Listening to Sermons

Today, I was reading Christopher Ash’s little book Listen Up! It is excellent and I would recommend it to everyone. I take his word for it, but he said that there has been plenty written on preaching sermons but nothing on listening to sermons since Charles Simeon 200 years ago.

There are lots of quotable passages in Ash’s book but I came across this:

“When we listen to an MP3 recording of a sermon, we are not listening to preaching, but to an echo of preaching that happened in the past. Listening on my own to a recording can never be more than a poor second-best to actually being there with the people of God in a local church.”

It struck a chord with me so here are a few comments about it:

1) It is a reminder the “online church”, such as has been necessary over the last few months, is not and never will be an adequate substitute for assembling together as the church to hear the word of God.

Certainly, from my perspective as a preacher the experience has been wholly unsatisfying. Feedback from some hearers indicates the same.

Preaching to a live congregation is interactive. People are responding to the preacher and vice versa. Preaching to a camera, even though you know people are watching, cuts off the feedback loop. The whole thing is so much more dull for both sides.

2) For me a growing bee in my bonnet is that even in normal times, too many Christians live on a diet of “second-best” sermon podcasts to the detriment of their hearing of the word of God in their own church, and to the detriment of their spiritual maturity.

There are some great preachers out there. I wish I could sit under their ministry week after week! I used to listen to a lot of them. Now I don’t. A few years ago I realised I was falling into a trap of using sermons in the same way I might use music or have the TV news on in the house. Background. A sound, a voice, a distraction. But as such it washes over and runs away. Nothing learned. Nothing remembered. A bad habit that had developed and was ready for when I actually went to worship and heard a sermon. A sound, a voice, a distraction. Nothing learned. Nothing remembered.

It may seem like an extreme conclusion, but the deadening effect of listening to sermons while walking or driving or filling any available gap was doing nothing to aid my spiritual growth and maturity.

3) Too many preachers wish their podcasted sermons would be considered as worthy if not better when compared with a listening Christian’s own pastor.

Well, it’s a vast extrapolation! I only know my own heart, so the “too many” above is actually only one that I know of. But it is one too many. And I often think that if it is true of me, then it will be true of some others.

My job is not to have an internet ministry, but to have a real ministry with the real people God has given me. I remember when I first started in ministry some 13 years ago now, I came across a great preacher (who shall remain nameless) who had real reservations about putting his sermons online. There were a couple of sample sermons on his church’s website but no regular podcasting. He could have had much wider “reach”, I thought, but he wasn’t interested. What respect I now have for such an approach! It has not damaged his ministry one bit, nor his “reach”. He has kept focus on the task he had been given and been a rich blessing to his people.

Listening to Sermons

Ending Lockdown and the Mission of the Church

Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

Last Sunday was a significant moment for churches in England as legal restrictions were lifted on places of public worship. It was an answer to prayer and I am delighted that so many churches, including some in our own denomination (EPCEW), were able to meet in person to worship together.

However, for many churches it has been a bittersweet experience. Many congregations across the UK do not own their own building but rent their place of worship, so depending on others to make a decision to open up buildings for public use.

For us in Solihull Presbyterian Church the desire to be together in worship has only got deeper the last 100 days as we have had to make do with the wholly inadequate method of internet technology to broadcast services of worship. And who isn’t suffering from “Zoom fatigue” as we have had prayer meetings, fellowship times, Sunday school at a distance?

In Solihull, we have the added problem that we were asked to vacate our premises just days before the lockdown. The building had been deemed unsafe in its current state and a hard closure date was given. Considerable amounts of money are required to get the building into a fit state but the owners had decided not to commit any more to it . On our part we explored every avenue to get the building up and running, but the more we looked, the more the costs seemed to stack up. It was too much risk to take on.

So now we are homeless!

Of course, with nothing open, how do you go about finding a new venue? Schools, community halls and churches have all been closed and who is going to commit to a rental agreement with a third party until they have sorted themselves out? Now that lockdown restrictions has been lifted for places of worship we are still finding that many places have no plans to open for a while, probably not until September. Schools have the headache of planning to bring back students with social distancing measures and keeping schools virus-free with deep-cleaning plans. Who wants a third party group complicating things? Also we are finding that many local churches that may have a slot in their Sunday schedule (many have one Sunday service) are not planning to open soon.

For me this predicament has raised various questions about the nature of our mission as a church in Solihull. As a young person growing up in the west of Scotland I always thought of “a church” as a building on a street corner. But since my conversion some 40 years ago I learned to think of the church as the people, the members of the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit has baptised the church and he gives it life. The life is not in a building.

