Monday, June 30, 2008
I recently conducted an interview with Thabiti Anyabwile concerning his new book, "What Is A Healthy Church Member?" I encourage you to consider getting this book for personal and/or small group study. If all the people in our churches would read this book and take it to heart I think our churches and church leaders would be greatly blessed.
What inspired you to write this book?
By God’s grace, love for the local church. The Lord has knit us together in His body, making each member essential (1 Cor. 12:12-27). I long to see the Lord’s people live with full love and empathy for one another, making our life together as a redeemed people central to all our living. So much of the book market for individual Christians, however, leaves out the corporate aspect of the Christian life. There’s a great deal written to stimulate personal piety. But it’s often abstracted from the spiritual reality of the church. And it’s in the church that God intends for his people to be discipled (Eph. 4), to complete His love (1 John 4), to learn to keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25), and so on. So, I wanted to offer something that helped individual church members see the connectedness between their personal spiritual health and the health of their local church.
What is the main thesis of this book? Or, what is one main thing that you hope that people will take away from reading this book?
I would rejoice if the Lord would allow the readers of this book to walk away thinking, "I have a lot to contribute to the strength and vitality of my local church", and, "that has a lot to do with my own communion with the Lord". It’s my sense that most “average Christians” feel they can do little to make their churches places of sweeter communion, or they tend to think that improving the church means adopting a new method of some sort. I pray that What Is A Healthy Church Member? actually says, “No, you have a lot to contribute. Every member is essential. And here are some biblical recommendations for impacting your brothers and sisters in Christ right away.”
What do you feel like you personally learned from writing this book?
How poor my own soul can be at times, and how my poverty of soul is very often connected with my retreating from the Lord’s people. I’m a pastor, so in some sense I’m always around the Lord’s people if I’m fulfilling my call. But it’s possible to regularly gather with people and not be affected by their lives or edified by their gifts because, though we’re in a church with dozens or hundreds of other Christians, we’re thinking and living like individualists rather than a family. I see that in my own life sometimes and I think I see it in the lives of a lot of Christians. And yet, as you survey the New Testament you find that our spiritual welfare is almost always joined together with the welfare of the church or depicted in group terms. The local church is absolutely central to what it means to live a Christian life according to the New Testament. So, I have to do a better job of building my life around the local church and of encouraging my people to do so. It’s in our spiritual best interest as God designed it.
Who is this book for? (Seems like an obvious question given the title of your book, but do you have a more specific audience in mind?)
The book is written for the “average Joe” in the pew on Sunday mornings. Perhaps the Lord would grant that the book would reach those Christians with the nagging sense that they should be “doing more” but don’t know what that is. Perhaps it’s the Christian that runs through the mill on various church programs and is all volunteered-out. Or, maybe it’s the new Christian who discovers they have been birthed into a spiritual family but doesn’t know their part in it yet. I pray the book would be helpful to all those types and many more who would find their souls refreshed by doing the ordinarily profound work of listening well to the word, thinking God’s thoughts after Him, praying fervently, sharing the good news, and following godly leadership.
What influences did you draw upon to write this book?
The chief influence would be Mark Dever’s work with 9Marks Ministries and his books What Is A Healthy Church? and Nine Marks of a Healthy Church which were written primarily for pastors. Healthy Member essentially takes those nine marks and tries to think about them from the perspective of the average Christian church member. So, it’s an effort to help members along the path of supporting their leaders in strengthening the church.
Do you think church membership is undervalued in our current church culture? If so, why?
Certainly. There are probably a number of factors. We share five reasons why people undervalue church membership in our new members class:
First, some Christians are not well informed. They’ve simply never thought much about the issue or been taught that church membership matters and is biblical.
Second, some Christians are indifferent. They think of church as an optional extra, sort of like the sunroof or the heated seats in a new car. It’s nice if you desire it, but not necessary to operating the car, or in this case the Christian life.
Third, some Christians are committed individualists. Their conception of the Christian life stops with “my personal relationship with Jesus,” and fails to see that the broader family really is essential. Often, these persons can be somewhat anti-authority as well. If they see in the church or the church’s leadership something that feels or looks like real oversight, they may recoil at the thought of having people “intruding” into their lives. In that sense, they may think of themselves more highly than they do others and not appreciate church membership.
Fourth, some Christians may simply be indecisive. If they have a consumer’s mindset when it comes to finding a church, they may shop around forever until they find a “custom fit” for their spiritual lives. And, of course, no such custom fit really exists so they keep shopping and never commit to any one body.
Finally, some Christians struggle with an inversion of their affections. What I mean is they’re not opposed to church membership per se, they may even know its importance, but they are emotionally attached to some previous church even though they are physically hundreds of miles away in a new city or even country. They remember fondly the church of their youth, or a pastor that was really influential in their lives, and they sometimes think that joining a church where they now live is somehow to have less affection for that previous church. What we want to encourage people to recognize in this situation is that (a) they should work to join their hearts with their bodies and commit to a church where they live, and (b) joining a new church does not diminish their love for other saints.
Why is church membership important anyway?
“Member” is a Christian word, a biblical idea. Many people think that pastors who stress membership are borrowing from the Rotary Club or some secular outfit. Actually, the idea arise straight from the body metaphor in places like 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. And when you read those passages you see two remarkable things: (1) God designs the body to the point of arranging each member in it just as He pleases (1 Cor. 1:18), and (2) His intent is that through the church He would receive glory (Eph. 3:10) and His people would grow into the full maturity of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13). If we are Christians but not attached to the body as recognized and functioning members of it, then (a) we, in effect, say that God does not know what He is doing in putting us in the body and we know better than God does, and (b) we think there is a path to glorifying God and reaching spiritual maturity that does not involve what God in His word says is essential and desirous. Church membership is simply a practical way of reflecting God’s glory as we live together in love, unity, peace and joy and of helping one another mature into Christlikeness. Those are critically important goals that can only be met through Christ’s body.
What other writing projects do you have in the works?
I’m working my way through a couple of things, which I would actually covet prayer for. I’ve been asked to write a book on “race,” more specifically, a Christian approach to thinking biblically about personal and group identity with an eye toward things like “race” and culture and the church. I’m also trying to finish up a short book recommending a gospel-centered approach to witnessing to Muslims, again aimed at the average Christian who may have little understanding of Islam. And I’m reviewing some chapters for a short, hopefully practical book on identifying potential elders and deacons in the local church.
On an unrelated note, I know both of us share a love for jazz music, or as you say “real jazz”. Give me your top 5 desert island recordings.
(Links are to Amazon or iTunes)
1. Miles Davis—Kind of Blue ()
2. John Coltrane—Either Blue Trane ()or A Love Supreme ()
3. Clifford Brown with Strings ()
4. Dinah Washington—Dinah Jams () (or alternatively, Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown)
5. Thelonius Monk—Straight, No Chaser ()
You can purchase "What Is A Healthy Church Member?" here.