A song of lament

EMU Music
£0.99 or watch on YouTube

It was EMU’s Philip Percival who helped me see that Christian music should not be understood just as ‘worship’ but as ‘edification’. This new single Always Good does just that, based around the lament of Psalm 13.

Laments are not common in church music, partly because they are hard to write for congregational use. Finding a voice for sorrow, while at the same time expressing faith in His purposes, means avoiding melodies that are overly mournful. EMU have succeeded in this song, having a rhythm and major key that keeps the song moving. The words for the most part reflect Psalm 13, and reach the excellent last line of the chorus – ‘You are always good to me’. The bridge section hints that there is a New Testament perspective to be added to sorrow, but the song does not veer into triumphalism. And that is why it should be added to the church’s songbook.

It is Ecclesiastes that sounds the note of frustration that is still part of our lives today. Congregation members should not come to church to escape their sorrows but to be enabled to face them with faith. Well-chosen songs like ‘He will hold me fast’ and ‘Always good’ will keep a congregation honest and faithful.

I have two suggestions. In Hilburn’s biography of Paul Simon, Simon is seen obsessively struggling to find the right lyric, something I wish I’d done more! So I’m not sure about about ‘weeping’ in verse 3. Perhaps ‘watching’? Finally I would suggest it works better for the congregation in a higher key, an option hopefully supplied on the website.

We should be very thankful for EMU’s seriousness in song writing for the church. Buy this and sing it! Your church will be grateful, and you will be singing what Scripture says.

Steve James

Steve James a song and hymn writer and was rector of Holy Trinity Platt Church.

Do you really love your church?

Some while ago, I left the church I first joined in 1996, and where I had served as an elder for a good part of a decade.

I was excited to leave. I hated leaving. And love is why.

Sixty of us departed to plant a church in our own neighbourhood. We meant to love our non-Christians neighbours with a congregation within walking distance. Yet leaving meant transitioning away from one-on-one discipling relationships; breaking up small groups; re-prioritising who got invited to lunch or dinner. It meant no longer sharing weekly fellowship and ministry opportunities with names and faces we love, like Bill and Careen or Daniel and Brittany.

And, oh, it was heart-rending.

The love shared inside a church is the love of a family – mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers (see 1 Tim. 5:1-2). And like a son or daughter who comes of age, sometimes you’re sent, with all the bitter-sweet joy that accompanies this sending.

What do you think love inside a church is? Do you love your church? How?

A church is where we first model loving our neighbours and enemies.

Trace out a Biblical theology of God’s people through the Bible’s covenantal storyline. You’ll discover that one of God’s purposes for His special people is to model what He expects of all people. God means for everyone made in His image to love Him and their neighbour. But He specially employs His churches to exemplify such love, like department-store mannequins modelling clothes.

We’re to clothe ourselves in love for the world to see.

But that’s not all. The church is where humanity – or a new humanity – begins to love its enemies, just like Christ loved us. Think about it. We were all wannabe kings in the flesh:

‘I want to be king.’

‘No, I want to be king.’

Which means, yes, your fellow church members are your natural-born enemies. You forget that – praise God! – because a church consists of wannabe kings who have laid down their swords and become citizens of Christ’s kingdom. It’s inside a church, then, that we practice loving our former enemies.

You should have seen how arrogant that young man was who showed up in 1996. Talk about being my own king. Yet the church loved and embraced me. How could I not learn to love them in return?

And you? Do you practice loving people with different agendas in your church?

A church is where the world witnesses God’s love.

It’s not some generic brand of love that the church models. It’s God’s love in Christ that we should display: ‘… just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13:34-35). Jesus emphasizes the fact that the world will know we’re His disciples not by our love for the world, though that’s certainly true, but by our love for each other. Through our gospel cultures of forgiving words and righteous deeds, we demonstrate what Christ’s love is like.

The world thinks it understands love. It doesn’t. It only knows zero-sum-gain love: ‘I want you to love others less so you can love me more.’

Yet God’s love is a generative love. It creates more of itself. Watch this: the Father loves the Son, and the Son the Father. The Father and Son then sends the Spirit to form a people who will receive the Father’s love for the Son. And through the Spirit they learn to love God and each other like the Father, Son, and Spirit. Learn about all this in John 17.

