“Let’s Go Back To Church”

“Let’s Go Back To Church”

Neal Pollard

A law enforcement officer interviewed on a Chicago news station was commenting on the most recent, tragic shooting, this one in the Windy City’s northern suburb town of Highland Park. He began talking about root causes of these shootings, comparing these shooters to weeds that pop up various places. In the midst of this, he made an incredible statement: “Let’s go back to church.”

I got to thinking about what, if any, connection these shooters had with organized religion. Is there a trend? In 2018, John Lott, President of Crime Prevention Research Center, wrote, “What is most shocking is how few of these killers appear to be religious, let alone Christian. Just 16 percent have any type of religious affiliation at the time of their attacks, with a slight majority of those being Muslims” (https://dailycaller.com/2018/05/26/religion-of-mass-public-shooters/). His criteria was a mass public shooting in which at least four people were killed. He counted 69 killers in 66 shootings from 1998-2018. Just four of these identified themselves as Christians and just three were “clearly regular church goers” (ibid.). 

On the other side of the coin, The New York Times shared the results of a study done by the University of Kentucky of 3000 participants in 13 countries. The lead paragraph by writer Benedict Carey states, “Most people around the world, whether religious or not, presume that serial killers are more likely to be atheists than believers in any god, suggests a new study, which counters the common assumption that increasingly secular societies are equally tolerant of nonbelievers. Avowed atheists exhibited the same bias in judging sadistic criminals, the study found” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/07/health/atheists-religion-study.html). 

But, truly this is not about finger-pointing. For those with a biblical worldview, we can see a connection between society’s that violate God’s will and a great many consequences (Prov. 14:34). That is perhaps a needed point for a different article. Instead, consider something about the wisdom of God in how He intended the church to function and behave. From the very beginning, the church was established to be a place of community and fellowship (Acts 2:42). It was also designed to be a place of internal accountability (1 Cor. 5; Gal. 6:1-2; Jas. 5:19-20). In Christ, the individual is given a better, more positive view of self (1 Pet. 2:5,9; 1 John 3:1-3), of fellow-believers (John 13:34-35), and even those who are different than them and even persecutors of them (Mat. 5:38-48). 

I would argue that there are so many more reasons why one should consider attending church. There is an eternal gain that makes anything which happens in this life bearable (Rev. 2:10). There are spiritual blessings in such abundance that it’s hard to count them all (Eph. 1:3ff).  There I a joy in serving with others and in the serving of others (Gal. 5:13; John 13:12-17). Yet, there is also an antidote to isolation and the frightening results of the echo chamber that occurs in the absence of others to help balance and challenge us to be better and live better. Isolation and loneliness seem to be occurring in epidemic proportions. This certainly is a scourge on mental health, but it also has social, emotional, spiritual, and even physical consequences. Perhaps that law enforcement expert is right. Maybe the answer is as simple as, “Let’s go back to church.”

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:23-25).

via Flickr (creative commons)
How TEN Creative Congregations Are Growing In 2020 

How TEN Creative Congregations Are Growing In 2020 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

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

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

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

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

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Audience Analysis

Audience Analysis

Neal Pollard

People, in talking about public speaking, will sometimes speak of “audience analysis.” What they mean is that you need to know your audience or you run the risk of being irrelevant, disconnected, and even possibly offensive. You may assume too much of them or sell them way short. Neither extreme is effective.

A wonderful sign for any congregation is the presence of especially non-Christian visitors, especially those from our community. Hopefully, we are doing something right when these visitors make repeat visits to our assemblies. However, too often, I fear that we have not done sufficient “worship neighbor analysis” or, equally, “Bible class neighbor” analysis. I recently was in a class when a teacher made a remark about how poorly a specific religious group scored on a Bible comprehension quiz. The remark itself was poignant and effective, but the cackling laughter from a few near the front of the class was easily heard throughout the classroom. I’m sure it was heard by two students sitting near them whose background is in that religious group. One is a brand new Christian and the other is a non-Christian visiting with him. Not only was the members’ reaction unnecessary, it displayed a lack of awareness of who else was present.

