When You’re New

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Twenty-two years ago today was the first time I walked into a Sunday morning worship service. I was fifteen years old, and I had never been a part of a church. At the invitation of a friend I had attended some youth group meetings that God used to draw me to faith in Christ just a few days before. My experience as a newcomer to that church still has a major influence over how I approach ministry today.

The pastor who spoke that morning taught the Bible verse by verse—an approach often called expositional preaching. I know now that many pastors preach topically, but back then I didn’t realize there was any other approach. Now I see that verse by verse teaching, while not the only valid approach, is one of the best ways to represent the reality expressed in 2 Timothy 3:16 that, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (NASB).

On a practical level, the way the pastor taught that morning encouraged me to begin reading the Bible on my own, and God used that practice to help me grow in my faith. So today in our worship services at Calvary East, you’ll find that I teach the Bible verse by verse, praying that it will have the same effect on newcomers here that it did on me so many years ago.

On the other hand, I also distinctly remember hearing unfamiliar words that I didn’t understand that Sunday. The pastor said that something was “eschatological.” I couldn’t even spell that word, much less understand that it referred to the End Times. Teenagers spoke of “devotionals” and “quiet times.” It took me a while to figure out that they were referring to praying and reading the Bible. As small as this was, it made me feel like an outsider.

Because of the confusion I experienced as a newcomer, I now make every effort to speak in simple terms that people without a church background can understand. Some technical words cannot be avoided in teaching the Bible. So in those cases, I try to explain those words. I’ve found that this actually helps me understand those words better.

The need to speak in everyday terms applies not only to pastors who teach, but to everyone in a church. Our “Christian” words seep into announcements, conversations, and even prayer.

That first Sunday I attended a small group meeting for high school boys. At the end of the meeting, each boy took a turn praying out loud. When it was my turn, I froze. I didn’t know the “right” words to use. Of course, I didn’t need to use any special words to pray, but I didn’t know that at the time. Prayer is simply speaking to God who desires sincerity more than impressive words (see Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Matthew 6:5-8).

When our church gathers every Sunday, I hope you’ll work with me to help new people feel welcomed.

 – Bryan Craddock

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