God’s love is a boomerang that goes out into the world and then returns to Him bearing the bounty of even more love. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.

This is why my church can send 60 of us away as an act of love. Leaving friends behind doesn’t mean loving them less but more, because we go to increase the universe’s overall supply of love. We go to make disciples and create more lovers of God, more love within Christ’s church, more disciple-makers who in turn will love the non-Christian neighbours, too. The boomerang goes out and comes back, goes and comes back, the universe’s quantity of love always growing.

Our love for each other reveals his love. Sometimes that means staying, sometimes sending, sometimes going. Does your love for your church involve sending others away? Or going yourself?

Love involves sacrifice and obedience.

As I said, the young man who showed up in 1996 was arrogant and wanted to be his own king. It was a sacrifice for others to love me. I offered them little. Yet for me to receive that love and learn to love in return involved a sacrifice of my own: repenting of self-rule and trusting in Christ. It meant confessing sin and living transparently. It meant listening and obeying.

Our culture defines love as giving people whatever they want: love means prioritising self-expression and self-realisation.

Yet Jesus teaches that love leads to obedience, and obedience is a sign of love (John 14:21,23; 15:10-11; 1 John 5:3). It does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth, says Paul. It heeds the will of the Father. It desires good for others, but that good is always God, and nothing other than God.

Love even involves discipline. The Lord disciplines those that He loves. A church that never disciplines or corrects sin, is an unloving church.

Do you practice loving your fellow members by listening to them? Accepting their discipline? Offering gentle corrections when occasion requires? Are you willing to submit to the church’s leadership?

Love involves mercy and compassion.

Yet love in a church also involves mercy and forbearance, even as we have received mercy and forbearance. Love covers a multitude of sins.

Christ’s love for His church, like a bridegroom to bride, is not the love of a prince for a princess, but for a whore.

Some of your fellow members are easy to love. Some are difficult. And that’s just the point. The easy-to-love teach us how to love the difficult-to-love. The annoying ones. The immature ones. The ones who don’t show up for nursery duty on time or whose kids snub your kids. Don’t tell me you love all Christians everywhere if you don’t love a specific and sometimes troublesome group of Christians somewhere. Don’t tell me you have the gift of prophesy or faith or do good deeds, if you don’t love real live people who are different from you – older, younger, darker, lighter, richer, poorer, mature, immature.

If love is patient and kind, as Paul says, you can assume it will be people who tempt us to impatience and unkindness that best train us in the ways of love.

Love for the church starts in a church – a place with real people with real gifts and real problems. Get to work here, and then let your love for other churches, other denominations, and Christians around the world, grow out of this seedbed.

The world will love and hate the church’s love.

A last word: the world will both love and hate what your church calls love. If they only love it, you can be sure you’re offering them a false and worldly love. The love of the Father is not in the world, and so they will sometimes call love hate and hate love. Expect this.

Our church plant expected this kind of opposition. We live in a very progressive community. Still, our task together is to love them by believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things.

Honestly, our new church, like your present church, can only offer a vision of heaven’s love as in a mirror dimly. The good news is, we can point our neighbourhood to the one who loves them and us perfectly, the perfect who will one day come to welcome us fully into His love.

That’s the heart of our faith and hope.

Jonathan Leeman is an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church in suburban Washington, D.C., editorial director for 9Marks and the author of How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics for a Divided Age (Thomas Nelson)

Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan Leeman is an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church in suburban Washington, D.C., editorial director for 9Marks and the author of How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics for a Divided Age (Thomas Nelson)

How can I be a better apologist?

I am sometimes asked how to get training in apologetics. Given that I am a Bible College lecturer who teaches these things it may surprise you that recommending a college course is not at the top of my list.

If you are interested in apologetics, and feel the need for more training, here are the suggestions I would offer.


First, I would say read widely. Of course you may prefer watching online videos to written words, but I doubt many competent apologists get away without the thoughtful reflection that follows the pace of reading books and articles. Reading widely includes the Bible, theology, sermons, history, politics, news, novels and, importantly, books by those who are not Christians.

