By Matt Dabbs
By Denny Boultinghouse
The 50th annual Pepperdine University Bible Lectures will take place April 27-30 in Malibu, California. Each year thousands of Christians from throughout the country are challenged by this exceptional lectureship. Those delivering theme lectures include: Max Lucado, Jim Woodruff, Harold Shank, Tom Olbricht, Jeff Walling, Larry James and Mike Cope. Some of the class teachers include: Oliver Howard, Rubel Shelly, Gayle Napier, Susan Davis, Prentice Meador, Jr., Carroll Osburn, Josephine Johnson, Lynn Anderson, Jeff Nelson, and many others. The Hallal Singers will present a program each evening. The IMAGE lunch will again be on Wednesday and will feature Art McNeese as the speaker. If there is any way you can attend this lectureship, do so. It will bless you beyond what you can imagine. Contact the department of Church Services at Pepperdine (215-456-4270) for more specific information…
Tony Compolo recently authored a book titled: Everything You’ve Heard Is Wrong. In this book (subtitled There’s a Better Way to Win in Business and Life), Mr. Compolo offers a number of challenges to some of the formulas which are often repeated. Here are some quotes from the book: “Courtesy is a trait that is always found in loving people. That is because loving people have no desire to make others feel uncomfortable. Loving people always want others to feel special. Loving people are committed to making ordinary people feel like royalty.” “Courtesy in the workplace is always evident among those who would be loving. If you have chosen to become the kind of person who reflects a Christlike character, you cannot help but want to learn how to do those things that will enhance the sense of dignity of those with whom you work nine to five.” “The call for those who follow Christ is to permeate society with new values and to try to restructure institutions in accord with the principles established in the Scriptures”
A Day of Praise will be hosted by the Red Bridge church in Kansas City on March 28. The Hallal Singers under the direction of Ken Young will participate. This afternoon will be a time of worship and praise. Contact the Red Bridge church (816-941-0680) for more details.
The annual Tulsa Soul Winning Workshop will be March 25-27. Some of the speakers this year include: Jim McGuiggan, Jerry Jones, Steve Flatt, and Stanley Shipp. Each year over ten thousand Christians gather for this time of motivation. The whole purpose of this workshop is to encourage the church to do a more effective job of sharing the message of Jesus with the outsider. Contact the Memorial Drive church (918-832-8110) for more information.
The Campus Christian Conference will be held April 2-4 with Lynn Anderson as the keynote speaker. This retreat is especially for those involved in campus ministry or those in college. The contact person is Mike Matheny (615-528-2872)
The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse (the authors are David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen) is the title of an interesting book. Some quotes from the book: “I have consistently endeavored to preach the grace of God as our only hope for spiritual life and power; that God moves toward the broken, comforts the mourning, and satisfies the hungry. We consistently confront the pious pretending of pharisaical legalism. What we have noticed is that wounded people get healed, and religious people get angry.” “It’s possible to become to determined to defend a spiritual place of authority, a doctrine, or a way of doing things that you wound and abuse anyone who questions, or disagrees, or doesn’t ‘behave’ spiritually the way you want them to.” “Are you practicing grace, allowing the Spirit of Christ to live through you in such a way that you help lift oppressive weights off of others and spiritually empower them to live? Or are you trying to force people to live under laws, rules, or formulas for spirituality that cause them to feel weighed down, unable to measure up to your standards.”
“Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Pet. 2:10).
By Matt Dabbs
By Ron Rose
For Sandy’s mother everyday was a struggle, and an unwelcome cloud of doom seemed to hang over her days and fill her nights. Sandy recalls, “My mother and father had a difficult and financially burdened marriage. My father didn’t know how to be emotionally supportive. He thought holding my mother or trying to understand her feelings were signs of weakness. She grew depressed and isolated and hopeless. She felt trapped and alone and full of doubt.” Finally, Sandy’s mother found her own way out of the pain. One afternoon, she kissed three-year-old Sandy good-bye, found a gun, and took her own life.
Sandy’s father made an already difficult situation into an intolerable one. No one was ever allowed to mention his wife’s name again. Grief was short-circuited and aborted. Her father’s anger grew more bitter and intense.
Sandy grew up sad. “I wanted to have someone love me,” she said, “like a mother loves a child. I missed my mother. Never would i hear my mother brad about my accomplishments, like making my bed or baking cookies or riding a two-wheeler. Mom wouldn’t be there to kiss a boo-book, see me in the school play, be at my graduation from college, or to watch me get married.”
After Sandy got married, she was, for a while, unwilling to be a mother. It wasn’t just that her mother wasn’t there to teach her to sew, clean house, or cook. Most of all Sandy says, “My mother wasn’t there to teach me how to love, and I was afraid to try.”
At just the right time for Sandy, a program called Young Mothers’ Enrichment (YME) was begun at Sandy’ congregation and it changed her life. She has been involved in YME for five years now, and she will gladly tell you about it, if you’ll let her. “Now, I’m learning what mothering is all about – the joy, the frustration, and most of all, the love. I can now face motherhood without a lot of fear and resentment. I can create and be a ‘normal’ mom because God is giving me the strength I need to just be me.
Young mothers need support
People love to hear the warm and wonderful stuff about mothers, and they delight in the children – their boundless energy, their unending fascination with the simple details of daily routines. But, what do real-life mothers do with their cynicism, their guilt, and their urge to throw the dinner plates against the fence posts? Where can you find someone who is willing to talk about that kind of stuff? – at Young Mothers’ Enrichment or something like it.
