Question & Answer Forum

How should preachers treat people who are not in the assembly?

Since the New Testament doesn’t teach a division between clergy and laity, the same principles written for all Christians apply to preachers. All are to be kind to each other (Eph 4:32) and serve others in love (Gal 5:13) and lowliness (Eph 4:2). Therefore, preachers, along with all believers, should attempt to avoid anything that a visitor could interpret as unkind or condescending. Since Christians are to “esteem other better than themselves,” every visitor to the assembly should receive respect and personal attention. At a minimum, that means every believer should attempt to welcome the visitor (without being overwhelming) and to address the visitor by name. James warns against special treatment for wealthy visitors (Jam 2:1-4). If a personable, prominent, popular politician visited, how many handshakes and requests for photographs would he receive? How often would believers tell others of that visit? Should another visitor with a different status, appearance, creed, personality, race, or lifestyle receive a lesser welcome?

Paul makes it clear that the Corinthians’ behavior in their gatherings should have a positive impact on both the unlearned and unbelievers (1Co 14:23-25). The unlearned are not in the assembly and they are not unbelievers. Therefore, these principles apply to believing and unbelieving visitors. If they witnessed speaking in tongues, they would have a negative impression of the believers, concluding they are mad – deluded. If they heard men prophesying, they would recognize God’s presence among His people. The outcome desired for these visitors was for them to become worshipers, aware of God’s presence in the assembly. Every interaction with visitors should create a positive impression and contribute to this desired outcome.

In speaking publicly, preachers are responsible to model this kindness, lowliness, respect, and purpose (1Ti 4:11-13). This Biblical standard tests the matter and manner of all preaching. Paul implies (1Co 14:15-33) that the preachers’ words and actions form the visitors’ impression of the God this congregation worships.

D. Oliver

When entertaining an unbelieving neighbor, is it best to force a conversation about the gospel?

God’s Servant knew how to speak a “word in season” (Isa 50:4). In teaching, He was sensitive to any factors that would limit His effectiveness; He spoke “as they were able to hear it” (Mark 4:33). Getting to know people helps us to discern what will be effective. Seizing a one-time opportunity is different from building a relationship that strengthens effective communication.

Our relationships with unbelievers should enhance, rather than limit, our ability to communicate the gospel. Build relationships with unbelievers in a way that is consistent with Biblical principles.

But this question addresses our motivation for hospitality. Are we offering a meal as a means of obligating them to us? Are we posing as hospitable in order to be evangelical? Showing kindness is “normal Christianity” (Luke 6:35; 1Co 13:4; Gal 5:22). This should characterize our interaction with unbelieving neighbors. We do not show kindness in order to manipulate them to our desired end, as good as that end may be. We serve the Lord and others by showing kindness. We need the Lord to guide our service. We pray for an opportunity to serve others by telling them the message that has blessed to us.

A forced conversation about the gospel will not be as effective as a door of opportunity that the Lord opens. Showing kindness and developing a relationship with unbelieving neighbors so we can be a blessing to them may involve other service than speaking to them about Christ. It may involve trimming their hedge, caring for their children, helping in times of difficulty, or maintaining a joyful and gentle spirit. If the Lord opens the door for a word of testimony on the first visit, respond in a way that increases the likelihood of further open doors in the future.

D. Oliver

Should a young person seek the counsel of parents and elders about dating?

In cultures where elders or parents do not arrange a couple’s marriage this is important. The influence of a society that discounts the permanence of marriage will test the strength of a Christian marriage. Finding the right partner is a crucial choice and must be made carefully, yet marriage is a life-long commitment of two who generally have no experience in making such a momentous choice.

How wonderful that Christians have a wise heavenly Father to guide them by means of prayer and His Word! It is never too early in Christian life for a believer to submissively ask the Lord if and whom he should marry (1Pe 5:7). In addition, wise Solomon tells us twice that “In the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Pro 11:14; 24:6). Parents and elders ought to be people a young person respects for their wisdom and experience. Friends who are both spiritual and objective are also good candidates for inclusion in the “multitude of counselors.” The brother and the sister in Christ who begin to keep company are each responsible before the Lord to determine His will for them in this matter (Rom 14:12). They cannot make their choice merely on either the advice of respected counselors or the conviction of their “dating partner” that their relationship is the Lord’s will. The input of others, however, should be weighed carefully, prayerfully, and as objectively as possible. The choice to date is not an irreversible choice, but believers should not make that choice lightly. To be kind and fair to each other, they should choose to spend time together only if each one would consider the other to be a reasonable candidate for marriage. The insights of trusted counselors can be helpful in assessing the prospective partner’s spirituality, personality, capabilities, habits, reliability, family background, and overall compatibility.

Years before dating is an issue, parents and elders can cultivate a relationship with these believers that will foster trust and enable effective and helpful communication in this important area. Before their children are thinking about dating, parents can promote family discussions that will help their children recognize important features they should weigh when thinking of a relationship with prospective marriage partners.

D. Oliver