Anyabwile, Thabiti. Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. 164 pages.
Churches undergoing revitalization face many challenges. What got us into this mess? How do we deal with a shrinking giving base? What strategies should we employ to reach our community with the gospel? One question that seems less pressing but in fact should be near the top of the list is this: how do we identify, assess, and prepare potential leaders? The matter of multiplying leaders might appear to be a topic for healthy, growing congregations. But in fact it is crucial for churches to wrestle with this question early in a revitalization effort, since the church’s leadership is often determinative of the church’s direction—and thus its health and growth.
Thabiti Anyabwile’s new book, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons, offers insightful counsel on this topic. Not only will churches in the process of revitalization find it beneficial, but also pastors in a variety of contexts will profit from Thabiti’s work.
As the author himself notes, other books about healthy church leadership are available. His goal is simply to “complement these other resources by helping the already-stretched pastor who wants to cultivate other leaders but needs a conversation partner to stir up some questions and ideas” (13).
In particular the author converses with the reader primarily concerning qualifications of deacons and elders, and then finally concerning the responsibility of elders. Thus the book is laid out in three parts: finding table servants (chs. 1–6), finding reliable elders (chs. 7–18), and what good pastors do (chs. 19–28). Here is the table of contents:
- Choosing Your Waiter: An Introduction to Deacons
- Full of the Spirit and Wisdom
- Sober and Content
- Keeps Hold of the Faith
- Tried and True
- Sheep and Shepherds: An Introduction to Elders
- Desires a Noble Task
- Above Reproach
- A One-Woman Man
- Sober-Minded, Self-Controlled, Respectable
- Able to Teach
- Sober, Gentle, Peacemaking
- Not a Lover of Money
- Leader at Home
- Mature and Humble
- Respected by Outsiders
- Elders Refute Error
- Elders Avoid Myths and Train for Godliness
- Elders Hope in God
- Elders Command
- Elders Let No One Despise Their Youth
- Elders Set an Example
- Elders Teach
- Elders Grow
- Elders Watch Their Life
- Elders Watch Their Doctrine
The book closes with a set of sample elder ordination vows, a general index, and a Scripture index. Each chapter is quite short, three to five pages, and the book is accessible even to the non-reader. The reader truly feels as if s/he is talking with Thabiti about the roles of elders and deacons.
Perhaps this book will prove most helpful in his every-chapter refrain of questions and observations. After briefly summarizing the Scripture’s meaning of a particular qualification or responsibility, the author serves up a handful of reflections, meant either for the elder to ask himself with respect to a prospective candidate, or for the elder to ask directly of the prospective candidate.
For example, in the chapter describing the elder as “not a lover of money,” the writer observes, “What is his attitude toward church finances?” He continues, “Does he approach it with faith or with reliance on worldly wisdom? Does he rely only on what is seen, or does he call upon God and trust God’s people to give beyond themselves (2 Cor. 8:1–5)?” (91–92). Before reading this, I had considered the relationship of “not a lover of money” only with respect to his personal finances, not the church’s. Observations like these provoke good thought in the reader and are helpful tools for assessing prospective candidates.
This book is of limited value if you’re looking for something that defends the concept of a plurality of elders, especially when the elders include non-paid/non-vocational men. The author doesn’t take much time to argue for a particular polity, but generally expects that the reader is on the same page vis-a-vis multiple elders within a congregation. If you’re looking for something more helpful in that respect, you might be interested in Mark Dever’s The Deliberate Church.
Nonetheless Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons is a welcome addition to a growing library of resources on identifying, assessing, and training qualified leaders for the church. If you are a pastor, church leader, or concerned about the health of your congregation, you’ll find this book to be a good conversation partner.
Disclaimer: 9Marks graciously provided me a copy of this book. There was no expectation of a book review or of a positive recommendation.