One version of YME
The Young Mothers’ Enrichment Program at the Richland Hills Church of Christ is a monthly support group for mothers of young children. The older women of the church are the leaders, and they strive to give spiritual, educational, and emotional support to the young mothers who have their hands full with all the new responsibilities of motherhood.
The group meets in the morning once a month from September through May. Childcare is provided free at the church building, and they meet in the home of an older woman. They begin each meeting with thirty minutes of coffee and visiting. Then there’s a welcome time, a devotional time, and a prayer time.
Next comes the educational time. Some of the past topics discussed by local speakers have been dental care for children, spiritual growth for mothers, child disciple, self-esteem for mothers, your child’s giftedness, dealing with stress, overcoming sexual boredom in marriage, and car safety. Lunch follows the education time. Every February the meeting is changed to an evening around Valentine’s Day. The young mothers bring their husbands to this special evening, with dinner, a devotional, and fun.
Start your own version
I am confident that there are young mothers in your congregation, right now, who are in desperate need of a Young Mothers’ Enrichment program or whatever you call it. “Just knowing we are not alone serves to strengthen us,” state another of the young mothers. This type of ministry is not a luxury program for churches in the nineties, it’s a baseline program – an urgent priority.
Training young parents is a must
One concerned young mother put it this way, “I think the church has been behind in what I feel is one of it’s primary responsibilities – parent training. Whey is it that we spend thousands of dollars on Bible school curriculum and pennies on making sure parents are trained and supported and affirmed!” If you want more information about YME at Richland Hills, write Lyn Rose, 5001 Surrey Ct., Fort Worth, TX 76180.
Keep the home fires burning.
By Matt Dabbs
By John Mark Hicks
Through the prophet Malachi the Lord proclaimed his love of Israel. Israel’s response was skeptical. “how have you loved us?” they asked (Mal. 1:2). From their perspective, the love of God was not so evident. Probably living during the time of Nehemiah, Israel was oppressed by its regional neighbors, under heavy taxation from the Persian King, and suffering through crop failures and famine. In order to survive, some were even mortgaging their lands and selling their children into slavery (Neh. 5:1-5). In the middle of all this suffering, it was difficult for Israel to see the evidence of God’s love.
Recently my mind recalled this text in Malachi after a conversation with my then six-year-old daughter Rachel. As she went to bed each evening, either my wife or I would pray with her. We would always include others who needed our prayers, especially those whom she knew were sick. During a particular stretch of time, every evening she would pray for Miss Pat and for Joshua.
Miss Pat, her Sunday school teacher at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Joshua, her brother, had been diagnosed with Sanfilippo Syndrome.
Through surgery and chemo, Miss Pat’s cancer went into remission. Joshua’s conditions is genetic and terminal, and within a few years we expect God will take him home to share the divine dwelling place.
One evening, after we had thanked God for healing Miss Pat and prayed for Joshua, Rachel looked into my eyes with a puzzled expression on her face. “God healed Miss Pat, didn’t he?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“God loves Miss Pat, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, he does” I answered.
Her next question shocked me, though I suppose it should not have. “Doesn’t God love Joshua too?” Her reasoning was clear,; her logic was faultless. God healed Miss Pat because he loves her, and if he loves Joshua, too, why has he not healed him? Her question was Israel’s question, “How have you, O Lord, loved Joshua?”
Her innocent, honest, question raises the most difficult conundrum we face. How do we make sense of the love of God in the midst of suffering? How do w thank God for healing one and praise God despite the fact he does not heal another? How do we continue to believe in God’s love when he does not heal our children or our siblings?
When Israel asked that same question, Malachi pointed them back to Israel’s beginnings. Israel existed as a nation out of the free, sovereign choice of God.. Israel did not create itself; God created Israel. Israel was nt a nation because they were so numerous or because they were so righteous; Israel was a nation because God loved them (Deut. 7:7-9; 9:4-6). God chose Jacob; he chose Israel because he loved Israel. The history of Israel, from the promise to Abraham through the Exodus and conquest to the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian exile, is God’s testimony of his love. Malachi’s message is that God had demonstrated his love through his faithfulness to Israel. Israel should not doubt that testimony.
Our answer to Rachel’s question must follow a similar pattern. We must remind ourselves of God’ testimony to his love. God demonstrated his love for us, even while we were his enemies, when Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). The supreme expression of God’s love – beyond any temporary healing of cancer, beyond any temporary prosperity – is that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to die for us (John 3:16). The supreme expression of God’s love is that he was willing to share our pain 0 the Father now knows the grief of death and the Son now knows the experience of death – and, at the same time, he was willing to redeem us from our pain. This love of God is ultimately redemptive, and it will renew us in a place where all pain is relieved and every tear is wiped away (Rev. 21:4).
When we look down and around us, our troubles overwhelm us. There is always a reason to doubt the love of God when we seek evidence of that love in our health, wealth, or prosperity – as if God’s primary concern is that we have those things. The book of Job demonstrates that God is more interested in our faith than he is in our pleasure. Health and prosperity are only temporary, for one day health will give way to sickness, and prosperity will give way to death. When we look down, the waves will convince us to doubt God’s love; but when we lift our eyes to gaze upon the Cross, we will remember how God has loved us. The Cross and empty tomb stand as the unshakable testimony of God’s love. “For,” with Paul, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:38-39).
yes, Rachel, God loves Joshua too. Jesus died for Joshua, too and even though God may not heal Joshua now, one day he will. Just like Jesus, Joshua will die one day; but just like Jesus, one day God will raise him from the dead, and we will all live together with God forever. One day God will heal everybody who trusts him. So if God heals them now, we thank him; but if he decides not to heal now, we still praise him, because we know one day he will.”
