Categories
evangelism outreach unchurched worship

Ten Thought’s Your Church Visitors Are Thinking 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

We’ve all had opinions and reactions in public that never made it from our brains to our mouths. Not all of these were positive, and perhaps that’s why they were never spoken.

Have you ever wondered what visitors who come into our home congregation are thinking? What do they make of the worship service? How do they see the people who fill the building?

I’d like to dedicate this post to the young people I’ve had the opportunity to talk with and who have privately expressed their first impressions of the Lord’s church. These honest thoughts did not come from people who were trying to be disrespectful.

Here’s a list of TEN thoughts (some rephrased) that most visitors won’t openly say. 

  1. “I guess I came underdressed for this church.”
  2. “Why do you stand for some songs and not the others?”
  3. “Why are the communion plates gold?”
  4. “I didn’t understand the purpose of the invitation.”
  5. “Nobody smiled much until after the service.”
  6. “I’ve got too much baggage for you guys.”
  7. “I didn’t even know this church was here.”
  8. “How much money was I supposed to put inside the plate?”
  9. “It’s a nice congregation, but there’s not a lot of people my age.”
  10. “Sorry for bringing my drink into the sanctuary.”

While these comments and questions may seem negative, I’m thankful that they’ve given us their perspective. As His church, we should be thoughtful about who we are, and what we’re engaged in when we come together.

We’re either involved in offering our Father praise and worship, or we’re enjoying the sweet fellowship that we have in Christ. God is our life, God is the One who gives every blessing, and God is the one who saved us from ourselves. With this in mind—

Here’s a list of FIVE things we can do to let visitors know what we’re all about. 

  1. We should carry ourselves with an attitude that expresses our joy and thankfulness. They may not understand everything about the service or the practical aspects of our traditions, but they see a group of people who have been given the greatest gift ever given.
  2. Let’s not place too much emphasis on the location of worship, but the worship itself. There’s nothing holy about the “sanctuary” but there should be something holy about the acts being done and the people in the pews.
  3. Even though we may have been to worship countless times, we shouldn’t assume that everyone completely understands what’s going on. There should be an effort put into briefly explaining why we’re participating in each act of worship, as well as who it applies to. For example, visitors are not required to give. We shouldn’t assume they already know this.
  4. We’re all in need of Christ’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace. God is the God of second chances…and beyond! Do the visitors know this? We’ve all got varying amounts of baggage, but even a small pocketbook full of sin is enough to eternally condemn us.
  5. No matter how odd things may appear to a first time visitor, if we can show them the love of Christ, what was once strange to them— just might become beautifully familiar.

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Categories
heart worship zeal

“The Frozen Chosen”

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Recently, in discussing some extremes on matters like the Holy Spirit, grace, and emotion in our worship services, a brother said that a friend of his referred to churches of Christ as “the frozen chosen.” The man was part of a religious group we’d call “charismatic,” and he had attended the worship of one of our congregations which he apparently found stoic and lifeless. We chuckled at the nickname, but it stuck with me.

It is likely that this man found it strange and lacking to have singing without a band, preaching and worshipping without ecstatic utterances and tongue-speaking, and even members seated and without raised hands. We’d rightly point out that the New Testament specifies singing and that adding mechanical instruments is unauthorized (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16), that tongue-speaking belonged to the infancy of the Lord’s church as a means of communicating the gospel to other languages (Acts 2:6-11) and, though a means of proving apostolic truth at that time, was regulated and said to be inferior to other spiritual gifts even in the first-century (1 Cor. 14:1ff). We’d show that it was done away (1 Cor. 13:8-12). We’d talk about the need for decency and orderliness (1 Cor. 14:40). Our comedic observer could be charged with holding to some extreme views.

I don’t know about you, though, but I don’t want to be characterized as being at the other extreme. It hurts to think that I convey a “frozen chosen” persona in worship or in the exercise of my Christian life. Worship that is lifeless, rote and repetitive, that’s so predictable that you can engage in it on auto-pilot, that evidences no emotion–joy, intensity of feeling, enthusiasm, etc.–is not the antidote to our religious friend’s brand of religion. While none of us can read each other’s mind to gauge depth of feeling (or lack thereof), cues like body language, facial expressions, hearty engagement, and the like are noticeable by their absence as much as their presence. Ask song leaders what they see on the faces of those seated before them. Ask preachers the same. Ask members what kind of intensity and interest they perceive in the preacher and song leader. 