Prayer and fellowship

Secondly (though first in importance), don’t neglect prayer and Christian fellowship. Prayer reminds us that we depend on God and that our walk with Him is primary. Fellowship with other believers keeps us grounded, encouraged and realistic. Some people who engage in apologetics end up hyper-critical and inflexible, something that fellowship can soften. Effective apologetics requires emotional intelligence.


Thirdly, do some philosophy. A good overview of the history of philosophers and a simple introduction to logic is enough to give us a basic sense of why ideas matter and how to spot a fallacy. With some tools like these we can watch a news interview or a political speech and evaluate the persuasiveness of an argument.

Non-Christian friends

Fourthly, maintain friendships with those outside of church. Too much apologetics is an internal pursuit – Christians talking to Christians about what we believe. There is a place for that, but we are called to share our faith with those who doubt. Not only should we care for our friends who don’t believe, but our friendships with them will help us to avoid the bubble of faith that can make us lose touch with how the world thinks and why people don’t believe. The very tone we use, and illustrations we draw upon, need an awareness of the shifting attitudes in culture.

Going further?

But what if you want to go further and develop more formal training? There are great courses, whether non-accredited programmes or higher-level postgraduate degrees, offered in the UK. With the rapid development of online delivery it is no longer necessary to move house or even give up a job in order to complete a relevant MA or PhD. But I would add a caution here. Even as a Bible College teacher I would discourage anyone from considering apologetics an end in itself.

Many of the greatest apologists in history have used skills acquired elsewhere for the task. John Lennox is a Professor of Mathematics, C.S. Lewis was a scholar of literature, Francis Schaeffer had been an evangelist and missionary, while Alister McGrath trained as both a scientist and a theologian. A simple observation is that some of the best apologetic material emerges from skills and expertise acquired elsewhere.

What really interests you? It could be history, politics, football, film, music or motorcycle maintenance. Develop your skills in the areas where you feel God has given you a particular calling or passion. Could you develop your expertise and depth of insight in that area as a Christian so that you can use it to share your faith, engage unbelief and make the case for Christ? Maybe the need is not so much for more Christians becoming apologists, but more Christians being the best mechanics, historians, film makers and nurses they can be and making the defence of their faith in those fields.

Chris Sinkinson

Chris Sinkinson is a Lecturer in Theology at Moorlands College.

Igniting our hearts and minds

How the Church Gathers as God’s People
By Matt Merker
Crossway Books (9 Marks). 174 pages.
£11.99 (hardback)
ISBN 978 1 433 569 821

If there’s one book on gathering, worship and singing that I could give to everyone on our music team, it’s Corporate Worship by Matt Merker. In fact, I will do so, as we relaunch into the new normal following the lifting of restrictions, and I’d love to see my whole congregation reading it, too.

Emerging from a season where we’ve not been able to gather for corporate worship, I can’t think of a more vital time for our churches to rediscover the joy of gathering as God’s people in God’s presence. What Matt has achieved, quite brilliantly I think, is to present a balanced, nuanced, well-illustrated and explained survey of the central Biblical teachings on matters surrounding corporate worship in a short, accessible book that’s a delight to read.

Particular highlights include the way he shows us how Scripture frames the gathering as something the living God calls us to each week, and how that dynamic radically affects every facet of our gathered worship. (That makes it a vital read for church leaders, too; get your pastor a copy!)

I hugely appreciate the way he clearly preserves the balance of Scripture in expressing how we gather in God’s presence and for His glory and to edify and encourage one another and before the eyes of the watching world, without pitting these realities against one another as many are prone to do. That’s the real strength of this book: thoughtful, simple and holistic presentation of what God calls us to in Scripture regarding corporate worship that ignites hearts and minds to treasure our gatherings.

The sample orders of service from a variety of traditions, discussion questions at the end of each chapter, and Matt’s continual and specific applications throughout the chapters (not just to singing together, but to every aspect of our corporate worship) means this is far from being an academic study, but gets right down into the nitty-gritty of church life.

My hope is for our music team (and beyond!) to discuss over lunch what’s encouraged them, inspired them and caused them to think, before heading in to rehearsal – no doubt buzzing from seeing again the spiritual realities at play as God calls us to worship, and humbled yet privileged to play their part in aiding the worship of God’s church. Perhaps you could consider getting a bunch of copies for the musicians and leaders in your church so you can read, discuss, apply and pray together into your church context.