Rachel, now eight, continues to pray for Joshua. O Lord, give me the faith of a little child.
By Matt Dabbs
By Al Maxey
Dr. Peter M. Senge, in his work The Fifth Discipline, discusses several different types of openness, such as Participative, Operational, and Reflective. It is the latter that really attracted my attention. Reflective Openness is described as the capacity to continually challenge one’s own thinking. It is an openness to inward examination.
There is, unfortunately, a tendency among us humans to reach a point of self-satisfied and self-righteous closed-mindedness. At this point the reflective process is “out to lunch,” and often, as a result, so also are we! Paul’s charge to “examine yourselves!” (2 Cor. 13:5, NASB) is a broad-based on, and the nature of our faith and whether or not we are even in the faith are to an extent conditional upon our compliance Genuine faith is not embraced, nor is it enhanced, by a closed mind. Those whose hearts and minds remain open, who are willing to continually challenge their own thinking and hold up their own convictions to the light of God’s Word, are those who will grow in faith. The rest will simply stagnate in the still pond of their carefully guarded dogmas.
Far too many deflect truth, because it’s incompatible with their own previously accepted beliefs, rather than reflect upon it. Such religious arrogance erects a shield of exclusivism that effectively blocks out all incoming challenges to its cherished conclusions. One’s perceptions, practices, and preferences become the standard by which all else and all others are measured. To dare to be either reflective or open is to risk being viewed with suspicion by those safely fortified behind the walls of their settled judgments.
Nowhere, however, does God suggest that his gracious revelation sounds the death knell to thought! Throughout his dealings with mankind, he has called us to reflection and meditation, which can only be truly beneficial when engaged in with open hearts and minds. When commissioning Joshua to lead his people across the Jordan and into the land of promise, the Lord God commanded him to take “this book of the law” and “meditate on it day and night” (Josh. 1:8, NASB). The Old Testament Psalms speak repeatedly of the value of meditation, but perhaps nowhere as beautifully as Psalm 119. “Oh how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day” (v.97, NASB). Genuine reflection is an acknowledgment and manifestation of openness to change! We feast upon his Word in order to be transformed thereby. To devour the Scriptures for no other purpose than to “prove our point” or “enforce our practice” is to approach this feast already filled with our own fare, intent only upon a good “food fight!” We have already determined the nature and extent of truth to our own satisfaction. We are content. No other input is desired. Our task on earth is now to prove ourselves right and all others wrong…to the glory of God! By not practicing Reflective Openness, we in effect deflect truth.
What would have become of Saul of Tarsus had he not practiced Reflective Openness during the seventy-two hours he was in Damascus following his encounter with the risen Savior? How many lives might have been adversely affected had Saul viewed Ananias as an apostate and his message as apostasy?!
What might have been written about the saints in the city of Berea had they not “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11, NASB)? The text says they were more “noble-minded” than those in Thessalonica. Why? The latter were religiously bigoted, unwilling to listen to or reflect upon anything that went against their cherished perception. They were even willing to travel far and wide to inflict great harm upon those who were in “opposing religious camps.” Is it possible the Bereans were more noble minded because they practiced Reflective Openness, rather than a dogmatic, self-righteous, closed-mindedness, which would have said, “Go away Paul, we’ve already got all the answers. We’re right, everyone else is wrong. We’re the only ones approved of God. Case closed!”
The Bereans did not believe themselves to be the sole possessors of all truth. They were constantly open to a better understanding of what God would have them to know, to do, and to be…even if it meant radical change! They were practitioners of Reflective Openness@ They were noble of mind because they were eager of mind. When Luke states that they “received the word with great eagerness,” he uses the Greek word “prothumia” which means “a readiness, willingness and eagerness of mind.” It denotes a disposition of mind that is free of prejudice and bias – an open mind! The Bereans had a “prothumian” spirit!
The truths that Paul presented were new to them and were a direct challenge to what they “had always been taught.” But, rather than shut their minds to the message and attack the messenger, they were willing to take his teachings to the standard of the Scriptures “to see whether these things were so.” As a result of their careful and prayerful study and their Reflective Openness, “many of them therefore believed” (v. 12, NSAB).
It is a fact that truth has absolutely nothing to fear from close examination. The more it is scrutinized, the more its nature is confirmed. It seems our greatest fear is often that some of our cherished notions may have to be altered to conform with truth. But this is the purpose of self-examination and of challenging our own thinking. Another fear is that we may well be vilified by those unwilling to engage in uch open and honest reflection upon the Word. Alexander Campbell wrote, “If I am not slandered and misrepresented, I shall be a most unworthy advocate of the cause which has always provoked the resentment of those who…will not try to think and learn.” A willingness to reflect upon truth with an open mind and an eager heart has never been for the timid or fearful. It takes genuine courage, deep faith, and sincere commitment to expose ourselves and our convictions to the light of God’s inspired Word and to then conform to whatever truth is thereby revealed.
Like the countless spiritual worthies who have preceded us, may God grant unto each of us the courage, regardless of the cost, to embrace and employ this marvelous quality of Reflective Openness!
By Matt Dabbs
By Denny Boultinghouse
Amid all the controversy about grace, I am convinced that some of the confusion is merely a matter of semantics or emphasis. Some who think they differ actually hold similar views about grace; they are simply communicating on different levels (or maybe it would be better to say, they are miscommunicating on different levels). So some of the apparent differences are not matters of substance.
