God intends for all of us to contribute to the mission of the local church and experience profound spiritual growth as a result. This book shows church members, pastors, and leaders what a healthy church member looks like.
About the Author
Thabiti M. Anyabwile (MS, North Carolina State University) serves as a pastor at Anacostia River Church in Washington, DC, and is the author of numerous books. He serves as a council member of the Gospel Coalition, is a lead writer for 9Marks Ministries, and regularly blogs at The Front Porch and Pure Church. He and his wife, Kristie, have three children.
Read an Excerpt
A HEALTHY CHURCH MEMBER IS AN EXPOSITIONAL LISTENER
What is "expositional listening"? Before answering that question, we need to define "expositional preaching." The first and most important mark of a healthy church is expositional preaching. "Expositional preaching is not simply producing a verbal commentary on some passage of Scripture. Rather, expositional preaching is that preaching which takes for the main point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture." If churches are to be healthy, then pastors and teachers must be committed to discovering the meaning of Scripture and allowing that meaning to drive the agenda with their congregations.
There is an important corollary for every member of a local church. Just as the pastor's preaching agenda should be determined by the meaning of Scripture, so too should the Christian's listening agenda be driven by the meaning of Scripture. When we listen to the preaching of the Word, we should not listen primarily for "practical how-to advice," though Scripture teaches us much about everyday matters. Nor should we listen for messages that bolster our self-esteem or that rouse us to political and social causes. Rather, as membersof Christian churches we should listen primarily for the voice and message of God as revealed in his Word. We should listen to hear what he has written, in his omniscient love, for his glory and for our blessing.
So what exactly do I mean by "expositional listening"? Expositional listening is listening for the meaning of a passage of Scripture and accepting that meaning as the main idea to be grasped for our personal and corporate lives as Christians.
What Are the Benefits of Expositional Listening?
Expositional listening benefits us, first, by cultivating a hunger for God's Word. As we tune our ears to the kind of preaching that makes the primary point of the sermon the primary point of a particular passage of Scripture, we grow accustomed to listening to God. We become fluent in the language of Zion and conversant with its themes. His Word, his voice, becomes sweet to us (Ps. 119:103–4); and as it does, we are better able to push to the background the many voices that rival God's voice for control over our lives. Expositional listening gives us a clear ear with which to hear God.
The second benefit follows from the first. Expositional listening helps us to focus on God's will and to follow him. Our agenda becomes secondary. The preacher's agenda becomes secondary. God's agenda for his people takes center stage, reorders our priorities, and directs us in the course that most honors him. The Lord himself proclaimed, "My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). Listening to the voice of Jesus as it is heard in his Word is critical to following him.
Third, expositional listening protects the gospel and our lives from corruption. The Scripture tells us "the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths" (2 Tim. 4:3–4). The failure to listen expositionally has disastrous effects. False teachers enter the church and hinder the gospel. Ultimately, the truth is displaced by myths and falsehoods. Where members cultivate the habit of expositional listening they guard themselves against "itching ears" and protect the gospel from corruption.
The fourth benefit, then, is that expositional listening encourages faithful pastors. Those men who serve faithfully in the ministry of the Word are worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17). Few things are more discouraging or dishonoring to such men than a congregation inattentive to the Word of God. Faithful men flourish at the fertile reception of the preached Word. They're made all the more bold when their people give ear to the Lord's voice and give evidence of being shaped by it. As church members, we can care for our pastors and teachers and help to prevent unnecessary discouragement and fatigue by cultivating the habit of expositional listening.
Fifth, expositional listening benefits the gathered congregation. Repeatedly, the New Testament writers exhort local churches to be unified — to be of one mind. Paul writes to one local church, "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there may be no divisions among you, but that you may be united in the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10; see also Rom. 12:16; 2 Cor. 13:11; 1 Pet. 3:8). As we gather together in our local churches and give ourselves to hearing the voice of God through his preached Word, we're shaped into one body. We are united in understanding and purpose. And that unity testifies to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (John 17:21). But if we listen with our own interests and agendas in mind, if we develop "private interpretations" and idiosyncratic views, we risk shattering that unity, provoking disputes over doubtful matters, and weakening our corporate gospel witness.
How Can Church Members Cultivate the Habit of Expositional Listening?
Well, if expositional listening is so vital to the health of individual church members and the church as a whole, how does a person form such a habit? At least six practical ideas can foster more attentive listening to God's word.
1) MEDITATE ON THE SERMON PASSAGE DURING YOUR QUIET TIME
Several days before the sermon is preached, ask the pastor what passage of Scripture he plans to preach the following Sunday. Encourage him by letting him know that you'll be praying for his preparation and preparing to listen to the sermon. Outline the text in your own daily devotions and use it to inform your prayer life. Learning to outline Scripture is a wonderful way of digging out and exposing the meaning of a passage. You can then use your outline as a listening aid; compare it to the preacher's outline for new insights you missed in your own study.