So, as we get back to gathering as God designed, and as we gear up to plan worship services, lead, and participate in congregational singing, you could have no greater boost of encouragement and wisdom than this timely, profound-yet-small book. May the Lord use it in your church to bless you as you rediscover the joy of gathering for corporate worship.

Ben Slee

Ben Slee (@BenSleeMusic) is the Music Pastor at Christ Church Mayfair in London. He’s a songwriter and the author of The Dwell Richly Course for church music leaders and musicians.

How big is too big?

During the depths of lockdown I was out walking having a pastoral conversation when we bumped into someone who went to the same church. I was surprised to find myself being asked: ‘Would you introduce me to your friend?’ They had been members in the same largish church for around six years and, though they had seen each other, had never had a conversation.

At the very least, a church needs a team spirit across the congregation. But can this be there when people have never even spoken to one another?

Beautiful churches

When it comes to the practical workings of churches in ways that please the Lord, the pictures of a family and the church as the body of Christ are at the forefront in the New Testament. When the members of a church love one another like brothers and sisters and act together like a coordinated body with every member involved for the good of all, this is beautiful in God’s sight. Out of the matrix of family love within the church, a whole raft of ‘one another’ commands emerge in the NT. Further, the leaders are designated ‘elders’, indicating they are mature members of the community who, having brought

up their own earthly families well (1 Tim.3:4,5), will have a wise and fatherly approach to the church family. In Scripture we find that the initial large congregation in Jerusalem soon failed to treat each other as close family (Acts 6.1f).

Because of the need for greater organisation and the difficulties of communication with many more people, larger churches tend to go down the route of becoming professionalised. The church employs not just a pastor, but a whole staff – administrators, assistants, women’s workers, family workers, etc. Fairly soon church becomes something of a ‘spectator sport’ for ordinary church members as the professionals get on with the job.

The truth is that a family atmosphere and every-member participation come far more naturally in a smaller church, and are difficult to maintain in a larger one.

How big? 

There is no number laid down in Scripture for the size of a church. But I want to suggest that once a church begins to find it difficult to know one another and be a family in which everyone has a vital part to play, it is time to think about planting a new congregation.

Social skills are important in maintaining the cohesion and purpose of a church. These do depend on the ability to recognise and understand other church members. According to research, Dunbar’s Number – the natural upper limit to the number of people we can easily relate to in a group as human beings – is around 150.

Here is a quote from New Scientist. ‘Historically, it was the average size of English villages. It is also the ideal size for church parishes, and is the size of the basic military unit, the company. Although an individual’s social network may include many more people, 150 contacts marks the cognitive limit on those with whom we can maintain a stable social relationship involving trust and obligation – move beyond 150 and people are mere acquaintances’.

Scattered for the gospel

We do find large congregations in Scripture. But in the OT the gatherings of ‘all Israel’ were only for special occasions, while weekly religious life revolved around households and local synagogues. In the NT we find that the 3,000 converted at Pentecost, which soon grew to 5,000, not only ran into problems, but were soon scattered by persecution to carry the gospel into all the world (Acts 8.4; 11.19).

John Benton

John Benton is Director of Pastoral Support at The Pastor’s Academy, http://www.pastorsacademy.org

659,442 Bible questions


Got Questions Ministries seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by providing Biblical, applicable, and timely answers to spiritually related questions through an internet presence.

On the day of writing, Got Questions had answered 659,442 Bible questions. The homepage of the website shows you the number of questions answered and an opportunity to search for a subject or specific question. The homepage also has links to their ‘Top 20 Questions’, the 100 newest articles, and their ‘Top 20 Articles’.

Further down the homepage, there is an opportunity to subscribe to their ‘Question of the Week’.

The approach chosen to answer the questions takes a short article format. This normally includes a video with graphics and the article spoken over the graphics. Each article concludes with a summary, plus recommended resources and related topics links.

Got Questions does not have a statement of faith as such, but has a mission statement that includes the distinction that they are ‘Christian, Protestant, evangelical, theologically conservative, and non-denominational’.

