Lately I have been venting my spleen about music ministers*, and while I can’t say it wasn’t fun, It would be healthy to balance my grievances with some gratitude**. As such I would like to take the time to express my deep appreciation for Chris Bennett the pastor of the church I am a member of. Firstly I am grateful to God for him as a good gift. I am also thankful to him for the following reasons, which I hope will roll up into praise of God once again.
I love a good sermon, I run the risk of being a connoisseur of sermons, this may stem from being spoiled rotten in the pastors I have mostly sat under, my own extensive experience and training in presentation which makes me a critic, or some combination of both. And I am bless by God to sit under preaching from Chris that is expositional and expertly delivered. The preparation is clear in the outline and the delivery is a pleasure to listen too. But more importantly the application and stirring of the affections is spot on. I often find myself deeply edified and convicted. It is rare that I do not learn something from one of his sermons. And his deep devotion to the Gospel is Spurgeon-esque. I am incredibly impressed that the church he has cultivated through this preaching is one of the rare exceptions to the general rule that the most frightening question you can ask the average Christian is, “Tell me the gospel in sixty seconds or less.” Not only am I confident that every member of the church could answer they also would probably give a pretty good exposition of it. And this comes down to his winsome drilling of the congregation on the basic points of 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. Finally, though I know he is always hesitant to drop the heavy end of the hammer on the congregation he does not fail to call out clear sin, highlight foolishness, and call all to repentance. He thinks his sermons are too long, I think when he ends he had just warmed up. Reformed preaching can easily fall into a theologically rich but somewhat dry presentation. It can lack life, be a little inside, sort of like R.C. Sproull if someone had taken away his jokes and cigarettes; solid, but a little dead in the eyes. That would be the opposite of Chris’s sermons.
A few months back Chris preached a sermon that was just fantastic, a true 10 for 10. It was the kind of thing the church needed to hear and we needed to hear it then. Later when I told him how well he had done Chris’s immediate response was to make sure that it was efficacious and not just a mic drop from the platform. This is consistent behavior. I can not think of one time he has ever had a swagger from any job well done. And honestly, he could probably get away with some, he has earned it. But he never does. I have watched him graciously give time to an older conspiracy theorist who took issue with some point or other. And I was awed, because as established I am something of a jerk and probably would have found an excuse to never talk to that guy, and thrown it under the bus of I am not allowed to rebuke an older man. Instead Chris. stood there patiently listening and trying to find areas he could kindly agree with. It was such a display of humble graciousness and playing the long game. Chris’s humility is instructive, and is on display constantly.
His Hard Work
Apparently the first meeting he had after taking on the church was with the elders trying to figure out how to declare bankruptcy because of the two million dollar building the previous guy had bought. Having hit the ground running Chris has consistently shepherded the church through different locations, some more difficult than others. He has shifted the church from a charismatic crazy town to a reformed church with some quirks***. As mentioned earlier his sermons are well studied and written, and he is broadly open to the congregation. I can’t think of the last time I wasn’t a little suspicious of a pastor who wanted more time off. I really don’t think that way with Chris His work shows.
He is Pastoral
There is a fine line between being pastoral, and being a squish. The story goes that an Anglican priest once said, “Everywhere the Apostle Paul went there was either a riot or a revival. Everywhere I go, they serve tea.” Sometimes being pastoral does not mean a placid spiritual tone that always make one comfortable. What is stunning in his sermons is that while being incredibly pastoral, Chris shows a spine of steel. He does not pull punches but at the same time he wounds the sins that need to be mortified. He also largely is very good at picking his battles***. The balance of edification to rebuke is nearly spot on.
As well, he is absurdly generous with his time. This is not a pastor who hides away from his people. He schedules broadly, I don’t think I have met a single person in the church who has met with him and been herded out after forty-five minutes. This does mean that meetings are not as often as some would like. However, I think Chris knows that most deep conversations can take an hour just to get to the part that really needs to be handled. And on a personal level I mostly want to listen to what he thinks and he always turns the tables on me and ends up listening to me (which has to be super depressing).
Lastly on this point I also appreciate his openness. It is a balancing act that he does very well. Years ago Bryan Loritts told a story about being at a conference and a stranger walking up to him and asking, “Bryan, what are your deepest struggles?” Bryans, correct, response was, “You don’t know me well enough the hear that information.” This story is indicative of Bryan, and it resonates with me. I would have responded in exactly the same way. Not everyone has a right to know everything about a pastor. Some pastors might err too far on the private side where no one knows them, but it is also not healthy for them to overshare.**** Chris excellently is open, and make it a point for as many people in the congregation to know him as much as possible. And at the same time is discrete. I very much respect his honesty, without over sharing. He keeps him from being an infallible guru, while also earning respect.
He is Responsible
All of these things come together to make a very good pastor. The qualifications for an elder laid out in 1 Timothy and Titus are handily met with Chris Even his kids are among the best PK’s I have ever observed. And as a former PK, that really means something. With Doug Wilson I define masculinity as, “the glad assumption of responsibility.” And by that definition Chris is a masculine pastor in the best way. And is a good example of it. My conjecture is that if more pastors were in his mold it would be harder for women to advocate against male only eldership or pastors.
No church, or pastor is perfect. Being a natural pessimist I could probably more easily write a longer article about my critiques of my church. However, pastors have an incredibly difficult job, and are expected to do it for little money, and make it look effortless. They need encouragement, which is harder to come by these days. In a nation founded on rebellion we are increasingly suspicious of leadership, not in the least because of the spectacular failures of several evangelical celebrities. And local pastors bear the brunt of that. A grueling job becomes even more punishing when the suspicions of, or failures others committed are heaped on a local faithful servant. They are not perfect, they know it. They have been subjected to critiques of not being enough like more famous men, and then were scrutinized for the sins of some of those men. Pastoral envy can just as easily lie in the hearts of a congregation as it can a pastor. The way to combat envy, jealousy, and strife, is thankfulness.
I find pastor appreciation day insufficient. It is a hallmark holiday. And coming up in a few weeks is a day of Thanksgiving. Might I submit, dear reader, that true reflection, accounting and then thanksgiving be given that day for your many blessings especially your pastor. Thank God for this man God has given the care of your soul over to. And thank the man, for his faithful service, and let him know that you thank God for him.
**It will not be for music ministers because I am still having a hard time justifying a paid position for this roll much less consider them pastoral staff. At least in their present form.
***When Chris is out of town the music guy starts doing spontaneous stuff that drives me nuts. But the guy already has me contemplating murder so…
***I still want to pick the nit about masks in church when there is no mandate… But he and I will get to that. I have to pick my battles too.
****Driscoll was an odd combination of both, and in all the wrong ways.