our current arrangement is a fine way to try and help people who need to make spiritual changes and improvements.   Yet, someone who feels the need to make such a response often hesitates or decides against it.  Certainly, the problem on such an occasion might be fear or delay, but is it ever due to some misunderstanding such a one has?  Here are a few of the biggest misunderstandings people have about responding to the invitation:

  •  Nobody but me is struggling with sin in their lives.  Truth: Romans 3:23.
  •  It is a sign of weakness to respond publicly.  Truth: Luke 15:10, 17
  •  Everybody will look down on me, judge me, or gossip about me if I respond.  Truth: Luke 15:28-32
  •  People will distance themselves from me if I respond.  Truth: 1 Corinthians 12:26-27.

Maybe you are thinking this or something similar.  May I assure you that every righteous person on earth and all the inhabitants of heaven would like nothing better than to help you be right with God.  Death and the Judgment loom, and we cannot let anything keep us from making proper preparation for them.  So, if you need to respond today or any day, won’t you come?

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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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My Social Media Pledge

Neal Pollard

  • I will try to use social media to encourage and edify others (1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Cor. 14:26b).
  • I will avoid the shocking, inflammatory, and divisive tactics increasingly characteristic of S.M. (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10; Prov. 12:18; Prov. 15:2,4; etc.).
  • I will ask, “Would I say this in the way I am saying this?,” if face to face with this person or this group of people (Prov. 23:7).
  • I will not use Social Media to pick fights or put people on the defensive (cf. 2 Tim. 3:1ff).
  • I will not be Nellie Nitpicker and Contrary Charlie. About. Every. Single. Little. Thing.
  • I will respect that my connections have connections that are not Christians and I want to be sure to say what I say in accordance with Ephesians 4:15 and 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
  • I will sever connections with individuals who consistently display a lack of self-control with their words and attitudes. Souls are too precious.
  • I will abhor the thought of doing what would put Christ to an open shame (cf. Heb. 10:29).
  • I will double-check myself to avoid bragging and self-promotion (1 Cor. 13:4-5).
  • I will conquer the desire to have the last word, pile on, or fight fire with fire (Mat. 5:39-42).
  • I will not let the false teaching, bad attitude, or meanness of another be my rationale for behaving in a way that brings Christ shame or jeopardizes my own soul (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-27).
  • I will always be trying to set the table for productive evangelism or retrieving the wayward (Jas. 5:19-20; Col. 4:6).
  • I will always try to portray the doctrinal, moral, and ethical values of my Lord, thus avoiding reflecting and glorifying whatever values conflict with His (Mat. 5:14-16).
  • I will try to promote, not pummel, the bride of Jesus, appreciate, not attack, the elders, and unite, not untie, wherever possible.
  • I will shun passive aggression in myself first, but also in others.
  • I will deal with dirty laundry in its appropriate way, which is not on Social Media.
  • I will actively try to show grace to everyone, including cantankerous curmudgeons.
  • I will, foremost, realize my own imperfections and try every day I use Social Media to do so in the way Jesus would, if He had Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, a blog, LinkedIn, etc. In a way, through you and me, He does. I will let that sink in!

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