Answers from the Bible

On reading some of the articles and even using the website myself from time to time, they are careful to deliberately steer clear of opinion or conjecture. Got Questions, as far as I can determine, only look to provide Biblically-based answers for the many questions they have received and answered. I do not doubt that the Got Questions staff are thorough in their pursuit of Biblical truth.

In their ‘About Us’ blurb, they state that their answers are ‘reviewed for Biblical and theological accuracy’ by their staff, and include a link to the plethora of seminaries and universities from which their staff have achieved Bachelors, Masters, or Doctorates.

Naturally, with the sheer number of questions and answers available, there are all sorts of questions along a broad spectrum of topics. For example, their ‘Top 20’ questions include ‘Do pets/animals go to Heaven? Do pets/animals have souls?’ all the way to ‘What does the Bible say about sex before marriage?’

All in all, Got Questions should prove a great resource for church leaders and congregation alike.

By D-Group http://www.thebiblerecap.com
Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and YouTube

The Bible Recap is a short daily podcast (approx. 8 minutes) hosted by Tara-Leigh Cobble and aims to highlight and summarise that day’s Bible reading in a casual, easy to understand way.

The Bible Recap goes through the Bible chronologically and we jump in on Day 207, which is Isaiah 40–43. This is The Bible Recap’s third year of reading the whole Bible chronologically and Cobble’s tenth time of doing so.

Cobble lives in Dallas, Texas and is an author, radio host and founder of D-Group; a network of men’s and women’s discipleship and Bible study groups that meet weekly in homes around the world.

This episode begins with Cobble summarising the last episode and moving on in the chronological reading plan. Cobble goes chapter by chapter giving a well-rounded, in-depth summary of the chapter(s) for that day.

This podcast is accessible to everyone, no matter their level of education or theological understanding. Cobble has a brilliant way of communicating what the passage is about without sounding like she is giving a lecture. Cobble also manages to leave you wanting more. She delivers the story in a way that almost compels you to listen to the following episode to hear what happens next.

For those who struggle with keeping up with a Bible plan or reading the Bible at all, I think could benefit from this podcast. It follows the overarching story of Scripture as it happens and even though it is only eight minutes long (which is rather short in comparison to most podcasts), it is jam-packed full of context and teaching.

Jordan Brown

Jordan Brown is part of New Life Church in Biggin Hill and is training to be a pastor.

Mission 2022: churches prepare to reach out afresh

We have all heard the phrase ‘build back better’ many times in recent days as everyone seeks to establish what a new normal will look like.

For the church of our Lord Jesus Christ the pandemic has given all of us an opportunity to review much of our activity and to ask serious questions, as we emerge from the various restrictions, as to how we can recalibrate and refocus on the centrality of the good news of the gospel.

Gathering and preparing

Many churches across the UK and Ireland are gathering and preparing for a united month of mission leading up to April 2022, journeying together under the united banner of ‘A Passion for Life’. APFL longs to see the gospel of Christ proclaimed to every generation across the UK and Ireland by:

• Building confidence in Bible-centred, Christ-proclaiming evangelism

• Inspiring, encouraging and resourcing all-year-round evangelism

• Stimulating earnest and united prayer for the advance of the gospel

• Coming together for times of nationwide mission in March/April 2022

• Stirring up our churches to an ever-increasing passion to be used of God to bring people to new life in Christ.

The momentum is gathering pace and the delivery team is seeking to put an arm around local church leaders by supporting them in strengthening the mission culture of the local church, through: webinars; podcasts and helpful materials; in providing a bespoke suite of personal evangelism training resources for church leaders to use; and in collating an array of mission ideas and practical guides for effective engagement in our communities.

Over the past few months, church leaders have been gathering online in webinar format to pray with one another and to reflect upon the health and strength of the mission culture within the churches they serve. Of course, every church has a culture of mission or evangelism, but the health of that culture varies greatly, and a central aim of the gatherings has been to partner together to strengthen, encourage and mutually equip.

The apostle Paul, writing in one of his lockdown epistles to the church at Philippi, speaks of a partnership in grace, a partnership in prayer, a partnership in giving and a partnership in the gospel; and this is a helpful summary of the way in which local church leaders are working together in this initiative.