However, geography does matter, and buildings matter, to the extent that it defines a centre for gospel ministry. It is a place to bring people to. It is a visible presence in the community that can become familiar to people. It is a centre where the preaching of the gospel can be heard week-in, week-out. I recognise that this is not a strong theological or biblical argument to make for buildings. Where does the New Testament ever speak of bespoke buildings to meet in? However, it is an on-the-ground practical application of the missionary principles that have driven the church through the ages. As the gospel spreads places of worship spring up.

Having a place for worship makes planning for gospel ministry clearer. It defines an area we can reach. We know the people we should reach, the streets to visit. We know how many homes a church of our size can cope with. Sure, church members can share the gospel with friends and internet technology means we can broadcast far and wide. In one sense, there are no geographical limits. But we are still left with the question, what about the people in our neighbourhood that we are not friends with or don’t download a church podcast? These people need to be reached too. And when they have been reached and they believe, they need to be drawn into the bonds of fellowship of their local church and hear there the regular preaching of the word.

That is why being “homeless” as a church is so discombobulating. It is not simply a matter of finding an anything-will-do place to meet. It is tied to the question of how we reach Solihull.

When I first came to Solihull, there were something like 25 churches in the wards surrounding the town centre that had 100,000 people in them. That’s a third of the national average density of churches. If anything the number of churches in Solihull has declined. I know for sure three have closed since – there may be more – and I am not aware of any new ones that have opened. There is such a need here.

Will you pray for us and with us? We need a building to meet in. But we need stability – preferably with a building that we can call our own. And we need one that is in a locality where we can make plans to be able to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Ending Lockdown and the Mission of the Church

Biblical Competency

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The men of our church have been meeting once a month for a number of years now. We don’t have a fancy name for it like “Theology on Tap” or “Men up to Their Necks in Glory” or some such names I have seen. We just call it “Men’s Group”. We have been in the habit of working through some good books, like Macleod’s “A Faith to Live By“, Murray’s “Redemption Accomplished etc“, Reeves’ “Delighting in the Trinity“, Robertson’s “The Christ of the Covenants” and some others. It has been demanding stuff but, I think, helpful in so many ways.

However, we took a change of tack earlier this month and went back to basics. The church has changed over the years and I have begun to realise that there is a need to do some ground-level work with our group. Not that everyone is at a basic level, but I have always found that going over basics has always been helpful personally, and I trust it will be for others.

So, this series of group meetings I have tentatively called, Feeding on the Word. The question is, what are the ways that we can make use of this rich deposit of revelation the Lord has given us? There are several, they are all useful, and they all compliment each other. So earlier this month I outlined where we are going to go over the next few meetings. So here is a summary.


Since the arrival of the printing press, a proportion of the evangelical church’s members have treasured the Bible in their hands. They read it, studied it, memorised it, meditated upon it, heard it preached. People were trained in the scriptures.

Today, we have never had such a plethora of inexpensive Bibles, notes, reference books, commentaries and a huge amount available to us online, free of charge. And yet modern Christians seem to know so little. We don’t use what is available to us.

Churches need good men. Not just a “Few Good Men” but lots of good men! They are good for the church and its health. They are good for their families.

Scripture: God-breathed

2 Timothy 3:16 shows us the deep connection there is between the written word and God himself. It is on his breath. It is the divinely communicated, Holy Spirit-worked truth for us. It is for a number of things:

teaching: to get technical, it has indicative statements and imperative statements. Or, in other words, it has statements of truth for us to believe and commands for us to obey. So it gives us understanding about what it true and false and what is good and bad. Proverbs 13:14 says, “The teaching of the wise is the fountain of life.” God is infinitely wise and he teaches us in his word.

reproof: this is the use the Holy Spirit makes of the word in convicting us of our sins. The Bible shows us our sins and thereby it addresses our consciences which leads us to repentance. We should see this as a mercy of God to us – something to give thanks for.

correction: that is, to put right what is broken, or make straight what is crooked in our lives, rather like an orthodontist straightens out teeth. We need our lives straightened out. God does that through his word.

training in righteousness: God takes us through a spiritual workout when we use the Bible rightly. Some of us who have a gym membership forget to go and make use of the facilities, but get a crumb of comfort that at least we have a membership. Some of us can be like that with the Bible – I may not read it much, but at least I have a Bible! Well, the Lord wants us to be regularly in the gym of scripture, growing in strength, stamina, skill.