But this is certainly not true of all the differences on the subject of grace. We must accept the reality that some “Church of Christ” folks just do not understand the biblilcal teaching about grace. This lack of understanding impacts their behavior and attitudes significantly.
One writer actually termed the following statement as false doctrine: “Our sins are transferred to Christ and his righteousness is transferred to us.” He went on to say, “The Bible teaches we are actually righteous because of our obedience to the commands of God. Our righteousness is not play-like, or imputed righteousness.” Another writer said it is false “to imply that we are going to stand before God based upon something other than our own performance.”
What is your reaction to such statements?
The words “salvation by works” should come to mind. The Bible clearly teaches that when people attempt to be justified by law (performance), they are fallen from grace. Paul affirms that as long as man attempts to stand before God while appealing to any law system, he is lacking. All legal systems (law of works) demand perfection. They give what is deserved, and as long as man is a sinner, he deserves death. Thus, I do not want to merely imply that we stand before God based upon something other than our own performance, I want to proclaim it loudly!
The message of the gospel is that because of the Cross, we can now appeal to the work of Christ for our salvation. Only one who is sinless can satisfy the penalty for sin and thus remove sin. Thus only Jesus can remove sin; it is to him and him alone we appeal. Praise the Lord for his wonderful grace that is available to us because of Jesus.
In an earlier editorial I affirmed that “We are saved 100% by the Cross of Christ.” Some seem to suggest otherwise; they might even suggest that we will stand before God because of our own righteousness due to some obedience we render to God. How unbiblical. We come to God while we are helpless (meaning, we cannot help ourselves). The Bible does not teach that our salvation is partly deserved and partly undeserved. Since we have all sinned and the penalty for sin is death, we are all under a death penalty. We cannot offer anything to remove our death penalty. Only one who does not deserved death can atone for our guilt, and only Jesus fits that description. That is why we are saved 100% by the Cross of Christ.
Does this mean that salvation is unconditional? Not at all. Salvation is conditional. But submitting to certain conditions still does not remove a single sin. Only the blood of an innocent one can do that. Salvation is a gift of God. The focus should always be upon the one giving the gift, not upon the one receiving the gift.
When you receive a birthday gift, you do not earn or deserve that gift in any way – it is a gift. Let’s say, for example, that the gift is a new jacket. Must you open the gift to receive the benefits of the jacket? Yes, of course you must. Must you put the jack et on in order to receive the benefits? Of course you must.
Let’s say the next day at work you tell your co-workers about your new gift. Would you tell them that you had to tear the wrapping paper? Would you tell them how smart you were to put your arms in the sleeves? Of course not. You wouldn’t testify to your efforts to receive the benefits of the gift; rather, you would focus on the kindness of the gift giver and the gift itself.
In order to receive the benefits of the gift, must you do something? Sure you must. Receiving the benefits of the jacket is conditional, but the conditions are still not a part of the gift. A gift is of grace.
We have some among us who do not understand that salvation is a gift made available to us by the finished work of Christ at the Cross. He paid the price in full and we cannot add to that price. We cannot deserve the gift. Sure, we must have a living faith in God. Sure, we must be serious about the lordship of Jesus (even in these, we fall far short). But still we must understand that the gift comes out of the goodness of the Giver, not the goodness of the recipient. All glory and honor goes to God.
By Matt Dabbs
By Ron Rose
A “New Breed” of Fathers
There is a “new breed” of fathers emerging from the rubble of our endangered families. These determined men are getting serious about reviving the leadership role of father as God designed it.
While may of us have been describing the problems facing families, God has been shaping a solution. This courageous, involved, empowering family leaders has had his course set firmly by God himself, and his numbers are growing.
These new breed” fathers are breaking the mold. They are eagerly seeking help from seminars, books, other men, God, and even their wives. Many are finding strength in each other, and their number is growing in churches large and small – from Sacrament, California to Nashville, Tennessee. In groups as small as two and as large as fifty, these “new breed” Christian fathers are meeting in churches, offices, gyms, hunting cabins,restaurants, living rooms, and on the jogging path; and they are learning how to put their families first.
Numbers of them are making dramatic life changes, resulting in less annual income, less career potential, more unforgettable family memories, and a strengthened legacy of hope to pass on to their children adn their children’s children.
The Power of the Faith Story
Among the secrets of father, these “new breed” dad’s are discovering the God-ordained, yet almost forgotten, power of storytelling. These dads don’t stop at reading children’s books or classic stories to even Bible stories; they are rediscovering the power of telling and retelling their own story. Truth is, Dad’s faith story – his testimony – is the most important story he will ever tell his children.
From 1990 through 1992, I conducted an unscientific survey in churches across the country. I asked parents to raise their hands if they had ever told their children their own faith story. Never more than twenty percent of the audience raised their hands and most of those hands belonged to mothers. All that’s changing. Men are beginning to revive the practice of telling how God has changed their lives. They are reviving the intent of Psalm 78.
When I was a youngster, the emphasis wasn’t on conversion stories; the emphasis was on discussing my readiness for baptism, teaching why baptism was important, and helping me memorize the right verses and the right answers to the right questions. It wasn’t until after my father’s death that I heard his testimony. Why have we neglected testimony for so long? Why didn’t my generation get to hear the story of how God changed the lives of the generation before us? Why? Praise God, we are returning to the power of the faith story just in time for our children.
It’s not easy for us; our heritage has not trained us in the art of telling our faith story, but we’re learning. Some of us even have trouble calling it “our testimony.” Whatever you call it – becoming a Christian, being baptized, getting saved, accepting Christ as Lord d and Savior – it is far more than a description of a dunking, event. It is a story with chapters, with a beginning, and with an end. It’s a story of rescue, a story of hope, a story of intervention, a story about God.
