Maybe The Most Important Three Minutes of Your Church Service

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When was the last time you visited a church for the first time? If you had to identify the most important three minutes of the service what would you say?

I read an interesting article earlier this week in which the author suggested that, for a visitor, maybe the most crucial three minutes of the service were the three minutes immediately after the service has finished.

Now don’t misunderstand me – of course the singing, prayers, reading, and preaching are all arguably much more important. But if you’re a visitor, maybe not a Christian, or been away from church awhile, what (in addition to the quality of the aforementioned) might make the difference between a return visit and trying somewhere else (or nowhere else!).

We tend to think the few minutes before the service, or at the start of the service are key (and they are). But if you’re a visitor you’re most focused on finding somewhere to park, finding the right door to go in, picking up the bits of paper, finding a seat, getting your bearings, perhaps flicking through the notice-sheet or watching the screen, and generally getting yourself ready for the start of the service. But what happens as soon as the closing prayer is done?

I watched it happen recently. I was playing in the music team and I noticed a first-time visitor near the back. The two people next to her both turned away from her to talk to someone else. She sat there. Looked around a little, fidgeted in her seat – 30 seconds. She looked in her bag, fidgeted some more – another 30 seconds. She looked around again, to either side, at the screen, back into the bag – another 30 seconds. Then she picked up her things, put on her coat, slowly stood up, and slid past the people next to her – another 30 seconds. She’s now making her way to the door and cool air of a dark night. Will we ever see her again? Thankfully, at this moment someone moved over toward her and spoke with her just as she was reaching the door. They bought her back in and got her a coffee. She had three or four conversations with different folk. I’m hopeful we may see her again. Can you see how crucial that first couple of minutes are? If she’d left without being acknowledged by anyone around her I suspect she wouldn’t have felt too inclined to return.

It’s happened to me on a couple of different occasions. I’ve visited another church and at the end of the service no-one spoke to me. I smiled politely at a couple of people, said a quiet hello. They smiled politely back and nodded at me, then carried on with their conversation. After sitting for a couple of minutes and feeling like a complete nugget I got up and left. I wouldn’t go back.

We encourage the folk at Grace to ‘take five’ after every service to look out for and speak to someone they haven’t met before. As you can see it doesn’t always work, and we have to keep working on it. But it strikes me as something that’s perhaps more important than we realise, and something that we could improve relatively quickly and easily. I’d encourage you, in your church to be intentional about improving in this area, and to work on something similar. Encourage your folk to ‘take five’ – look for someone new, and just say ‘hi’. It could make all the difference.

Did People Really Live That Long in Genesis?

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Yesterday we picked up our series again in the book of Genesis, having left off at Genesis 22 at the back end of last year. In Genesis 23:1 we’re told that Sarah died at the age of 127. We’re going to see that Abraham died at the age of 175 (Gen 25:7). And these ages are nothing on Methuselah who lived to be 969 (Gen 5:27). These large numbers inevitably make the modern reader wonder, ‘did they really live that long?’

The two most common approaches to answering that question are as follows:

  1. The literal approach. If it says 969 years, that’s exactly what it means. Maybe there’s a delay in full effect of the fall. Maybe the flood dramatically changed living conditions and thus life expectancy. Just because we can’t get our heads round it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  You can read the ‘Answers in Genesis’ folks answer here:
  2. The symbolic approach. In ancient cultures numbers were used symbolically and figuratively to represent fullness or perfection for example. The Sumerian ‘sexagesimal’ system (the number six and multiples thereof) accounts for the large numbers we find in Genesis. Hill states:

“All age-numbers (30 in all) from Adam to Noah are a combination of the sacred numbers 60 (years and months) and 7. No numbers end in 1, 3, 4, 6, or 8—a chance probability of one in a billion. Thirteen numbers end in 0 (some multiple or combination of 60), 8 numbers end in 5 (5 years = 60 months), 3 numbers end in 7, 5 numbers end in 2 (5yrs + 7 yrs = 12), and 1 number ends in 9 (5yrs + 7yrs + 7yrs = 19). All of this cannot be coincidental. The Mesopotamians were using sacred numbers, not real numbers. Therefore, these numbers were not meant to be (and should not be) interpreted as real numbers.”

You can read more in her article here:

Neither approach answers all the questions we might have, but they do begin to offer plausible accounts of why these numbers, which seem so unusual to us, appear in the ancient text.




Reflections on the Nashville Statement

Last week in the US the CBMW (Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) released a statement regarding the biblical presentation of issues surrounding sexuality and gender. You can read it here. It has lots of notable signatories including John Piper, Jim Packer, Denny Burk, Al Mohler, John MacArthur, Don Carson, Rosaria Butterfield, Ligon Duncan etc etc etc.

The statement, unsurprisingly, has elicited plenty of reaction. If you want to get a flavour of the responses (and think a bit deeper about the issues for yourself) then here’s a few links representing a variety of opinion (there’s a bazillion more on the interweb if you really want to go digging!).

What’s interesting in the responses is a general sense of unease (by those sympathetic to the statement) concerning the brevity and tone of the statement. Many of those above fear that the statement hasn’t taken enough consideration of the complexity of the issues, the need for pastoral sensitivity, or the ways in which the church has failed. Anderson has a good quote in his article along the lines of, ‘issues of maximal importance require maximal response.’ I’m sympathetic to the idea of the statement, but the issues really are quite complex, and the statement really is quite brief.

Those who oppose the statement though really fail to engage properly with the argument. Nadia Bolz-Weber tweeted, “Just read the  Perfect example of ignoring the hearts and lives of real people so you can adhere to an idea or doctrine.” Brian McLaren offered, “Need a popular way to avoid talking about race and greed? Keep focusing on sex.” And Shane Clairborne chipped in, “After  & , a bunch of mostly-white, mostly-male evangelicals release a ‘manifesto’ on sexuality. ”.

Of course none of these opposing responses (and arguably those listed above) really engage with the issues. The fact that race and greed may be real issues does not mean the church shouldn’t talk about other things as well. The frustrating narrative that keeps coming is ‘doctrine divides, let’s just love.’ This of course presupposes that their ‘doctrine’ (thought they wouldn’t want to call it that) is true. Because if it isn’t it’s doing people an awful lot of harm, and therefore isn’t really loving them at all.

Truth and love belong together. If I love someone truly I will want to tell them the truth, even if its hard. And to tell someone something that isn’t true, simply because its what they (and maybe I) want to hear is much closer to a hate-crime. The prophets in Jeremiah’s day assured the people, ‘you will have peace . . . no harm will come to you’ (Jer 23:17). YHWH responded, ‘which of them has stood in the council of the Lord . . . who has listened and heard his [YHWH’s] word? . . . I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message . . . if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways’ (Jer 23:18-22).

Sensitivity and nuance are hugely important, but only in the service of truth. Sensitivity and nuance in the service of that which is untrue is not a loving thing to do. The answer is not to keep slinging tweet sized rocks, but for those with the voice and influence to sit down, side by side, pray together, open God’s word, discern what is true, and consider how best to glorify His name.