The effect of all this in verse 17: that the man of God may become ‘competent’ (ESV). Other translations have ‘thoroughly equipped’, ‘complete’, but I like the word competent. In many walks of life, no man likes to be thought of as incompetent. So what about the word of God? We should all seek to become, competent men of God, skilled in the use of the word of God. Then we can believe all God has told us and do all the things he has commanded us.

So what ways do we have to become competent in the scriptures? I only list them here, more or less, but I tend to expand on them in later posts. Here are five:

Listening well to biblical preaching

The Reformed faith has always put preaching at the centre of church’s spiritual growth. This is reflected in the Shorter Catechism Q.89:

How is the Word made effectual to salvation? A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 89.

It is a thoroughly scriptural notion. You cannot read the New Testament without, if you are paying attention, seeing how the apostles put preaching at the very centre.

Having a daily devotional time

Scriptural examples abound of people taking time to read the scriptures and pray, but most importantly Jesus did it (Mark 1:35; Luke 9:18; 11:1; 22:39ff). Sure he did not have a Bible with him, but he knew the scriptures and so his time of prayer was also a time of meditation on the word.

Reading the Bible

This is simply the discipling of making sure that you get to know all of it. For that, you simply have to get down to it and read it. You would not pause at every verse, but read it as you would read the newspaper. Reading four chapters a day gets you through the Bible in a year.

Meditating on scripture

Not emptying your mind but filling your mind with scripture.

  • Joshua 1:8a – “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.”
  • Psalm 1:2 – “…his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

This is about how to think about scripture at any time – not just while studying, but also while walking, in the car, before you fall asleep. Of course, this has implications for memorising the parts of the Bible.

Finally, …

Studying the Bible

This is a more structured and concerted time spent getting to know parts of the Bible. It involves finding out about the background to a book – who wrote it? why? when? etc. It also involves identifying themes and ideas, and relating it to other parts of scripture. It involves using tools, like maps, dictionaries, handbooks, commentaries. It can be done alone or with a group of people.

So those are the ways I plan to cover with our men, and I will add posts here as I go. Remember, the idea is that we become competent!

Biblical Competency

Prayer for Sunday Morning Worship

O Lord our God,

We bow our heads before our infinite, eternal and unchangeable God. We adore you who are love itself, eternally expressed between the persons of the Godhead.

We worship you, our Father, who has planned and purposed creation and the great plan of redemption for us.

We worship and adore you, Word of God, the Son who is God who humbled himself and came from heaven to be our Saviour through his life, death and resurrection.

We worship you, Holy Spirit, our helper and sanctifier, who leads us into all truth, who draws our gaze to Jesus Christ, who causes us to be able to say, “Abba, Father!”

O Lord, our Triune God, we worship you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit this morning. Come and meet with us. Come and speak with us. Come and bless us.

We ask it all, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer for Sunday Morning Worship

Small Laws

When you break the big laws, you do not get liberty; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws.

G K Chesterton, quoted in The Man Who Was Orthodox edited by A L Maycock

I came across this Chesterton quote yesterday. It is only a line in a collection of items of his pithy prose. Apparently it originally appeared in a Daily News article in 1905, but the original article has been lost, so it is hard to know what he meant without the context.

It rang a bell because I recently heard one theologian say something similar about the Ten Commandments in relation to the state of western society. When you substitute “big laws” with “ten commandments” in the quote above you can perhaps see the point: if a society ignores the 10 commandments then in order to have some order the state has to introduce a myriad of sundry small laws.

Is that true? It’s plausible from experience. It seems to me that our legislators are continually busy trying to fix evils that emerge as a result of unhitching from those God-given “Words”. The trouble is we are left with a malleable and drifting set of underlying principles that guide lawmaking which results in many, many small laws.

Small Laws


I had an interesting experience yesterday. I was wondering whether my original blog was still online somewhere, and I found it – here. Actually, all the posts have been migrated to this blog but I had forgotten about them. There was a strange pleasure in rereading some of my posts.

I started the “Doggie’s Breakfast” blog back in 2004. I was a student at what was then ETCW, now Union School of Theology. Blogging was just becoming a “thing” and some of my fellow-students were blogging and encouraged me to write as well. I planned it as a smorgasbord of things – commentary, thoughts, reflections on my studies, nonsense. Most of all it was to be fun.