Faith Story Guidelines for Fathers
Have your kids heard your faith story – your testimony? The following faith story guidelines will help fathers (and mothers) learn to tell the most important story of their lives. Remember, the purpose of telling your story is not to make yourself look good; the purpose of our testimony is to make God look good. And remember too, that listening to your child’s response will help you discover how the Holy Spirit is working in your child’s heart.
Being by describing your childhood visions of God and what first sparked your interest in him. Share you favorite stories bout God and your efforts, as a child, to get closer to him. Tell you children about the people who listened to you and helped you find answers to your questions. Share with them how God helped you deal with your fears and your failures. Tell your kids about a time of crisis when you tried to make it on your own, how God challenged you, and how you finally learned to hand the crisis over to him. Describe the events of your baptism: where you were, what was happening around you, how you felt, and who was there. Tell of a personal temptation after your baptism and how you dealt with it. Describe how you felt when you took communion for the first time. Detail some of the ways God has helped you grow. Tell about a time when you felt especially close to God. Proudly tell your children how they fit in your story – how each one is a unique gift from God.
There is power, real power, in a father’s story! Amen? Keep the homefires burning.
By Matt Dabbs
By Kevin Withem
On a recent trip, friends of mine visited the local Church of Christ near their hotel. They arrived late due to incorrectly advertised times in the yellow pages and on the church sign. The times they had read indicated that Bible class should be under way; instead they heard sounds of a worship assembly. No one was at the door to give them directions. They were finally able to wrest some unvolunteered information from a brother making his way to the rest room. He did volunteer that they were having difficulty with the times, because “the Korean church had to use the building too.” He said this would have thought if they were seekers, with no church background. They concluded that this church wouldn’t make their “can hardly wait to get back to” list.
What kind of an impression would your church make on a first time visitor with no background in Christianity? Would the impression compel them to return?
Consider for a moment the real-life experience of some “guests” in our churches:
- A woman in her 40s asked a person in the hall of a congregation if there was a single’s class. She was promptly told “yes, but not for you, it’s for young singles.”
- A young man finally persuaded his father to attend a church of Christ in the town where Dad lived. The Bible class became heated over a church issue. The father, tongue in cheek, told his son, “If I wanted to spend Sunday morning in argument, I would have stayed home and argued with your mother…”
- A friend looking for a home congregation in a new town visited a church where the “one appointed” failed to show for closing prayer. The brother sitting behind my friend was called. He complained loudly enough for the church to hear that “he always gets called when someone doesn’t show up.” My friend showed up elsewhere the next Sunday…
- In one church of my acquaintance, a longtime member actually asked a visitor to find another seat because he was “occupying” her pew. To steal a credit card slogan, I guess “membership has its privileges…
Extreme cases? Probably. Rare? Maybe. But it forces us to ask an important question. What do we communicate to the guests who visit our churches Ample evidence suggests that not only are we having difficulty drawing visitors, but we’re having trouble getting those who come to return a second time. Our difficult could result from thinking that says, “Ig people want the truth badly enough, they’ll return out of a commitment to truth. We don’t have to pander to their consumer whims.”
Maybe some of us do what a prominent theologian suggested. We “hurly the gospel at them like a brick.” If they want it badly enough, they’ll catch it. I can picture an usher in a church foyer now, pitching a Bible, with tract inserted, at a guest upon entry and shouting, “here, read this!”
As we approach the 21st century, we must reevaluate our approach to outreach. We can begin by examining the way we receive our guests. In a sense, we are at times guilty of being “visitor hostile” – not in overt ways, but in covert ways. Some churches perceive themselves as friendly – and they are friendly to their friends – but if they stood in a first-time visitor’s shoes, their perception might change.
The need for visitor-friendly churches is urgent because seekers today have little time for what they consider “poor service and bad quality.” We shouldn’t accept wholesale consumerism in Christians, but we must enhance our opportunities to receive a hearing from unbelievers.
Nordstrom department store states that “the only difference between departments stores is in the way they handle their customers.” Merchandise being equal, it’s service that draws people to one store over another. In church outreach, the only difference guests initially notice between church A and church B may be in the way they treat their guests.
Paul indicated a grave concern for the impression churches make on unbelievers He wrote, “So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? (1 Cor. 14:23). Mission-minded people are concerned with perceptions.
Well-intended congregations might be unaware of the subtle ways guests are neglected and opportunities are missed. They to is found in Jesus’ statement, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them to do you” (Matt. 7:12). In other words, stop and put yourself in your first-time visitor’s shoes. Think through the following issues by looking through their eyes.
What anxieties do visitor’s face when they visit your church for the first time?
When you go to a new place the first time, you often arrive with many questions and some anxiety. If you are a regular attender, your concerns are different from your guests. You may be rushing to get kids to class, or reviewing to teach. Your guest arrives with different concerns. He or she wonders, “Where do I go?” “Will there be a test?” “Will I be called on?”
The worship hour provides new questions. “Will I know when to stand?” “Will I kneel? Lie down? Jump up and down? Raise or fold hands in prayer?” “Should I take communion?”
What is helpful when you go to a new place for the first time? You appreciate a warm, friendly reception. You hope that regulars will not assume you know your way around. You don’t want to feel like you’re putting people out. You hope there will be signs to point you in the right direction. Class summaries, maps, and worship guides would be helpful. You don’t want to be overwhelmed, but you want to be able to feel your way through the experience.
What impression will your building and grounds leave?