Three of the reflections on how we can strengthen the culture of mission in our local churches have been:

1. The importance of leaders find-ing space to be a model

This is not a call to the catwalk, but instead an encouragement to ‘what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things’ (Phil.4:9). Our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated for His disciples how to live, how to pray, how to use Scripture and how to win the lost. He himself did not ask them to do something He was not doing, and one of the great joys of observing His practice is how real, how practical and how natural His approach is.

As church leaders it is so important to teach the gospel, to give people a clear understanding of it, for evangelistic living will flow naturally from being well taught. This is also true of what we sing, what we celebrate and how we bring a gospel focus to the sacraments. However, it has been exciting to witness church leaders wrestling with how, amid all the pressures of the pastoral ministry, they can make space in their diary to model for others what everyday evangelistic living looks like.

The power of that example and its influence and impact upon the culture of mission in the local church is significant. Some have been reading the Bible one-to-one evangelistically with non-believers, others have been at the forefront of bringing unbelieving friends to evangelistic courses or events, while others have been intentionally making space in their calendars to be an active member of a local community group with a view to being salt and light. Importantly, they have been sharing this with others, not as a boast, but as an encouragement and an example.

2. Identifying, training and equipping everyday believers

In any attempt to strengthen the mission culture of our church it is important to identify the early adopters, those who get the importance of it almost intuitively. Three characteristics to look for are:

• A love for God demonstrated in the words people use, the actions they perform, and the priorities they establish for themselves.

• A love for the lost – which can be ascertained as you listen to people’s prayers and the burden of their conversation.

• A love for doing what the word of God says – the emphasis being upon not simply hearing God’s word but knowing the blessing that flows from doing it.

Although in the church it is Jesus who is our ultimate leader, and pastor-teachers have particular leadership roles under Him, every believer is a leader in some way shape or form. We all have to show leadership, firstly of ourselves, and then in other areas of our lives – for example work, parenting, sport, etc. In this context, it becomes easier to strengthen the mission culture of our church when we equip people to own mission, to grow in their roles within it and to fall in love with making Jesus known.

This is done best when leaders learn to inspire others with simplicity, and clarity, and by providing real opportunities to participate. Leaders have an opportunity every time they meet people to help them grow in this important area of discipleship and every gathering can be an opportunity to affirm, correct, encourage or celebrate with them.

One story was of a local pastor who in conducting baptismal services not only invites the person being baptised to give a testimony, but also asks for a testimony from the person that God used in bringing the person to faith. It’s simple, it’s clear, and it is very inspiring for others to realise that while it is always God who gives faith, He delights to use everyday believers in the process.

3. The power of partnership

As leaders have met other leaders from across the UK and Ireland, many of them jaded by navigating the waters of recent times, it has been a privilege to witness the encouragement that flows out of their cooperation, their shared creativity, and their generous giving spirit. Tragically, the church has at times been a breeding ground for enlarged egos, divisive silos, and a competitive spirit. However, the emphasis on journeying together in strengthening the mission culture of the church nationally is producing healthy fruit.

Unsurprisingly, the more people pray together the more willing they are to share people, share gifting, and share resources. The partnership is laser-focused on gospel truths, knowing the gospel, loving the gospel, and sharing the gospel. As a result, it is aiming for gospel fruit and all of that cannot but magnify Jesus and serve as a wonderful display of the glory of God.

A wonderful spirit of humility, interdependence and cooperation is being fostered, and it has been a joy to hear the reports of church leaders in each nation offering up prayers for the strengthening of local churches – in far-flung geographical places from themselves – and of prayer being answered throughout the UK and Ireland.

As APFL gathers more momentum, the production stage for a suite of personal evangelism training resources is moving into the editing phase and every church that registers their interest on our website – www. apassionforlife.org.uk – will have access to them. We are planning to run a feature on these resources in a future edition, but would encourage you to have a look at what’s on offer in A Passion for Life.

Currently in our nation when, due to the pandemic, we have never been closer to our neighbours, or so conscious of our own mortality, the APFL strapline – ‘A month of mission, a lifetime of evangelism, a passion for life’ – seems like a word in season to the church.

John MacKinnon

John MacKinnon is part of the APFL ‘delivery team’ in charge of training and training resources.