2) INVEST IN A GOOD SET OF COMMENTARIES
Add to your quiet times some of the greatest minds in Christian history. Study the Bible with John Calvin or Martin Lloyd-Jones by purchasing commentaries on books of the Bible as you read and study through them. If your pastor is preaching through John's Gospel, pick up D. A. Carson's or James Montgomery Boice's commentary on John. Let these scholars and pastors help you hear God's Word with a clear ear and discover its rich meaning. The Bible Speaks Today commentary series is an excellent starting place for those wanting to build a library of good commentaries. Also, you might want to purchase an Old Testament and New Testament commentary survey to help you sort through the range of commentary options available. Tremper Longman's Old Testament Commentary Survey and D. A. Carson's New Testament Commentary Survey are excellent resources.
3) TALK AND PRAY WITH FRIENDS ABOUT THE SERMON AFTER CHURCH
Instead of rushing off after the service is over, or talking about the latest news, develop the habit of talking about the sermon with people after church. Start spiritual conversations by asking, "How did the Scripture challenge or speak to you today?" Or, "What about God's character most surprised or encouraged you?" Encourage others by sharing things you learned about God and his Word during the sermon. Make particular note of how your thinking has changed because of the meaning of Scripture itself. And pray with others that God would keep the congregation from becoming "dull of hearing" and that he would bless the congregation with an increasingly strong desire for the "solid food" of his Word (Isa. 6:9–10; Heb. 5:11–14).
4) LISTEN TO AND ACT ON THE SERMON THROUGHOUT THE WEEK
We can cultivate the habit of expositional listening by listening to the sermon throughout the week and then acting upon it. Don't let the Sunday sermon become a one-time event that fades from memory as soon as it is over (James 1:22–25). Choose one or two particular applications from the Scripture and prayerfully put them into practice over the coming week. If your church has an audio ministry or a website that posts recent summaries, take advantage of these opportunities to feed your soul with the click of a mouse. With your pastor's support, establish small groups that review and apply the sermons. Or, use the sermons and your notes as a resource in one-on-one discipleship relationships. I know of several families that have a regular sermon-review time as their Sunday evening family devotional. There are a hundred ways to keep the sermon alive in your spiritual life by reviewing God's Word throughout the week. Be creative. It's well worth the planning.
5) DEVELOP THE HABIT OF ADDRESSING ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT THE TEXT ITSELF
Jonathan Edwards resolved that he would never let a day end before he had answered any questions that troubled him or sprang to mind while he was studying the Scripture. How healthy would our churches be if members dedicated themselves to studying the Scripture with that kind of intentional effort and resolve? One way to begin is to follow up with yourpastor, elders, or other teachers in the church about questions triggered by the text. Moreover, don't be passive in your private study; seek answers by searching the Scripture yourself and by talking with accountability partners or small groups. But don't forget that the pastor has likely spent more time than most in thinking about that passage and is there to feed you God's Word. Follow up the sermon with questions and comments that would be an encouragement to your pastor and a blessing to your soul.
6) CULTIVATE HUMILITY
As you dig into God's Word, listening for his voice, you will no doubt begin to grow and discover many wonderful treasures. But as you grow, do not become a "professional sermon listener" who is always hearing but never learning. Beware of false knowledge that "puffs up" (1 Cor. 1:8; Col. 2:18) and tends to cause strife and dissension. Mortify any tendencies toward pride, the condemnation of others, and critical nit-picking. Instead, seek to meet Jesus each time you come to the Scripture; gather from the Word fuel for all-of-life worship. Instead of exalting ourselves, let us remember the apostle Peter's words: "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time" (1 Pet. 5:6).
It is hearing the message and the Word of God that leads to saving faith (Rom.10:17). Church members are healthy when they give themselves to hearing this message as a regular discipline. Expositional listening promotes such health for individual members and entire churches.
For Further Reflection
1. How would you rate your ability to listen for the meaning of the Word during private devotions? During sermons?
2. How do you plan to strengthen your listening ability?CHAPTER 2
A HEALTHY CHURCH MEMBER IS A BIBLICAL THEOLOGIAN
Ignorance of God — ignorance both of His ways and of the practice of communion with Him — lies at the root of the church's weakness today." That's how J. I. Packer began the 1973 preface to his classic volume Knowing God. Packer reasoned that one trend producing such ignorance of God and weakness in the church was "that Christian minds have been conformed to the modern spirit: the spirit, that is, that spawns great thoughts of man and leaves room for only small thoughts of God."
Sadly, Packer's observation rings true more than three decades later. Ignorance of the ways of God and of communion with him is rampant in too many instances. Members of Christian churches continue to think small thoughts of God and great thoughts of man. This state of affairs reveals that too many Christians have neglected their first great calling: to know their God. Every Christian is meant to be a theologian in the best and most intimate sense of the word. If churches are to prosper in health, church members must be committed to being biblical theologians in whatever capacity they can. This is the second mark of a healthy church member.