Your building’s appearance communicates volumes. Chipping pain you’ve grown accustomed to makes a lasting impression. Neglected lawns demonstrate lack of concern. That month-old vomit stain in the nursery will tell a young mother about the quality of child care. Foyers filled with back issues of dated church publications communicating that the church is a dumping ground. Outdated and obsolete equipment sends the message that the church stalled somewhere in the 60s. Church bulletins hammered out on old hit-and-miss typewriters have “out of touch” written all over them.
The way we keep our houses speaks about the way we tend our lives. A well-ordered house doesn’t necessarily mean a well-ordered home; however, a neglected house and yard is a sign of laziness, busyness with other concerns, and possibly family disarray.
Churches that take little pride in the place of worship likely demonstrate a lack of commitment to excellence in other areas of the Father’s business.
What will their impressions of worship be?
A number of years ago I contacted a young man and his wife who had visited the church where I was preaching. He commended several aspects of the service. Then he paused for a moment and said, “but about the music…” I was expecting the obvious question about the lack of instruments.
He continued, “It was very…” he fished for the right word and found it, “archaic.”
“Many of our songs are…well…old” I admitted.
He then said, “I understood the sermon more clearly than the songs.”
Our worship had contained songs that the churches of Christ in Anywhere, USA, would include in a service. I soon learned that some of our own members were also fuzzy on the meaning of “ebon pinion” the “panoply of God,” and “raising our ebenezers.” I realized that a course in hymnbook exegesis would be helpful. Most churches are less reluctant to change a Bible version than they are to tamper with our sacred music.
Another consideration is our mix of songs. We move rather quickly from what appears to the guest to be a stiff, funeral dirge to a foot-stompin’, chicking-frying, rip-snorting, chuck-wagon song. To the guest it might be a strange brew indeed (I once visited a church that sang, “Rise Up, Oh Men of God,” and moved right into a rendition of “Rawhide” with Christianized lyrics).
Churches wanting to reach modern men and women will seek to communicate effectively in both their preaching and singing. This will require using quality, contemporary songs. Some fear that contemporary means trite or unbibillcal. I’m not suggesting that we do as one group who put the gospel lyrics to the tune of “Gilligan’s Island.” I don’t prefer an image of “the Skipper” in my mind as I worship. However, Luther wrote “A Might Fortress” to the tune of a German Beer drinking song. It was music that communicated to his generation, just as “devotional” style and “meditative” hymns speak to some of us. Unlike the Bible, the hymnbook is not a closed canon.
We must ask, “What are we communicating in our assembly?” If singing is meant to teach (Col. 3:16), then who and what are we teaching? Although there’s reinforcement in repetition, we could sing some of our songs in our sleep. And we sometimes do. I suggest that very little “teaching” is taking place in some of our assemblies. Instead, we may be satisfying our nostalgic yearnings. More contemporary songs should be blended with our traditionals – not to pacify those who get excited by a Hallal presentation (no one wants pacification), but to communicate to that searching guest who comes to the assembly. Many time-honored hymns accomplish this, and their continued use is demanded by their quality. However, we also need the fresh winds of creativity which indicate that life and vibrancy are still a part of our movement.
Becoming more visitor friendly requires planning and purpose. Let me encourage your congregation to consider the following course:
Observe your church on a Sunday and watch the interaction of members and guests
Are quests welcomed at the door and provided direction and information? Or are they left to find their own way around? Do first-time guests return for a second and third visit? How many eventually become a part of the church?
Analyze the assembly with the eye of a first-time guest
IF you had no church background, what would your impression be? Would the singing inspire? Are the hymns easily understood? Are steps taken to insure that equipped and enthused leaders set the direction?
Equip and train people for visitor-friendly ministry
No need to get complex. Small, simple steps make an excellent beginning point. Our congregation now has its “front line” ministry intact, including an information cart, parking lot greeters, classroom escorts, and foyer greeters. These are manned by carefully trained people who understand their objective. It has significantly enhanced our outreach to visitors.
Here is the key ingredient: look at your church through the visitor’s eyes, then take steps to improve your outreach. It will be tough to reach our communities if we cannot effectively reach those who come to investigate us on a Sunday morning.
By Matt Dabbs
By Mike Root
I was very uncomfortable in the white dinner jacket and black bow tie, but it was the Junior-Senior Banquet, and as a high school senior I was one of the honored guests. As we made our formal appearance in the banquet room with our dates, each one of the graduating seniors was given a gift (actually a gag gift), which was directly connected to the juniors’ predictions for us. As we walked in I was handed a protest sign that had several preacher protests on it, like “Fewer Funerals = Fewer Weddings – Higher Pay,” and such like. The prediction was that I would lead a preacher’s protest in an effort to change the things I saw as wrong. In other words, twenty-two years ago my peers predicted that I’d be a radical preacher. Boy, were they ever wrong!
If you told my three on-the-go-never-a-dull-moment kids that their dad was a radical, in three-part harmony they’d say, “Not!” If you listened to tapes of the series of sermon I did this past summer titled “Fundamentals of New Testament Christianity,” you’d probably say, “Wow, this guy’s really conservative.” Then again, if you talked to the few folks who are still reeling from the sermon I preached during “the formal Sunday morning worship” in my bare feet (you guessed it – “how beautiful are the feet of those…”), you’d probably hear words like “liberal,” “wild,” and “non-traditional.”
