Dear Pew Neighbor: Reasons I Don't Turn and Touch as the Pastor Instructs
Dear Pew Neighbor,
First of all, I call you "pew neighbor" to distinguish you from my next door neighbor or those who live in close proximity to my dwelling. I know you have a name, but in many African American traditional churches, pastors refer to you as a neighbor when they exclaim, "Touch your neighbor and say..." or "Turn to your neighbor and say..."
So, for the purpose of this letter, I am addressing you as my pew neighbor to tell you that I do not turn to my neighbor and repeat a statement. I will not be touching you and saying something in conjunction with the touch.
Pew Neighbor, let me jump right in and tell you that it is not about you personally. I don't go to church to touch my neighbor. I go to church to worship God in a local assembly. Touching my neighbor and telling him something doesn't fall in my category of worship.
It is not that I have anything against you or being defiant to what the pastor says. I'll be too busy focusing on worship. Touching you and saying something to you would be a big distraction to both you and me. Please understand!
Touching people to help a preacher preach a sermon is not holiness in any form, and it shouldn't be part of a worship service. How would you feel if Jesus came and found you running around touching and counting the people you touch?
I was taught at an early age to do nothing I would not like to be doing when Jesus comes. I want Him to find me being holy because God is holy.
Touching Can Be A Distraction
Pew Neighbor, don't think I am being disobedient by not following the pastor's instruction to turn to you and touch you. I have discussed this matter with my pastor. Therefore, he knows how I feel about touching people in the church. He commented, "Don't touch anyone then. It's you who will lose a blessing by not turning and touching your neighbor."
His response didn't make me change my mind because there is nothing biblical about what he said.
Therefore, if you sit beside me on the pew, I will not turn to you, hold your hand and repeat anything. That's not why I go to church.
Call and Response: Proclamation and Affirmation
Call and Response
The turning and touching exercise is known as a call and response often invoked to invite the congregation into the sermon. The phrase is used for proclamation and affirmation. When overused, it is a filler for the preacher to get his thoughts together before moving on to another point.
One person commented that she goes to church to hear an inspirational word from God and not from a neighbor. She added that if she wanted to hear from her neighbor, she would have gone next door instead of going to church.
Touch Three People
To change it up a bit, some pastors tell the people to get up from their seats and go to three persons and tell them what he tells them to say. Once you attach a number or quantity or limitation to a command, it becomes manipulation which is a form of witchcraft.
A newcomer confessed that he felt so bad all week because he didn't get around to touching three people as instructed. He rushed through the exercise but touched only two before the pastor told the congregants to return to their seats. The young man felt like a failure and thought if he couldn't do that simple act, then he convinced himself that other things might be out of his reach also. He never returned to the church; yet, he still harbors that guilt.
Another person worried because she touched four people, and she thought she would lose her blessings because she overdid it. She promised herself the next time she would do exactly as she was told so she could be in right standing in the church.
Grab Your Neighbor By The Hand And Say . . .
Give High Five to Four People
Telling someone to give high five to a certain number of people fits in the same category with the other exercises. There is nothing sacred about a high five during a worship service. High fives should be reserved for sporting events when a person's team wins.
A veteran pastor insists he doesn't tell the congregation to turn to a neighbor and repeat anything. He said one of his associate ministers did that at least 10 times in a sermon and wasted 15 valuable minutes because it took people time to settle down after the exercise.
The pastor had a meeting with all his associate ministers and told them to refrain from saying that during a sermon. At the meeting, the 76-year-old pastor told the young preachers to get it out of their system by turning to each other and saying, "Preacher, stop telling people to turn to their neighbor."
They got the message and knew if they wanted to preach at that church again, they had to obey the instructions of the senior pastor who had been leading the church for the last 42 years without ever having told anybody to turn and touch someone.
Pew Neighbor, I know this doesn't apply to you, but some people don't alway practice personal hygiene. It becomes quite awkward to keep turning to someone and smelling what they ate for breakfast including the cigarette they smoked afterward.
So if you are sitting beside me and the preacher says turn to your neighbor 10 or more times, please don't feel bad when I don't turn to you. I would prefer it if you do not turn and touch me. I am just not comfortable participating in those exercises.
Pew Neighbor, Now You Know
Pew Neighbor, now you know the real deal about me not turning to you, touching you and repeating a line to you. It has nothing to do with you but everything to do with me and how I feel about true worship.
I believe worship is a sacred experience that should be void of turning and touching and high fives. There is no place in the Bible where Jesus, Paul or Peter did it. I don't believe preachers should do it in modern-day churches either. However, even when they do it, I won't lose my salvation for not doing it. So, now you know!
Your Pew Neighbor
Have you been in a church and a pastor said, "Turn to your neighbor and say..."?
Have you been in a church and a pastor told you to "Touch your neighbor..."?
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