“Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid”


Interactive Table of Contents


(2) The Potential Dangers of not speaking out

(3) How to find your voice


‘Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest’

(Joshua 1:9, KJV)


‘[T]he righteous are bold as a lion’

(Proverbs 28:1)

The above quotation has always stuck with me as it is so memorable and profound but why have I included it here and why have I used part of it in the title of this article? This is because, in the aftermath of the publication of my earlier article What’s Wrong with Evangelical “Student Christianity”, many in Durham who regularly attend the “evangelical student churches” have approached me and said how much they enjoyed reading my article and how it struck such a chord with their experience of churches in Durham. I thank them for reading my article, for seeking me out and for letting me know that what I had written matched with their experience. However, I would then carefully and politely ask them why they still attend that particular “evangelical student church”, when they have agreed with my 12-side critique of this model of Christianity. They often either reply: “Well I don’t know of anywhere better to attend church”, “Church X is the only one with such a great sense of community”, or “I feel called to Church Y, despite its faults”. I then ask them why they haven’t and don’t now explain at least some of the problems their are explaining to the leadership of the church. Not one of those who have approached me to say how much they enjoyed my article has left their current church, or relayed their concerns to the leadership of their church.

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The Potential Dangers of not speaking out

I find it worrying, scary, disturbing and dangerous that no one seems to be relaying the significant and noticeable flaws of these churches to the leadership teams or incumbent leaders. How far do they have to go before anyone stands up and says anything? As Edmund Burke MP put it:

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’

(Edmund Burke MP)

It almost reminds me of the following quotations:

‘”And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.“‘

(Isaiah 6:8)

‘If not us, then who?
If not now, then when?’

(US Civil Rights Activist John Lewis)

When I initially attended a conservative evangelical Anglican church in Durham, students involved in the church approached me twice to ask what I thought of the service and I relayed my criticisms. The first student seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, but the second seemed to be annoyed and frustrated by my opposition to elements of the service. He never really properly spoke to me whenever I saw him after that. Regardless, I attended service there for many weeks after and nothing about that service had changed at all. You may now be asking so why then are you encouraging people to speak out if they are ignored when they do. I am doing so because I know that if and when enough people speak out, the protestations just cannot be contained and change must and will occur in the end.

This situation of many regular attendees at a church, many of whom diligently and frequently volunteer for to serve the church, not speaking out or raising any of their own concerns can sometimes lead to horrible slippery slopes and, in turn, to catastrophic disasters. I recently had to carry out some research on the former Nine O’Clock Service, “N.O.S.” (1986-August 1995) which began at St Thomas’ Church, Crookes in Sheffield and then moved into Ponds Forge in 1993. N.O.S. services were incredibly popular, right from the start, with the congregation trebling in its first year and with some services attracting up to 600 people. It was then largely due to the popularity of N.O.S. and its services, and the number of people attending that members of the 40-strong leadership team then felt afraid to report all of the wrongdoing, abuses, and exploitation that was occurring. Up to 60 women were sexually abused by the service leader Revd Chris Brain, and there was a great deal of emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse too which led the congregation to see Brain as a prophet sent from God and led the group to effectively become a personality cult. Many members started to equate Brain with God due to his manipulation and they thought that, if they obeyed him, they were obeying God. People gave up their lives, jobs, and vast sums of their own income and money to support the service and Brain even determined the clothes attendees wore and their style of dress. He encouraged them to turn away from their former sinful lives, causing some to cut themselves off from their old friends and burn all of their photographs. Brain then used this money to fund his luxurious lifestyle while simultaneously preaching that all should live simple lives. All of this because of the fear to question, challenge, and raise concerns. Obviously this is an extreme example but I think it shows well what can happen if people feel that they have to simply submit to their church, its leadership, and what it teaches. The reason I use this extreme example is due to what George Santayana once said:

‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’

(George Santayana)

For those interested in N.O.S., Roland Howard wrote an excellent, thorough and extensive book on N.O.S. called Rise and Fall of the Nine O’Clock Service: A Cult within the Church?, and the BBC‘s Everyman also produced a very good 48-minute documentary about N.O.S. in the immediate aftermath of the scandal breaking which I have embedded below:

The irony with many of these “evangelical student churches” is that their leadership teams often fail to include any students, despite their claims to be student churches. They also often fail to be democratic. This was a particular problem which N.O.S. had where Brain didn’t fail accountable to any of the 40 others (all volunteers) on the leadership team and his fame and recognition was growing stronger and stronger and so people felt they couldn’t stand up to him or raise concerns. College chapels and other churches, which do not label themselves as “evangelical”, in Durham often tend to be much more democratic and will even allow things such as student lay preaching and other ways of getting students themselves involved in helping to lead, organise, run and plan services.

How to find your voice

One of the college chaplains at Durham often preaches about finding your own individual and unique voice. This strikes a cord with me as I think we are individually and uniquely made by God in His own marvellous image as the following quotations clearly show:

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well’

(Psalm 139:14)

‘Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness […]”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them’

(Genesis 1:26, 27)

‘Born thus, I ask to be no other man than that I am’

(From Line 1079 of “Oediphus” by Sophocles)

‘This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man’

(From a monologue by Polonius in Act I Scene 3 of “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare)



Each and every one of us has our own individual, special, unique and God-given role to perform for him, for which he has or will equip us. We have the talents, gifts, skills and abilities for this vocation or calling. Individuality, not conformity, uniformity or sameness, must always be the order of the day. Some will be called to be pastors, some to be teachers, some doctors, some preachers, some academics, some critics, some scholars, some evangelists, some prophets, etc… Each of these callings is equally valuable, no single one is preferred or superior. Some will prefer the recitation of liturgy in services to modern, lively charismatic worship music. Other will prefer hymns and liturgy. Each to his own. From this basis of uniqueness and individuality, we can develop, for instance, ecumenism as we can all learn from each other’s different traditions, denominations and service, mission, worship, preaching and prayer styles.

Whenever I hear this particular college chaplain preach about finding your voice, I am always reminded of the 2012 song Sing by Gary Barlow and The Commonwealth Band, which featured the Military Wives which was produced for Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I have embedded the official YouTube music video of the song immediately below and, below that, I have pasted the lyrics of the song.

‘Some words they can’t be spoken only sung,

So hear a thousand voices shouting love.
There’s a place, there’s a time in this life
When you sing what you are feeling,
Find your feet, stand your ground,
Don’t you see right now the world is listening to what we say?
Sing it louder, sing it clearer, knowing everyone will hear you,
Make some noise, find your voice tonight.
Sing it stronger, sing together, make this moment last forever,
Old and young shouting love tonight.
To sing we’ve had a lifetime to wait (wait, lifetime to wait)
And see a thousand faces celebrate (celebrate, faces celebrate)
You brought hope, you brought life,
Conquered fear, no it wasn’t always easy,
Stood your ground, kept your faith,
Don’t you see right now the world is listening to what we say?
Sing it louder, sing it clearer, knowing everyone will hear you,
Make some noise, find your voice tonight.
Sing it stronger, sing together, make this moment last forever,
Old and young shouting love tonight.
Some words they can’t be spoken only sung,
To hear a thousand voices shouting love and light and hope.
Just sing; just sing; just sing; just sing.
Sing it louder, sing it clearer, knowing everyone will hear you,
Sing it stronger, sing together, make this moment last forever, (sing)
Hear a thousand voices shouting love’

(Lyrics of the 2012 song “Sing” by Gary Barlow and “The Commonwealth Band”, featuring “Military Wives”)

I hope that this article may inspire some of you to raise with the leadership any concerns you may have with the services and churches you attend, and to encourage your friends to do the same. In this instance, reform can generally only come from within as you are only really properly listened to and/or taken seriously if you are a regular communicant at the church in question and if you are involved in serving the church.

By Ben Somervell

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Thanks for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, you might be interested in the following articles which I have also written on love:

(1) What’s Wrong with Evangelical “Student Christianity”

(2) What does it mean to be an “evangelical Christian”? Am I one?

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