It’s kind of fun to collect titles, because there’s a new one every day. “He’s that preacher who thinks you don’t have to wear a tie to church,” I heard someone say about me once. So I’m the “No Tie Preacher,” although I wear one every Sunday. I’m one of the “change for the sake of change” preachers, though I have never advocated any change without good reason for it; and I have been called an “anti-tradition preacher,” though I have never been against any tradition unless it was made law.
Then there is the implied label of “radical” that is attached to a growing group of preachers and teachers. You know who they are don’t you? The ones calling for change, transition, or rethinking. The radicals who call for balance, relevancy, and culutral adaptation. Those new interpreters of the Bible who believe that relationships are more important than rituals, that love is superior to laws, and that grace really works. To them, “Old Time Religion” is nineteen-hundred-plus years old, not half a century. They like new ideas, meaningful assemblies, and appealing programs. They love the Word of God and demand that it be accurately interpreted and its spirit meticulously obeyed.
I guess I am part of that group, but “radical”? No. Compared to the Apostle “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some” Paul, this group of radicals are puppies. When compared to that sunburned carpenter from Nazareth, that radical rabbi, who had the nerve to suggest that “the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath,” well, we’re just “dyed in the wool conservatives.”
Why do we keep our religious labeling gun loaded and cocked? Is that not the result of a judgmental spirit? Can we not disagree with someone without categorizing them, generalizing them, and criticizing them? Why do we assume the worse about a brother or sister in Christ? Are they really undermining the church, being disloyal to the truth, and threatening the very foundation of our beliefs? Isn’t is possible for someone with new ideas, challenging questions, and fresh approaches to have pure motives? Is it possible that what appears to be radical may actually be extremely fundamental?
What if the motivation is love?
Since “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), there is motivation to relook, rethink, and renew. When love is the dominating force, there is no fear o change, tough questions, or even doubt. Love causes people to wonder what works best or is the most effective; it’s concerned with relevance, needs, and pleasing God; and “what will this lead to” is a statement of excitement rather than a voiced paranoia. Love causes folks to demand honesty and consistency when interpreting Scripture, and believe it or not, love causes preachers to point out that traditions are not doctrine. They may be wonderful and appropriate traditions, but sometime they’ve been put in concrete when they need to be put on the shelf. Love must always be patient, kind, humble, and unselfish; but it also “rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:4-6).
What if the motivation is the Lord?
Is “What would Jesus do? simply a cliche or is it a legitimate guideline for living? If someone is truly committed to developing the mind of Christ by having a deep heart-level relationship with him, wouldn’t you expect them to emphasize lordship over law? Can a radically changed life be expected to conform? Is it possible that some of the “agents of change” simply want “Christ and him crucified” to be the center of all we do? Maybe they are not so sinister after all. Maybe there is no Satanic conspiracy, but rather people who live by Paul’s admonition: “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:2-3). Sure, there are folks who preach and teach for all the wrong reasons, but there are plenty who minister out of a sincere devotion to Jesus and seek only to please him.
What if the motivation is loyalty?
Obviously, there must be loyalty to love and to the Lord but I am referring to another level of loyalty that is of particular interest to the churches of Christ – loyalty to the Restoration Plea. There have been several pleas recently to humbly and compassionately consider the needs of those who are seriously threatened by any change in the church. To these articles and personal statements I have and will offer a hearty amen! No child of God can read 1 Corinthians 8-14 and Romans 13-15 and not recognize the responsibility we have to be considerate, kind, loving and willing to restrict our liberty for the sake of others. But is it wrong to call for consistency in applying the Restoration Plea? Is it no longer important to be simply and only New Testament Christians and to do Bible things in Bible ways? Is the Restoration over? Have we made it back? If we are not consistent in speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent, we destroy not only our own credibility, but also our plea.
Personally, I believe the time has never been better for a resurgence of the Restoration Movement. People are returning to churches by the droves, and we need to challenge them with the call to restore New Testament Christianity. That’s what makes us unique – not our traditions, methods, or structures. We’ve spent so much time and energy making noise about silence that we’ve forgotten the loud message that the world needs to hear: “Let’s do what they did in the New Testament times.” Hopefully, there is really nothing radical about going back to the Bible and checking to make sure that we are “handling accurately the word of truth.”
The tradition of labeling will probably never die, but maybe labels would be assigned less frequently if folks would take the time to discover the motivation of the one to be labeled. If they were motivated by love for the Lord and a loyalty to his Word the only name they should be called is brother (or sister – I wouldn’t want to be labeled a “sexist”)
Mike Root – Ft. Worth, TX
By Matt Dabbs
By Joe Beam
Welcome to the most exciting and most terrifying decade of the twentieth century.
Some researchers say that more technological and sociological change will occur in this one decade than has taken place in the first ninety years of this century. What used to take a hundred years to change, now takes ten. What used to take ten, now takes one. What used to take a year, now changes in a month.
Most of us don’t like these rapid changes. We like things to stay the same or, if they must change, to change slowly enough that we can find our way to be efficient and comfortable in the new way.
As a matter of fact, there is a current “buzzword” that has come into our common usage that relates to our reluctance to embrace change. The word is paradigm. Its current usage often refers to the boundaries we set in our own minds of how things ought to be.
We all have paradigms. When we are confronted with something we aren’t use to or aren’t ready to accept, we react on three different and sometimes progressive-levels. Our first reaction may be that we don’t even see or hear this new concept or occurrence. It is so foreign to our way of thinking that we can’t even acknowledge its reality. It simply doesn’t register. Our mind chooses not to recognize it because it is outside our paradigm or our boundaries.