We’re not the worship critics or the audience of worship. God is. But as we engage in worship that is according to truth, we need to examine the spirit of it (John 4:24). We do not have to be “Holy Rollers” to avoid the other extreme. As those redeemed from sins which would eternally condemn us, shouldn’t we have melted hearts which overflow with gratitude, praise, and passion? Shouldn’t such be obvious to those who visit our assemblies? Be present, with mind and body. Be involved, from beginning to end. Be engaged, inside and out. I want anyone who is watching my worship (and Christian life away from worship) to at least think of me as the “thawed awed” or, hopefully, the “fervent servant.” I do not want to be part of the “frozen chosen.”

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Categories
New Testament Christianity restoration Restoration Movement Uncategorized

A Simple Way To Identify The Church Jesus Started 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

 

There are just too many voices in the world today muddying the waters when it comes to 21st Century Christianity. In fact, the term “Christianity” doesn’t mean much to the average person. In fact, the average person will most likely have several friends who carry this title and they know based on their morals— they’re not really different. Sadly it’s a description that doesn’t describe much, other than an individual that believes in God. This word has been tragically stripped of what is the most rewarding life you could possibly live. There’s simply no higher calling, there is no greater purpose in life, and you just can’t beat the retirement plan.

Now let’s do something to help the seeking world out.

Let’s make it our priority to understand the church in such a way that we can simplify her mission and her origin.

Here are two terms that will help

  1. The term “restoration” may sound similar to “reformation”, but the two terms could not be more contrary to each other. Restoration is an attempt to restore the church to the pattern we find in the New Testament, while reformation is a reforming of what currently exists. It’s a modification or addition which creates something new entirely. The Old Testament is filled with the pleas of the prophets for the people to restore their relationships with God.

2.  The definition of the word “denomination” is evidence that restoration is not only    possible, but needed. Denomination, in the religious world, describes a branch off of an  original. Any branch coming off of the New Testament church, is simply not it.

Five Facts About The Lord’s Church

  1. The NT church was established by Jesus, not Luther, Henry the 8th, Calvin, Smith, or Wesley
  2. The NT church was established in Jerusalem, not Oxford, London, or Amsterdam
  3. In NT times people were told to believe in Jesus, repent of their sins,  be baptized by a total immersion of water, and to live faithfully (Acts 2:38, 16:30-31, 2:16, Mark 16:15-16)
  4. Christians in the NT met on the first day of the week to partake of the Lord’s Supper, Acts 20:7
  5. The NT church was a united church, while denominationalism is, by it’s very nature, divided.

If the church you are a part of can say the same, you can be confident that it is the church that Jesus established. If this is not what the church you are a part of teaches and practices, then perhaps this will be some information that will help you begin a life changing search to find God’s will for your life.

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Categories
assemblies commitment faithfulness Uncategorized worship

AREN’T WE ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION?

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

  • I’ve never heard the avid fisherman say, “Do I have to go back to the lake?”
  • I’ve never heard the shopaholic say, “How often do I have to go to the store?”
  • I’ve never heard the committed sports fan say, “How many games do I have to watch?”
  • I’ve never heard the foodie say, “How often do I have to try a new restaurant or dish?”
  • I’ve never heard the head-over-heels-in-love say, “How many times do I have to see him/her each week?”
  • I’ve never heard the devoted mom say, “How often must I hold my baby?”

We’ve lost the battle when our sermons, articles, and classes center around answering the question, “How often must I assemble? How many times a week do I have to come to church? Are Sunday night and Wednesday night mandatory?”

How unnatural for a disciple, a committed follower of Jesus who is in love with Him and who has such a relationship with Him that He is priority number one, to approach the assemblies in such a way! Must? Have to? You see, the question is wrong. The mentality and approach is where the work needs to occur.

When Jesus and His church are my passion, the thought-process becomes “I get to,” “I want to,” and “I will!” Neither parents, grandparents, spouses, elders, preachers, siblings, nor anyone else have to get behind anyone and push the one who has put Jesus at the heart and center of their lives.

Not a legalistic or checklist mindset. Instead, an outgrowth of what’s happening in my life between my God and me. Church “attendance” is but one evidence of this, but it certainly is an evidence of this. Church and religion are not just a slice of the pie of a committed Christian’s life. Christ is the hub in the wheel of their life, and each spoke of the wheel is attached to that hub. The difference could not be more dramatic!

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Categories
commitment commonsense correction

So What?