At times, we select songs from a century when “thees” and “thous” were commonplace and whose vocabulary was drastically different from how we speak today (“guerdon,” “cassia,” “pinion,” “dross,” and “hoary”). Even songs I have long been fond of read in ways that seem almost foreign to us today. Preparation for worship leadership should include a cognizance of how new Christians, young people, non-Christians, and the like will process or even if they can process such.

Specifically biblical or theological terms which we know people like our neighbors, coworkers, and classmates do not understand should not be uttered undefined. Making assumptions in an age marked by a growing lack of biblical literacy can undermine our effectiveness. It can make the most relevant message of all seem irrelevant and incomprehensible.

Of course, most fundamentally, one of the most unforgivable sins in the eyes of the typical visitor is to be ignored or made to feel invisible. We may hesitate to engage someone because we lack awareness of their “status” (visitor or member). Instead of risking embarrassment, scorn, or an expenditure of time, we walk past them or speak to someone we know we know. Perhaps, in believing that true seekers find, we let ourselves off the hook despite Jesus’ call for us to sympathetically consider others (Lk. 6:31; 1 Pet. 3:8).  Common sense should move us to see that we can attract or detract, depending on how we react.

Spiritual maturity will steer us to be mature, kind, patient, and self-aware. Basic thoughtfulness will help us prepare, speak, and act in ways that make us magnets for the Messiah rather than repellant from the Redeemer. The effort will be appreciated and, I truly believe, rewarded. If we need to, let’s break out of our bubbles of isolation and seek to see things through the eyes of others—especially “the little” (Mat. 10:42; 18:6-14) and “the least” (Mat. 25:40).

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Who Is The Greatest?

Who Is The Greatest?

Neal Pollard

  • The preacher who dazzles with his insight, personality, influence, popularity, or following?
  • The teacher who is the students’ favorite?
  • The member who is “balling” (making a lot of money and having a lot of success in business)?
  • The family with the biggest house and nicest automobiles?
  • The one with the best academic pedigree, with the proverbial alphabet soup behind their name?
  • The folks who are best known and most influential in our community?
  • The ones who are incredibly fit and attractive?
  • The greatest debater, philosopher, and reasoner we know?
  • The elder who is most successful in his career?
  • One who seems to combine a great many or even all of these attributes?

It could be one of these individuals, but despite and not because of the specifics just mentioned. But, we so easily fall into the trap that causes us to think that those criteria are what make one greatest.  Such can cause us to vest blind trust in them or put them in a higher place than is right. Worse, we can try to be motivated to define and promote ourselves as greatest through these means.

The tendency is so fundamental. Jesus warned against it in places like Matthew 20:25-28 and 23:12. His disciples, like James (4:6-10), Peter (1 Pet. 3:8; 5:5-6), Paul (2 Cor. 10:12-18), Jude (16), and the rest, at least implicitly, address the same trap. We all fight the desire to be seen so as to be admired. We may do so through our marriages, our children’s accomplishments, our economic status, our apparent importance, our having it all together, our professional prowess, or any other asset we feel responsible for having. If we use these things to place ourselves above and/or push others below, we are disqualifying ourselves for greatness in the only way that matters—God’s way. False modesty isn’t the answer, either.

We must look at ourselves as dependent creatures. It’s all His and without Him we’d have nothing!
We must look at ourselves as devoted stewards. It’s all His and He expects us to use it wisely, on His behalf!
We must look at ourselves as divine instruments. It’s all His and He works through us to do His will!
We must look at ourselves as dutiful slaves. It’s all His and so are we, living and serving at and for His pleasure!

The warning and disclaimer is that this transformation must happen at heart-level, rooting out thoughts and attitudes that, while fleshly, are so easy to embrace. If the weeds of pride aren’t dislodged from deep within, this effort will prove impossible. But, if it could not be done, God would not have spent so much time instructing us to live and walk by the Spirit rather than by the desires of the flesh and mind. It is the old song, “None of self and all of Thee.” To the degree we adorn that mindset and make that transformation, to that degree we will achieve greatness God’s way!

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