It was an interesting time. The so-called emergent church movement was gathering pace, and a kind of young, restless and Reformed version of it was appearing which coalesced into organisations like Acts 29 and The Gospel Coalition. There was plenty to think and talk about. There was a lot of interaction between bloggers – commenting, responding to blog posts with more blog posts.

I don’t know what happened, but blogging became professionalised and probably monetised. Platforms like Patheos and The Gospel Coalition and Reformation21, to name a few, began hosting celebrated writers. It all became very serious. Grass roots blogging seemed to fall out of fashion. It wasn’t helped by the rise of Facebook and Twitter. Now these are somewhat passé unless you are an activist. For fun go to Instagram or Tik Tok. The visual has taken over.

This blog has been on life support for years now. I think my last post was 5 months ago. The one before that was five months before that. A little over two blog posts a year.

However, in my foray into old posts I was sufficiently energised to reconsider this enterprise and perhaps return to its roots. To write about this and that, hopefully with a wiser head than 16 years ago, sometimes writing serious things. Sometimes not. Times have changed since I started. The issues in our society have changed profoundly. But let’s have a go and see what happens.


Some Help from A’Brakel on Fasting

The present pandemic has been a shock to the system of every church in the country as public meetings have been banned for the time being. Church ministers and elders have scrambled to work out how to keep ministering the word to their people in such straitened times, with varying degrees of success.

In the providence of God the church has been presented with new opportunities for witness and evangelism, and for this we give thanks. Parallel to that, the Lord in his wisdom has withdrawn the freedom for his church to meet to worship. It is not inappropriate to look on this as a chastisement on the church generally for reasons, perhaps, that we have still to work out. These are certainly extraordinary times. But one way to seek the Lord in this is to fast and pray.

Last Wednesday our presbytery (EPCEW) called our people and others to a day of prayer and fasting. It was hastily arranged and at short notice. Most of us ministers have never or rarely taught on the ins and outs of fasting as a spiritual discipline. We were certainly chastened to realise that!

In a ZOOM meeting of Presbytery last Friday we encouraged each other to consider doing so again this coming Wednesday (tomorrow), though this time not issue a general call. One of our number recommended reading in advance Wilhelmus A’Brakel on fasting. The chapter is the first in Volume 4 of his “A Christian’s Reasonable Service“, which you can find in PDF form at

To help us, I thought it might be helpful to produce a quick summary of A’Brakel’s chapter. (It helped me!) He obviously says much more in explanation – for that you need to look at the linked page above – but here’s my summary:

What is fasting?

A’Brakel’s definition:

Fasting is a special religious exercise in which a believer deprives himself for a day from all that invigorates the body, humbling himself in body and soul before God as a means to obtain what he desires.

Some notes on this definition:

  • it is a religious exercise – poverty, avarice, illness, health reasons , prevention because of business are not applicable here.
  • it is a special exercise – It is not a daily activity such as prayer, reading, thanksgiving, and singing. Rather, it is practiced at special seasons of need.
  • it is a depriving one’s self of all that invigorates the body – to bring the body for that given day into a condition of withdrawal, distress, pliableness, and weakness.
    • it is the deprivation of food
    • deprivation of external ornamentation [i.e. the proverbial sackcloth and ashes]
    • deprivation of entertainment
    • refrain from the labours of our calling
    • refrain from sleep
    • guard against the commission of sins
  • it is a humbling of ourselves of body and soul
    • soul and body are intimately related, so humbling the body humbles the soul.
    • Sorrow over the deficiency of the soul engenders sorrow about that which the body is lacking, and a deficiency in the body engenders sorrow over the deficiency of the soul.
    • humbling consists in:
      • The confession of sin, accompanied with grief and shame.
      • Declaring ourselves to be worthy of judgment and a subscribing to justice if the Lord were to execute those merited judgments upon us.
      • A supplicating for grace, frequently accompanied with weeping.
      • A renewal of the covenant with the wholehearted intent to forsake former sins and to live a godly life.
      • The giving of alms.


  • for a 24-hour period.
    • We are not called to follow Jesus in his 40 days in the wilderness.
    • In the 7-day fasts in scripture , something was eaten in the evening.
    • The following qualification applies for those who are weak: “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice” (Hos 6:6)

Public and Private Fasting

  • Public:
    • when the government calls it because of national need;
    • when a synod, classis, or elders of a particular congregation designate a day of fasting for the church under their supervision, doing so due to an extraordinary need in the church.
  • Private:
    • when some individual friends agree to set apart a day;
    • when a father institutes a day of fasting for his family;
    • when an individual sets apart a day for himself.