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

Here’s a quick recap of the bizarre events that unfold in Acts 20:

 

  • Paul preaches past midnight.
  • A young man named Eutychus falls asleep.
  • As a result, he plummets to his death.
  • He is then miraculously brought back to life.

 

 

 

So what?

Each word that was written in Scripture was penned under God’s guidance— for our guidance. This means that even those accounts that might initially strike us as pointless are, in truth, spiritually-pointed.

With this is in mind, let’s briefly examine three life lessons from Eutychus that deliver relevant reminders for the 21st-century Christian.

  1. A lesson on Commonsense: God is with His people. God protects His people, but we still read of a young man who sits where he shouldn’t have. As a result, he tumbles to his death. Unfortunate things can happen to godly people, especially in the absence of commonsense.
  2. A Lesson On Commitment: This account is not a call for preachers to shorten their sermons, or even a warning for members who might be tempted to take a nap in worship. While Eutychus may not be the first guy that comes to mind when we think of a Bible character who demonstrated commitment— he still made it a priority to be with his Christian family. He held on, even though it was clearly past his bedtime. How many of us have stayed away from services simply because we don’t feel like it? How many Christians find themselves struggling to remain focused in a one hour period of worship? There is something to be said for this man’s commitment to Christ— even as the hours ticked by and exhaustion began to take its toll on him.
  3. A Lesson On Correction: Though I would not want to be immortalized in history as the guy who fell out of a window in church, this potential tragedy became a powerful testimony of God’s grace. God does not expect total perfection, but rather our constant correction. When we take a tumble spiritually, what corrections can we implement to avoid the same mistake in the future?

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Categories
devotion praise worship

Yearning To Assemble

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Yesterday was an emotional day. As expected, our attendance was a fraction of our normal size. The current threat is not yet over, but it was a stride toward what we pray is an imminent return of many more. Even from behind the masks and with the required social distancing, the joy and excitement was palpable. From preschool children to even a few octogenarians, our local brethren once again were able to do as God’s people have done for 2,000 years. We had others, mostly in higher risk categories or in daily contact with those who are high risk, who parked outside and tuned in via FM transmitter. They were in proximity with each other and able to fellowship with those around them and many on their way into and out of the building. A great many at home tuned in to the Live Stream and let us know of the hope and joy they feel that we’ve taken this step, several letting us know that as soon as is medically safe they will be there, too. 

Our godly, wonderful shepherds have agonized over how to “return to normal” legally, wisely and safely. At the heart of most of their discussions and “church business” is how this “layoff” or separation or disruption will effect the faith and dedication of us sheep. Their hope is that we will view this situation as one that, for a time, made us a church full of “shut ins” that we could accommodate through virtual services (and later drive-in services) to help keep us connected rather than seeing this as the permanent arrangement or to excuse choosing other activities over assembling when there is no such crisis in place. 

None of us knows the future, and it is hard to predict how every individual will respond post-pandemic. But, the heart of each of us will be at the heart of the matter as we prayerfully decide the timetable for our return. To shape and guide us on that spiritual journey, God has given us insight into the hearts of His saints through the centuries to influence our spiritual hunger. Here is but a sampling:

  • David: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord'” (Psa. 122:1; notice also Psa. 27:4).
  • Zechariah: “The inhabitants of one (city) will go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I will also go (some versions: “Let me go too!”)'” (8:21; the whole chapter is beautiful)
  • Luke: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42; context shows them together day by day publicly and privately)
  • Hebrews’ writer: “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (10:24, in the context of the assemblies).

But it’s the sons of Korah’s words in Psalm 84 that I want to close considering.

  • He saw assembling as “lovely” (1)–Appealing!
  • He saw assembling with “longing” (2)–Attractive!
  • He saw assembling as “logical” (3)–Appropriate!
  • He saw assembling as “lasting” (4,10)–Advantageous!
  • He saw assembling as “lavishing” (note “how blessed” throughout)–Abundance!

The separation and disruption was not of our choosing, but it might have and adverse effect upon us and cause us to forget the blessings of being together in praise and worship to our God. May the inspired words from saints like these help us fortify our souls as we anticipate the time when we are able once again meet each other in His presence for worship! 

