Categories
fellowship Uncategorized unity

“They Were Together”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

pollard

Neal Pollard

When I study the phenomenal growth of the New Testament church, there is no doubt that they owed that growth to the divine source of the message they preached and the dedicated way in which the early Christians spread the good news. They also believed that message with all their heart, and that faith drove a sense of dedication and commitment no matter what obstacles they encountered. But, along with factors like those, they grew because they needed one another. They spent time together, not just in their assembly times, but at other times.

Luke highlights this fact. “They were continually devoting themselves to fellowship” (Acts 2:42).  “They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46). “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). They got together to pray (Acts 4:23ff; 12:5,12). They got together daily for preaching and teaching (Acts 5:42). Though the word is used in a wide variety of contexts, you’ll find the word “together” over 30 times in Acts. 

Isolation is the word to best describe the trend in the current culture. Much of it is self-imposed, with so many withdrawing from social contact for such reasons as the ironically-named “social media” and technology. We have created a virtual world that, to some degree, has replaced authentic, face-to-face interaction. 

“Community” is built upon commonality and likemindedness. Sports, politics, civic and social interests, and the like all draw people together into circles of sameness. Nothing should compel any of us more than our faith in Christ, the salvation He freely gave us, and the incredible, eternal future He has promised us. What an ironclad bond, this “like precious faith” (2 Pet. 1:1)! There is no greater bond of closeness I can imagine than spending time with people whose hearts are open and submissive to the commands of Scripture and whose lives are lived in faith and hope in the promises of Scripture. They can help me grow and build my desire. Or, as the Hebrews writer says regarding assembly times, we can “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (10:24). 

When I was a teen, I remember a song that captured this sentiment perfectly, if simply: “Fellowshipping with one another as we’re walking in the light, when we give our hearts to each other you can feel the love inside. For there’s nothing as sweet as fellowship as we share each other’s lives” (Lancaster). Not bitterness, isolation, suspicion, grudge-bearing, apathy, or disinterest. Sweet fellowship! A church that grasps this will grow and thrive, strengthened and sustained through trials, problems, and opposition. May we be a church that’s remembered this way–“They were together!”

82004486_3488315787906452_613787694597668864_n
Photo credit: Rachel Wheat
Categories
accusation cooperation division Uncategorized unity

You Push That Way And I’ll Pull This Way

Neal Pollard

While it is true that each of us possesses unique abilities within the Lord’s body (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12), that fact bears closer scrutiny. God can use each of us, with our unique personalities, backgrounds, and experiences, to reach so many among the lost and to help so many among the saved. Yet, it is easy to lose sight of how we contribute to the health and growth of the congregation we are a part of. 

For example, the following should not be considered talents useful to the Lord’s cause:

  • Being gossips and busybodies (2 Th. 3:11; 1 Tim. 5:13).
  • Causing strife and being jealous (Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 3:3).
  • Judging your brother (Rom. 14:10; Jas. 4:11).
  • Returning evil for evil and insult for insult (1 Pet. 3:9). 
  • Being an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way (Rom. 14:13).
  • Speaking deceit (1 Pet. 3:10).
  • Giving the devil an opportunity (Eph. 4:27).
  • Keeping your leaders from doing their work with joy and not with grief (Heb. 13:17).

Certainly this is not an exhaustive list of ways we may misuse the stewardship of our speech and actions as members of the body of Christ. It can be so tempting, when we look at the church’s imperfections and people’s inevitable shortcomings. We have new Christians. All Christians have weaknesses. Those who lead and conduct the church’s work could inevitably do it better. 

What does the Lord want each of us to do as individual members of the Lord’s church? He calls for living in harmony in the Lord (Phil. 4:2). He wants us fitted, built, and held together (Eph. 2:21-22; 4:16). He wants us “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Phil. 2:2). Practically speaking, this means getting behind the work of the local church, contributing to it and building it up. It means asking how we can help and throwing our energy into that. It means constructively helping when a work is lagging or in need of direction. It means lovingly, respectfully interacting with the other members of the body. 

