‘If we have the message of hope, then what we do in church should be credible and interesting and relevant. And yet, despite finding the gospel compelling from an early age, when I was growing up I found church dead boring.’
It might not be the first thing you’d expect to hear from a man who, after more than twenty years in leadership at Chichester Baptist Church, has just finished a year as President of Baptists Together and is now the Director of Church Relationships at LICC. But Ken Benjamin is going somewhere with this.
‘That tension between being passionately committed to the mission of the church on the one hand and struggling to get through the average Sunday service on the other has really shaped me. It drives me to work at helping people see every part of their lives through God’s eyes – not just the bits that happen in church.’
To illustrate the point, he shares a story from just after he left uni. ‘One of my jobs before being a minister was training staff in a department store in Oxford Street. As a newbie on the grad scheme, working with 500 people, what were my issues?
‘Well, I was facing questions like “how do you do a good job in a major national company that wants so much of your time and energy that it feels as though it wants your soul? How do you maintain your values when you’re working alongside hundreds of other young people and the flirting is almost incessant? How do you arrest someone? How do you fire someone? How do you deal with customer ‘needs’ that are really wants? When is it good to encourage someone to spend more, and when is it sin?”’
For Ken, it was addressing tricky, day-to-day challenges like this that would make church ‘credible and interesting and relevant’, not just for him but for the whole congregation. But it simply didn’t come up on Sundays.
‘My issues weren’t very different from anyone else’s, and there is the potential to teach from the Bible in a way that addresses them. I was in a good church that I loved, but at that point my minister felt my main issue was going to be Sunday trading – which was an issue, certainly, but not my daily issue.’
In a nutshell, this is why Ken has taken up his new role with the Church Team at LICC. ‘Our work is about fuelling a whole-life disciplemaking culture in the UK, so that it’s expected we’ll equip people to tackle daily issues like mine in a fruitful, biblical, Christ-like way. And this isn’t just about relevance for its own sake – it’s about playing our part in the great commission. We will never get anywhere until we equip our people for their everywhere.’
Ken points out that we’ve already seen great progress towards that goal over the last twenty years. ‘LICC’s message is increasingly known and respected amongst Christians. But there’s still more to do, and that’s a key part of why I’ve joined the team. I want to play my part in making the whole-life message more widely understood and applied, so that it becomes naturally and unavoidably rooted in how we do church right across the UK.’
It’s hard to argue with that in theory. But it’s fair to say that in 2020, amid the biggest public health crisis in a century, church leaders have other things on their mind. Why should they dedicate time to whole-life disciplemaking when they’re already battling to keep the books balanced and the doors open?
‘That’s just it,’ says Ken. ‘We’re not talking about giving church leaders another itemised section for their to-do list. We want to help them make the most of everything they’re already doing – even if right now there are particular limitations – to encourage and equip people for fruitfulness on their frontlines. In my life, there’s never been a tougher time to lead a church in the UK, and the new uncertainties around reopening are in many ways more challenging than the intial lockdown. But our churches still have a massive role to play in sending God’s people out to their changed frontlines full of confidence and purpose.’
And with all that in mind, Ken’s not just talking the talk – along with the rest of the Church Team, he’s walking the walk, too.
‘Right now, Christmas is starting to loom on church leaders’ radars. The question for many is “how can we adapt what we’d normally do so it not only works, but is vital and helpful for people who attend?”
‘We’re running a webinar on the 3rd of November to answer that exact question. We’ll explain how a whole-life perspective can help church leaders respond to what people are facing this Christmas, and how they can encourage people to take hope from the Incarnation. By December we’ll have been waiting expectantly through 9 months of lockdown, hoping for something without knowing exactly what it’ll look like. Remind you of anything..?’
Summing up, Ken says that this kind of practical, achievable ‘one-degree shift’ – reimagining what we already do through a whole-life lens – is the essence of his mission as Director of Church Relationships.
‘If the church is a football team, LICC aren’t the ones scoring the goals. We’re setting up the assists for those who do! In God’s plan it’s the local church that’s the vehicle for change in the world, through Christians serving each other and others, inside and outside the building.
‘All we’re doing is pointing forwards to what could happen if more Christians saw themselves as whole-life ambassadors of Christ – and pointing up to the God who can do more with our stumbling efforts than we could ask or imagine.’