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Categories
Christian living Christianity discipline spiritual maturity spirituality

Spiritual Maintenance

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

Since being mainly confined to home, we’ve had a lot more time to do outdoor activities. One of those activities (besides mowing and building a chicken house) has been target practice and clay shooting. Not only has it been an enjoyable activity, it has also been a great way to spend time with family and engage in some friendly competition.
After the range is cold and we’re ready to stop, the process of cleaning our guns begins. Some don’t require as much cleaning as others, but all of them get a brush, cleaning rod, and some lubricant. This helps to prevent wear and tear in the long term, but it also prevents build-up from causing malfunctions or damage next time. It’s not always the most enjoyable activity but is necessary anyway.
It’s far too easy to get caught up in the concerns of life (especially now!), to the neglect of our spiritual maintenance. Most of us are currently unable to worship physically with our spiritual family. We have had to cancel many of our church events and get-togethers. We are more-or-less confined to our homes. Financial and health concerns are at the front line of our minds.
If we don’t stay on top of our spiritual maintenance while this craziness is going on, all kinds of nastiness will build up in our lives. While the world is more or less halted, are we continuing to be tools for good? Have we used some of this time to inspect our spiritual well-being? This is such a great opportunity to do a self-checkup using scripture to clean parts of our lives that need to be removed.
As stated earlier, cleaning guns is not exactly exhilarating. It can be painstaking, monotonous, dirty, and time consuming. If it isn’t done, though, it will lead to premature wear and tear and malfunctions.
Breaking sinful behaviors, leaving our uncertainties in God’s hands, confronting our spiritual struggles, resolving doubts in our faith, repairing relationships that we have damaged, and working towards tangible growth in our spiritual lives can be far from exciting or fun. These things require effort, discomfort, confrontation, and dedication. While not the most pleasant in the moment, they will help us to be the best that we can be.
When we do our spiritual maintenance we become better encouragers, better soul-winners, better friends/family, and we develop strong endurance. Our goal in all of this is to reduce the wear and tear of our spiritual lives by living like Jesus. This kind of maintenance will allow us to do more than last a while – properly maintaining our spiritual lives and relying on God’s grace will cause us to last for eternity with Him.
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Categories
attendance church attendance Hebrews worship

Hebrews 10:25 And COVID-19

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

Gary III

Gary Pollard

An alarming number of people today are obsessed with the COVID-19 outbreak. Nearly every post on social media is focused on it, stores are selling out of essentials, and it comes up in nearly every conversation. This article is not about Coronavirus-19. I’m tired of reading about it and I’m assuming you are, too.

Because the virus is particularly dangerous for older people or those with underlying conditions (a healthy demographic in the church), many congregations have cancelled or reduced services until something can be worked out. As a result, some have attempted to use scripture to claim that these measures are unscriptural.

Some have pointed to the early church: despite the threat of death from man, they continued worshipping. This is true, but that threat was persistent for years. Even then, many early churches met at extreme hours and in extreme secrecy during the worst of persecution. This is not the case today.

Some have pointed to Hebrews 10.25 to say that cancelling services is the same as “forsaking the assembly.” We will look at this passage closely, but we need to keep something very important in mind: most of writings set after the establishment of the church are focused on Christian living. Our standard of conduct, our speech, our attitude toward the world, our understanding of God, how to employ wisdom, etc. are the focus of the vast majority of the New Testament.

For perhaps more than a few, the sum total of their Christianity is the worship assembly on Sunday and Wednesday. Worship is extremely important to godly living and it would be egregiously false to state otherwise (as some state, “I am dedicated to God, not the church”). However, there is but one fragment of a sentence in all of scripture dedicated to the importance of consistent attendance. It is binding and important, but some place a disproportionate emphasis on this passage to the neglect of the rest of scripture. To use the words of Jesus, “They strain at a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23.23ff).

Hebrews 10.25 states, “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.” The next verse says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…” Verse 29 makes it very clear that 10.25 is talking about “trampling under foot the son of God…”

It is important to note that “forsaking” in 10.25 is ἐγκαταλείποντες (eingkataleipontes), which means to leave, abandon, or desert. The word is also a present active participle in this text, which describes a continuous, willful abandonment of the worship assembly. The same word is to describe a man leaving his father and mother and clinging to his wife. It is a more or less permanent abandonment, not a temporary one.

What does this mean for Christians in 2020? It means that cancelling a few services to avoid spreading a very contagious virus is not a sin. This does not equal, “trampling the son of God under your foot.” It means that trying to bind Hebrews 10.25 in this case is worse than merely bad scholarship – it is binding where God has not bound. It means that, while worship is vital and important, we must focus just as much on godly living and the whole of scripture as we do this one verse.