If we move past this view, the second level is to explain how things aren’t what they seem to be. After a particular things happens enough, we may have to recognize its existence, but we still don’t want to accept it, so we explain how it isn’t what it appears to be. My grandfather told me with great conviction and vigor that men had not gone to the moon. It was a great hoax. Those guys were actually in Arizona.
Finally, if we continue to progress in our thinking, we acknowledge this new thing as a reality. We realize that we can no longer deny its existence. We accept it, and we begin learning how to operate with it.
But acceptance doesn’t come easy. Some folks simply will not grow past the first and second levels. The majority passes them by and, left behind, they become living idiosyncrasies. For a while they are interesting to watch and talk about. After a little longer, people forget they exist.
Understanding paradigms gives some insight into conflicts between people. For example, think about the emotional confrontations between the right-to-life and pro-choice groups. Each approaches the question of abortion with a different set of rules (paradigms). They can’t have meaningful dialog because they speak different languages. Each group refuses to see any viable logic or true selfless emotions on the part of the other. When they must confront the other’s arguments, they quickly explain that what you see or hear isn’t the true story. In their own minds, each is right and the other group is a terrible enemy, attempting to destroy a human being.
How did you react to that preceding sentence? If you have any views on abortion, you are probably ready to rip this article out and use it for a torch to guide you in your search to find me. And that’s exactly my point. Paradigms are the set of rules an individual lives by, and that person becomes emotional and unstable when those paradigms are threatened. For the record I am against abortion on demand. Your reactions to my statements in the preceding paragraph don’t say anything about me. They simply reveal the depth and strength of your own paradigms.
Now let’s carry that principle a little farther. A few years ago, I was part of a business seminar on the campus of Lincoln Christian College and Seminary, a school supported by the Independent Christian Churches. Quite a few years back, they and the Churches of Christ, my fellowship, had been part of the same religious movement. I knew they used musical instruments in their worship services…something I was taught was wrong. I was also taught they did so because they cared little for biblical authority-that’s why they had abandoned us. I walked onto this campus feeling somewhat superior and very holy.
It wasn’t long before I embroiled one of them in debate. I reeled in shock when he began arguing on the basis of Bible authority and the meaning of the word psallo in Ephesians 5:19. He used by arguments before I could and drew exactly opposite conclusions. I was so disordered by this trickery that I withdrew and engaged another of their faculty just down the hall.
With a gentle spirit, he began the same arguments as his peer. Disoriented, I dropped the subject and took care of the business I had come to do. But now, years later, I see that their viewpoint was not a result of disrespect for the Word or a denial of biblical authority or disregard for serving God as best they could. I had been misinformed about them. These were good people who loved God and wanted to do right. Our disagreement is in our rules (paradigms) or interpretation.
Some Christians are entering the decade of change still refusing to see what others really believe or hear what they really have to say, because their paradigms won’t let them. Some of us have been through the three steps of altering our paradigm and are becoming distanced from those who adhere to their old paradigms. While we both acknowledge brotherhood, it is in concept rather than in action. We don’t have much to do with each other. Paradigms are effected insulators.
Changing paradigms is a painful process. I remember what it was like to work through the emotional decisions of whether I could use any translation other than the King James Version, whether I could pray without saying “thee” and “thou,” and whether i could associate with people who interpreted the Word differently than I. I remember being emotionally distraught as I tumbled into restless sleep one night, tormented by the inconsistencies I saw in my brotherhood. When I awoke the next morning, I couldn’t remember any one of the things I had analyzed the evening before. They were such a threat to my paradigm, my own mind had blocked them out.
Now I preach from the New International Version, pray with intimacy not hindered by archaic grammar, and speak on programs without a moment’s thought as to whether or not I should approve of all the other speakers. I don’t find myself cut off from or sitting in judgment of other Christians who don’t understand the Word as I do. I have learned that the two greatest commandments are pretty simple to understand, while difficult to obey, and am much more interested in interacting with loving people who are students of the Word than with non-loving people who long ago ceased to be anything but defenders of their own beliefs. I have learned that thinking and studying with an open mind isn’t the same as spinelessness and indecision. I have a peace that will sustain me through this decade of change because I have been able to separate the will of a changeless God from the unchanging wills of stubborn or fearful people.
For me, and so many more like me, those who are still living by the paradigms of the 1950s, or even the 1970s, have become living idiosyncrasies. They are occasionally interesting to watch or listen to as they work their convoluted logic to defend their personal paradigms. But the work of God goes on. Learning to adapt our methods…and to keep our minds open to Him without filtering his Word too much through our paradigms…is hard work God hasn’t changed. His Word hasn’t changed. Human nature hasn’t changed. But times have.
With sadness, I have accepted the distance between some of my brothers and me. I love them and wish them well. I’ll do anything I can to keep fellowship with them…except close my mind and heart to God and his call to love. I must grow. I must do what my study and learning lead me to do. The large majority of our fellowship is struggling to learn and then to take what we learn to the people of the 1990s. We will miss our brothers who choose to live in the past. We listened to them for a while and tried our best to placate them We can’t take the time to do so any longer.
We will be too busy presenting and unchanging God to the unchanging needs of human nature in the mist of a rapidly changing world.
Joe Beam – Augusta, GA
Top Posts & Pages
- Addiction and Recovery
- Book Review
- Christian Unity
- Church Growth
- Church Planting
- Holy Land
- Holy Spirit
- Hope Network Newsletter
- Institutional Church
- International Missions
- Lord's Supper
- Missional Church
- Movie Review
- New Testament
- Restoration Movement
- Social Justice
- Spiritual Disciplines
- Spiritual Formation
- The Message of the Table
- Women's Roles
- Youth Ministry