I was privileged to get another little care package of books from 10ofThose recently – this one is a little volume on something very important. To some readers of this blog, Wallace Benn will need no introduction – to others, it is worth noting that he is a retired C of E Anglican Bishop, and a gifted bible teacher and author. This little book is a challenge, and practical primer, to part of the key calling of Christian leaders – the ministry of the Word.
Benn opens up, in about 40 or so pages, Paul’s conversation with the Ephesian church leaders that we read in Acts 20. Considering the seven verbs that Paul uses to describe and explain what the preaching of the Word is, this little book gives us a number of very helpful insights into what it means to faithfully and vitally minister the Word of God to the people of God. One thing that stuck out to me – and has been a characteristic of the various pastors whose teaching I’ve benefitted from – is Benn’s quotation of John Stott that “He (Paul) taught both publicly (in synagogue and lecture hall) and privately (in homes), and he continued both day and night. He was absolutely indefatigable“. Benn is quick and careful to remind us – in the light of the teaching and example of Paul – that the ministry of the Word does not take place solely in the context of a Sunday sermon, or small group midweek bible study. This is emphasised by Benn in his later observation about the engine-room of ministry, the importance of a relationship with Jesus: “If ministry ceases to be Gospel driven out of love for the Lord Jesus who has loved us so – it will become mere duty and even drudgery.”
By taking seriously the words of Scripture and the example of Paul, Benn reminds us of some important truths. Firstly, that preaching “is… proclaiming the King and the Kingdom“, not just imparting information. Secondly, this proclamation is not to be shirked from – this is a common temptation in Christian leadership. As Benn writes of Paul, “With love in his heart and tears in his eyes he preached and taught Old Testament Scripture and the Apostolic witness to what God had done in Christ, and thus was a powerful Gospel witness by the help and enabling of the Holy Spirit. In other words he did not hold back from teaching and preaching all of ‘God’s Word written’“. This ‘not holding back’ leads to a key point of Benn’s lessons for us: the entire counsel of God is good for God’s people, and we are invited to consider and nourish ourselves upon every part of the Bible.
Overall, then, this is an encouraging and challenging book for preachers. I would recommend it to all those who preach regularly – and to those who are in the process of exploring Christian ministry. I would also say that it is worth reading – given its relative brevity (40 pages!) – by those who are involved in pastoral leadership, say of small groups or house groups (or whatever word your church uses). Given the front-line role of these leaders in ministering God’s Word to God’s people, this is a great little primer to help us think through how to do that.