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Categories
Uncategorized worship

Don’t Miss The Privilege Of Worship

Neal Pollard

Yesterday, John and Carla Moore, Kathy, and I worshipped with the church of Christ in Nazareth. We have been there a few times, but there was something extremely special about yesterday. In attendance was Wissam Al-Aethawi, an Iraqi and Muslim-born brother in Christ whom I first met at Polishing the Pulpit. What was so special is that this man, who explained that he has been a believer for 20 years and a New Testament Christian for 10 years, was able to worship in his native Arabic tongue for the first time ever. Can you imagine being a child of God for a decade before you ever had the opportunity to sing, pray, or hear preaching in the language you were born and raised to know? 

Every Lord’s Day, most of us have the privilege to worship God in our native tongue. In fact, such is probably an afterthought if a thought at all. I got the sense that brother Al-Aethawi would relish the idea of being able to worship in Arabic each week, and there’s no doubt he would not take it for granted. But do I appreciate that privilege? Does worshipping God mean so much to me that I prioritize it over everything else? When I am in attendance, do I pour my heart and soul into it? Do I let the words of the songs touch me, the prayers reach me, and the sermon change me? As I am able to stimulate the others to love and good deeds with words that come naturally to me, do I appreciate the blessing of fellowship felt before, during, and after worship?

What a shame if I let the glory of praising God seem so ordinary that I fail to treasure each service! What if we approached each time as if it was the first time we were able to worship God with the people of God ? What a difference it would make to the energy and passion of worship, if each of us did that. 

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Wissam presiding over the Lord’s Supper. 
Categories
Uncategorized worship

Reflections On Worship, From A-Z

Neal Pollard

How great to say with David, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1).  Another psalm also urges, “Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (95:6).  Both verses are the attitude of a redeemed, transformed heart.  Worship is not a substitute for daily living, and we may find ourselves primarily or solely focused on assembling to the neglect of Christian duty or evangelism. But, though those be true, we cannot lose sight of the importance of fulfilling God’s command for His people to faithfully worship Him (John 4:24; Heb. 10:24ff).  More than that, as recipients of His grace, we will want to come before Him with what He wants, giving Him our best from an enthusiastic heart. What can help us do that?

A–TTENDANCE (It puts us in the right position–for ourselves, each other, and God)
B–
RETHREN (There’s a community, communion, and camaraderie in worship)
C–
HILDREN (Is there anything sweeter than seeing and hearing them worship?)
D–
ELIVERANCE (Delivered for a few moments from the profane, delivered for a lifetime by the Prince of Peace)
E–
FFORT (Hardwork, dedication, and preparation truly pay off!)
F–
AITHFULNESS (Obedience, consistency, and holiness fuels acceptable worship)
G–
OSPEL (Bible-centered worship highlights the best news of all time)
H–
EAVEN (Worship better prepares us for it, reminds us of it, and gives us a foretaste of it)
I–
NTEREST (See “attendance” and “faithfulness”; At some level, you can’t fake this)
J–
ESUS (We lift Him up, obey Him, and center everything around Him in every service)
K–
NOWLEDGE (We seek to know God more and understand Him better, in part, by worship)
L–
ISTENING (To God, through His Word, and each other, through the various acts)
M–
EMORIES (Young or old, each occasion provides an opportunity to make more of them)
N–
OTHING (What’s more special, important, fulfilling, and encouraging)
O–
PPORTUNITY (Different places and times have been forbidden from what we get to do multiple times per week)
P–
ARTICIPATION (Not just in the door and in a seat, but actively taking part)
Q–
UALITY (Not measured by voice quality or dynamic speech, but the very best we can with what we bring)
R–
ESPONSE (Each time we assemble to worship, we are responding to God and His gospel)
S–
ACRIFICE (You cannot properly define worship without it; It may be a sacrifice to come, but it must be an offering when you do)
T–
OGETHERNESS (Worship means fellowship and building our common bond)
U–
RGENCY (Feeling a pressing need to be here, and then to act on what we hear)
V–
ISITORS (These take note of how much worship means to us; They can see and sense it)
W–
ONDERFUL (God knew we needed worship, and that can touch us deeply)
X–RAY (Worship should lay our hearts bare and show us ourselves)
Y–OU (The presence of everyone, including you, spells the difference!)
Z–EAL (Passion and enthusiasm is observable, by others and, most of all, by God!)

Maybe we cannot fully grasp all of why God wants us worshipping Him, but He, as our Creator, knew we would need it to draw us closer to Him and each other. Let’s never let anything occupy a higher place in our hearts!

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