Whenever I read and even review a book by someone I know personally, I’m always nervous. In this case, perhaps doubly so. John Benton was the pastor of Chertsey Street Baptist Church, in Guildford, for many years – the church I grew up in, came to faith in, was baptised in, and that my family are still heavily involved in. John preached at mine and Amy’s wedding – and was involved in our marriage preparation (he also did both my parents and my sister’s weddings!). Behind that personal anecdote is a simple truth – John has been involved in Christian leadership in a local church for a significant part of his life, and continues to support those involved thusly in a new role with the London Seminary. When I realised that John (Henceforth JB) has recently written a book on resilience in Christian leadership, I knew I wanted to read it.
Resilient: How 2 Timothy Teaches us to Bounce Back in Christian Leadership, as it’s subtitle suggests, is an extended meditation on the short New Testament letter of Paul to Timothy, focusing particularly on the qualities that make a leader resilient. JB knows, as Paul did and Timothy (At the time of reading this letter) was learning, that leadership in a Christian sense, particularly for the long haul, is a difficult and costly path. For this, one needs resilience. This, JB argues, is due to the nature of ministry, and this resilience is something that some people find harder than others, but can be learnt. “When we signed up to the ministry, we signed up for hardship and sacrifice. That’s what soldiering involves. It is not peacetime for Gods kingdom. We are at war. In fact, the suffering side of soldiering is not just true of pastors but every authentic Christian (Mk. 8:34-5)”. Echoing Paul’s letter, this book is not a banal, platitude-ridden screed echoing what passes for writing on ‘leadership’ so often today. This, rather, is a book that recognises the reality of Christian ministry, and looks to Paul and Timothy for models of resilience, sensitive to individual experience, and deeply rooted in the biblical language of servant leadership.
This short book works through 2 Timothy in a clear, careful way – inviting leaders and readers to cultivate a prayerful resilience, which JB thusly defines: “Resilience is to be characterized by seriousness, Scripture, sincerity and sympathy”. Each chapter ends with a thought-provoking and prayer-centred exercise, particularly pertinent to those leading congregations, but relevant to anyone involved in Christian ministry. As someone who helps lead a few things in a local church, I found some of this book deeply challenging. A key aspect of Resilient for me was the reminder that ministry starts and ends with God, that “ministry which is really ministry will only emerge from a vital relationship”, and that God’s forgiveness and the simplicity of the Gospel are beautiful truths from which we must never ‘graduate’. JB is a pastor moving towards his crown (though, God-willing, we will have him for many years yet to come!) but this book is perhaps particularly helpful for younger folk, echoing Paul’s writing to Timothy, an older mentor to a younger leader.
There are a few things that I should flag in my review. Echoing his own theological and biblical convictions, JB writes with the assumption that all Christian leaders are male – female friends and readers of this book should know that going in. Similarly, echoing one of the key eschatological themes of 2 Timothy, Resilient might read to some as overly pessimistic regarding the times we find ourselves in – again, it is worth bearing that in mind before starting to read this excellent little book. These two minor quibbles/notes aside, I would warmly commend this book to anyone involved in Christian ministry. Whether you are a long-term full-time preacher, or someone seeking (like me!) to shepherd a small group, this is a refreshing book that invites leaders to remember that our identity is in Christ (And not our ministry), our mission is His, and the words that we should be speaking should resonate with His Word, the Bible. For those who don’t see themselves as, or currently function as, leaders, then (like Pastors are People Too) this book is still definitely worth reading, and praying through, in order to love Christian leaders better.
I’ve reviewed two of JB’s books before, and you can now read them here on my (new-ish) blog…
- At the Cross – a profound collection of sermons.
- Christians in a PC World – JB’s reflections on how Christians can interact with Political Correctness