Exhortation to fasting


  • Hasn’t God commanded it?
  • Have not the church and the saints of all ages practiced this and left us an example to be followed?


  • If a public fast has been proclaimed, conduct yourself well in doing so. God’s eye will be upon you in a special manner.
  • If some of the godly have agreed to set apart a day, endeavor to join them, and stir up some other godly person to do likewise. The Lord will most certainly be among you; He will come to you and bless you. It will engender a sweet bond of mutual love. The Lord will manifest that this is pleasing to Him.
  • Preparation
    • remove obstacles beforehand
    • confess your aversion for such a day of prayer as a sin before the Lord, and ask that you may be fit to conduct yourself well on this day of prayer.
  • Afterward
    • Rejoice in the evening that you have food to eat, since you are not worthy of one bite of bread.
    • Thank the Lord that He gives it to you in His favour—as having been purchased with the blood of Christ.
    • Give close attention as to how God responds to your day of prayer, for God will respond to it.
Some Help from A’Brakel on Fasting

Great Idea, Little People

I read a John Le Carré novel recently, my first. I really enjoyed The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. Set in the 1960s Cold War, it drags you into the great spy “game”.

One character, Liz, is a British communist sympathiser. Through one thing and another she gets the opportunity to attend a meeting of the communist party in East Germany. It was a great disappointment to her. Le Carré writes:

It was like the meetings in Bayswater; it was like mid-week evensong when she used to go to church – the same dutiful little group of lost faces, the same fussy self-consciousness, the same feeling of a great idea in the hands of little people.

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, John Le Carré

It got me thinking about church life. “A great idea in the hands of little people”? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

It could be either.

Obviously, Le Carré has in view the utopian ideals of communism which feed the imagination of many and in that sense are “great”. But it presents a false hope because it does not take into account the depth of the human condition and, as history teaches us, tends to offer up human, flawed saviours who end up as tyrants. On the other hand, the gospel takes the human condition into account, addressing it directly. We Christians are little people, small before our omnipotent God, powerless in the face of our sin and evil, desperately in need of a Someone to save and renew us. Out triune God is that Someone. The Father has planned our salvation in Christ, the Son, Jesus Christ, has come and effected it through his death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit has applied it to us in our experience of saving grace. The sense of helplessness and constant dependency upon God never changes. Any greatness is all his. We will forever remain a little people who benefit from God’s “great idea”.

But in ongoing church life, there is a way in which we can become a “little people” that is profoundly unhelpful, indeed sinful. Le Carré’s idea of “little people” are those who have “lost faces” and develop a “fussy self-consciousness”. I think I know what he means.

I remember once being part of a church that ran along congregational lines. Church meetings (eventually I chaired some of them) took hours because we had to deal with everything – including agreeing whether or not to pay the utility bills. Absurd. We had to deal with all sorts of things, and there was always at least one who thought their item was really important. Except that none of it was about the gospel or the Great Commission. The church was dying but there was a fussy self-consciousness about it all, where people took satisfaction in “making a point”, “making their voice heard” and “having influence”. In that sense the people were “little”, who every week had in their hands the Great Idea of the Bible, and yet their worldview was fundamentally egocentric. To be “little” in this sense is not to be taken up with the wonder of the gospel and the joy of fellowship with our great God and with one another in Christ. Instead it is to be taken up with self.

I think this can happen to evangelical Christians and, dare I say it, reformed Christians. Yes, assent to the doctrinal position of the church, stand for the truth! But in reality to be taken up with the mundane, looking after our little needs, with little thought for one’s part in the Kingdom’s progress and giving glory to God.

The quote has got me thinking. What is my heart really interested in? Is my work in the world permeated with a desire for the glory of God? that I have access to this “great idea”? Is that what I want my family to know? Has attending Sunday worship become routine – and alternative activity amongst many other possibles? What does it mean to grow in holiness? to be knit together in love (Col 2:2, ESV)? What does it mean to taken up by God’s great idea of the gospel and not be “little people” in the bad sense?

