Interview with Thabiti Anyabwile on his new book
You’re in for a treat with Thabiti’s Anyabwile’s new book, Finding Good Elders and Deacons. Let me give you three reasons. First, it will help you grow in your understanding of what godly maturity looks like in the context of the local church. This really struck me when I read the book for the first time. Elders should exemplify the character qualities that all Christians should grow into, and so Thabiti’s meditations on the list of elder qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 basically provides all of us with a portrait of what Christian maturity looks like. It’s a beautiful picture.
Second, it will provide you with an excellent discipleship tool for using with a younger Christian in a discipleship relationship.
Third, it will provide an excellent gift for your pastors or fellow pastors, giving them a tool for evaluating prospective elder and deacon candidates.
In order to provide you with a better introduction, I thought I’d ask Thabiti a few questions about the book. I’m grateful to him for taking the time to offer these replies.
1) What are some of the wrong qualities churches prioritize in their search for new elders and deacons?
Most well-intentioned churches make the mistake of looking for good qualities that re not prioritized by the scripture. So, they look for men who are well-known or popular, men who’ve been successful at business or another endeavor, or men who appear charismatic and influential. These may not be bad things, but they are in no way sufficient things or priorities. When these kinds of characteristics displace biblical godliness, churches end up looking for the wrong kinds of people who inevitably lead the church in the wrong direction. How can people who place a low priority on godliness ever hope to faithfully follow the Lord?
2) Why do the lists in characteristics of elders and deacons presented by Timothy and Titus seem so ordinary?
The list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 really represent spiritual maturity for all Christians. We should see these qualities in some measure in the lives of every follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, elsewhere in the New Testament we find these things being commanded or commended of the “rank and file” believer. So, in one sense, the elder and is simply another Christian, one of the brothers in whom God’s grace is at work. What distinguishes the elder or deacon is the degree to which these characteristics are evident and consistent in their life. The elder and deacon should stand out as one in whom these “normal” Christian qualities occur in “abnormal” degree.
3) How have you seen the wisdom of these lists play out in your own experience working with other elders and deacons?
I’m so prone to look for people like me in some way, or to move impatiently in seeking out leaders. These qualities tend to (a) bring to our attention people that don’t fit our mold or readily appear “like us,” and (b) these qualities slow us down such that we avoid making hasty decisions to ordain elders and deacons. The qualifications actually require we take our time in order to properly discern their presence. When I’ve been patient, prayerful, and watchful for “unusual suspects,” the church has been rewarded and blessed with men God approve for the task. That’s what we want in all our churches.
4) What happens when churches forsake these lists?
Disaster. Wolves enter. Unfaithful men take the helm of the church. Sooner or later a low state of spirituality will engulf the church. Even the very image and respect for leadership itself will be tarnished as men unfit for the positions bring the offices into disrepute. Ultimately, poorly qualified leaders hinder the work and honor of the Lord in the local community.
5) Does your book have relevance for churches beyond whichever body is responsible for nominating new leaders?
I hope so. I hope it’s helpful for congregations in knowing how to pray for their leaders and strengthen the leader’s work. I pray it’s useful for aspiring pastors and ministers in discerning a sense of call and qualification. Also, I hope it’s useful as a basic discipleship tool for men. Every man should at least aspire to be an elder because the qualifications are simply another way of describing Christian maturity. Perhaps the book would even be helpful to women in the congregation, holding forth a description of mature manhood. 1 Timothy 3 is what women should expect from male leaders, what single women should pray for in a potential husband, and what married women should honor in their husbands.
Learn more about the book and purchase here.