Comedian Steve Harvey compared his rise to success with pulling a wagon uphill. He said that many people may hop on that wagon and contribute something, He said they all need to be doing something to help you get that wagon up the hill. He warned against those who get on the wagon and have no value (via OWN, 9/12/14). Perhaps you’ve found yourself pushing toward a spiritual objective, only to feel the resistance of someone working against you. This is frustrating! However, never find yourself opposing good, needed works through misuses of your resources in ways like those in the bulleted list above. In the worst case scenario, we may even find that in doing so we “may even be found fighting against God” (Acts 5:39). Let’s do all we can to help build up the body of Christ, prayerfully studying what that does and does not mean!

compromise-donkey

Categories
church church growth unity

Things That Get The Church Excited

Neal Pollard

I grew up in the church, and something I learned long ago is that the majority of God’s people want to serve and please the Lord. There are sin problems we fight, doctrinal confusions we must confront, personality issues that arise, and distractions that sidetrack us far too often, but many times we fail to recognize and acknowledge that, with proper direction, a great many Christians are ready to mobilize and be about our Father’s business.  While the elders, deacons, and preachers have been frequently meeting together for the last couple of years to plan and organize the work here at Bear Valley, we have discovered so many positive things about each other. We are closer to each other and more excited about the church’s work.  We care more about the lost and the saved, and we are eager to prove it and spread that attitude congregation-wide.  As we have met and excitement has continued to build, I have been reminded of some basic, vital things that creates such an environment.  Here are three needed things I believe that still get the Lord’s people excited.

Purpose.  Have you ever heard a sermon on the church’s work and purpose? Of course! And bulletin and periodical articles, Bible classes, and gospel meetings and seminars. We talk a lot about purpose, but when you take tangible steps to accomplish the saving of souls, non-Christian and Christian souls, and meeting genuine needs you get excited knowing that you are partnering with God to do His will on this earth. Often, you have to measure progress in baby steps, but when you can look over an increment of time and see progress, it is absolutely exciting!  When Barnabas worked with Antioch, he “encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord” (Acts 11:23).  Purpose of heart still encourages the church!

Unity.  I’m not talking cheap union that is built upon nebulous, conviction-less coexistence, but unity built solidly upon the bedrock of truth!  That kind of unity is forged by having the difficult discussions, teaching the whole counsel, and striving together to fulfill the will of God.  When you couple doctrinal conviction with the aforementioned purpose, the net result is a unity that excites!  Joining with others who have the faith to take God at His word emboldens and propels you forward to do great things, right things, that glorify Him.  The inspired David point this out, saying, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1).  Tell me that is not exciting!

Leadership. Who sets the pace in articulating purpose and urging unity? Leaders! We know who leaders are. They are the ones leading.  They know where they are going and how to get us there, too.  We hear their voice and are eager to follow.  We are not willing to blindly follow those who are not right behind the Chief Shepherd, but those who are, in word and deed, we are willing to follow even through thickets and brambles. We trust them. We believe in them.  In fact, “We esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Th. 5:13).  God has designed elders to be those “senior leaders,” and He expects us all to be growing our spiritual influence and example.  It’s exciting to be a part of a church full of people conscientious about their influence!

I’m not unrealistic or purely idealistic.  I know that the Devil is unhappy with the church who is actively working to fulfill God’s purpose, being united in truth, and possessed of church leaders who have Christ as their pattern. We can let selfish ambition and improper motivation undermine the Lord’s will.  But, let’s not be unmindful of how great the work is and how great our opportunity to partner together with Christ and Christians to do it. It’s exciting!

IMG_1778

Categories
church growth fellowship

“As We Go Our Separate Ways…”

Neal Pollard

I’ve heard this prayed my whole life: “Be with us as we go our separate ways.”  I fully appreciate what is meant, but I lament a trend I’ve seen for many years.  Too often, we go our separate ways until the “next appointed time.”  We have no contact with one another. Instead, the bulk or totality of our contact is with worldly people with ungodly philosophies.  While we need to be among the world to exert salt and light, perhaps we have neglected something else that first century Christians took full advantage of.  Luke describes it this way, saying, “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).  As he had observed in verse 42, they were continually devoting themselves to fellowship.  This created a close knit community that could not only weather some huge storms of opposition, but it helped them produce an attractive environment that thousands of people wanted to be a part of. Perhaps we discount or even overlook what a vital part of church growth that fellowship and time together had on the early church.

Today, we have our civic activities, our kids’ full slate of responsibilities, our work and overtime, our personal entertainment regimen, and similar time-consuming matters that are not inherently wrong but that can help create a dramatic separation from our spiritual family during the week.  Where is the time allotment for getting together with other Christians during the week?  Have we relegated or resigned ourselves to Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night?  Are we losing the art of hospitality, of having spiritual family over to deepen Christian relationships?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to speak of each other and say that our hearts have “been knit together in love” (Col. 2:2)?  In that same context of the church’s beginning mentioned earlier, Luke adds, “All those who had believed were together and had all things in common” (2:44).  What will happen to the local church that becomes very intentional about this, not just with an exclusive few but in a way that includes new Christians, potential Christians, the otherwise disconnected, and those of different as well as similar demographics? Certainly, it requires time, effort, and even some expense, but what will it yield?  A feeling of connection in the place of separation.