Great Idea, Little People

Prayer Is the Work

As a pastor you think many times about your own prayer life, and how it compares to your work life. If you are like me, you will find that your centre of gravity in these two matters is way off centre. Some words of Eric Alexander often come to me from a sermon he preached when I was a student in Glasgow in the 1980s, where he said, “Prayer is the work of the gospel.” Like many such snippets, I can’t remember the sermon out of which it came, but I remember the statement. So, many years later I was delighted find that he had put that statement into writing and expanded on it in his book, Prayer: A Biblical Perspective, which I heartily recommend. Here is the relevant passage, where he is referencing the ministry of the apostles in Acts 6:3,4:

… prayer is the basic form of Christian service. Of course we are not saying prayer is the only form of Christian service, but that it is the basic one. Look at the language they [the apostles] use: ‘We will reserve our best energies—our very bodily resources—for prayer’ [Acts 6:4]. It was not that they were avoiding the hardest work in the church. They were actually choosing it, because it is a consistent theme in Scripture that prayer is work. Paul cries out in Romans 15:30: ‘Strive together with me in your prayers to God for me’, and he uses the word which really means ‘to agonise’.

In the Christian church over the years, we have turned the truth upside down, and commonly speak of ‘praying for the work’ – the implication being that prayer is an additional ingredient to our Christian service. The truth is that prayer is the real work, and apart from it all other work is in vain. The reason for that is quite simple. It is that essentially this work in which we are engaged is God’s work, not man’s. There are endless lists of things that men and women can do: we can intellectually convince people, we can emotionally move them and we can materially improve them. But only God can spiritually resurrect them out of death into life in Christ; only God can convict their conscience and convince them of their need of a Saviour; only God can open the eyes of the spiritually blind and give them sight; and only God can transform their character and recreate them into the image of Christ. And, my dear friends who read this book, that is the essence of the work in which we are engaged. So Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:6, ‘I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow.’ Now if the conversion of sinners is God’s work, the simple question we must ask and answer is, ‘To whom do we apply to have this work done?’ The only answer logically as well as theologically is ‘to God’. That is why prayer is fundamental rather than supplemental in all our service. That is why the primary evangelistic method is prayer.

Eric J. Alexander, Prayer (Banner of Truth, 2012), pp.39,40. (Emphasis his.)

There is much to do, but prayer is the real work. Let’s get the centre of gravity in the right place.

Prayer Is the Work

Encountering JWs!

The most effective heretics are Bible-quoting heretics.

I had a visit from some JWs today. I’m afraid I can’t resist entering into discussion with them and ended up spending 45 minutes discussing the nature of God’s grace that raises dead people to life (Ephesians 2).

Over the years I have noticed two biggies about JWs. The first is that they do not read the Bible (or even their Bible) very closely. They often quote verses, and usually they verbally misquote texts, and almost always take them out of context anyway. My strategy is therefore to get my Bible out and do a little Bible study with them: what’s the book about? who wrote it? who is it written to? then read a few verses before and after to get the context, then almost word for word get them to tell me what the words mean. It is only then I can try to get them to see that they are misreading, or reading into, the text. I hope it is helpful, but I have to say that their hearts are often blinded by the JW teaching and they cannot see the plain meaning of the text and how their own hearts are operating.

The other biggie is that they talk a lot. There are a couple of reasons for this, I think. One is that if you say you are a Christian, they will immediately start talking about the ills of the church (of England?), how it is full of hypocrites who do not live according to the commands of God, and criticise various dodgy practices. Most of that I agree with but I usually let them blow off their steam and then say, “Yup, I agree with most of that.” The other reason for talking a lot, is usually a relief mechanism from the detailed study I am forcing them to engage in in the first biggie above. To relieve the pressure they will start ranging over lots of other verses, most of them irrelevant to the discussion in hand. My job is to doggedly bring them back to the text we were looking at. But they are a bit like birds trying to escape danger.

There are a couple of takeaways for Christians that come out of these experiences.

One is to love the text of scripture. It is God’s word and if we love God, we will love his word. That means paying attention to it, by reading it, thinking about it, talking to other Christians about it, listening to good preachers explaining and applying it. In other words, learn how gracious God is, how deep and rich the gospel message is and how it is all over the pages of scripture. Then you are equipped to show people in love the wonders of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

The other takeaway, is to resist the temptation in evangelism to fill the air with the noise of your voice. Some Christians can be as bad as JWs! Much better to spend a significant chunk of time understanding who you are talking to – who they are, why they think the way they do. Then you are in a much better position to start where they are and lead them to Jesus Christ. It is damaging, and maybe offensive, to assume you know how a person thinks. Winsomeness means listening as well as speaking (though there must be some speaking!)

“…in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,…” – 1 Peter 3:15

Encountering JWs!