What Is Biblical Theology for the Church Member?
To practice biblical theology is to know God himself. I'm using the term "biblical theology" with two things in mind. First, we must keep in mind that the Bible is the self-revelation of God; it is the source material for developing great thoughts about God. The Christian who is interested in knowing his God is the Christian who wants to know what God says about himself in the Bible. Such a Christian will not begin sentences with "I like to think of God as ..." She has learned not to blend together a little New Age or a little Hinduism with a little Christianity in order to yield a custom-fitted deity for herself. No, the Christian church member who is serious about knowing God is the member who is committed to what the Bible says about God, because the Bible is where God tells us about himself.
To practice biblical theology is to know God's macro story of redemption. Second, the biblical theologian is a person committed to understanding the history of revelation, the grand themes and doctrines of the Bible, and how they fit together. In other words, healthy church members give themselves to understanding the unity and progression of the Bible as a whole — not just isolated or favorite passages. They approach the Bible knowing that they are reading one awesome story of God redeeming for himself a people for his own glory. And in that story, they see that God is a creating God, a holy God, a faithful God, a loving God, and a sovereign God as he makes and keeps his promises to his people, beginning with Adam and Eve and progressing to the final consummation of all things.
How Does Biblical Theology Work to Promote Health in a Church Member?
In his popular Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem outlines several benefits to studying systematics. Many of those benefits come with doing biblical theology as well. Grudem's proposed benefits are worth summarizing here.
First, practicing biblical theology helps us grow in our reverence for God. As we encounter the God of Scripture who establishes and keeps his covenant promises with his people, we see something of God's majesty. The Lord's working of all things together for good comes into clearer focus, from his promise to the woman that her Seed would bruise the serpent's head (Gen. 3:15), to the opening of barren wombs so that the Seed would be preserved (Gen. 17:15–19; 21:1–2; 29:31; 30:22; Isa. 7:14), to the actual birth of that Seed (Matt. 1:20–23). When we see that God is, always has been, and always will be the same creating, holy, faithful, loving, and sovereign God for us that he has been for others, we are stirred to faith and awe in God. If we want to know and reverence God truly, we will dedicate ourselves to becoming biblical theologians who understand the narrative and themes of Scripture.
Second, practicing biblical theology helps us to overcome our wrong ideas. All of us encounter various teachings in the Bible that challenge, confuse, or provoke us. Often, we refuse to accept these teachings because of dullness and sin in our hearts. We can evade one verse here or there that displeases or confronts us. But when we give ourselves to understanding the grand sweep of biblical revelation and the total weight of Scripture's teaching on a particular subject, we are more readilyconvinced of our wrong ideas. Biblical theology helps us to see how God has consistently spoken the same message to his people in diverse places and diverse ways (Heb. 1:1), a message that we will all one day bow to and accept (Isa. 45:22–24; Rom. 14:10–12; Phil. 2:9–11). As we prayerfully study biblical theology, we're led to joyfully submit to God and to jettison our wrong ideas about him.
Third, practicing biblical theology helps inoculate the church against doctrinal controversies. Church history is replete with controversies rising within and between congregations. Churches are better able to withstand and productively resolve such controversies when they maintain a good understanding of biblical, systematic, and historical theology. This is true because whatever the Bible has to say about one thing is related to everything else the Bible says. Biblical theology helps to maintain the continuity and consistency of the Bible's teaching. Engaging in biblical theology is akin to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. When one piece of the puzzle appears unfamiliar, we can search for its proper place in the puzzle by relating it to the bigger picture on the puzzle box. The more pieces we have in place to begin with, the easier it is to evaluate and fit in new pieces and the less apt we are to make mistakes. Adequately grasping biblical theology is much like having the picture of the completed puzzle, allowing us to accept or reject errant theological pieces. The Scriptures "were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:11), and knowledge of Scripture protects the church from clever wives' tales and endless disputes.
Excerpted from "What Is a Healthy Church Member?"
Copyright © 2008 Thabiti M. Anyabwile.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Mark Dever,
Mark 1 A Healthy Church Member Is an Expositional Listener,
Mark 2 A Healthy Church Member Is a Biblical Theologian,
Mark 3 A Healthy Church Member Is Gospel Saturated,
Mark 4 A Healthy Church Member Is Genuinely Converted,
Mark 5 A Healthy Church Member Is a Biblical Evangelist,
Mark 6 A Healthy Church Member Is a Committed Member,
Mark 7 A Healthy Church Member Seeks Discipline,
Mark 8 A Healthy Church Member Is a Growing Disciple,
Mark 9 A Healthy Church Member Is a Humble Follower,
Mark 10 A Healthy Church Member Is a Prayer Warrior,
A Final Word,
Appendix: A Typical Covenant of a Healthy Church,
What People are Saying About This
"In an era when Christians seem confused about what kind of community the church ought to be, here's a helpful handbook outlining the church's true biblical priorities, especially as they apply to individual church members."
John MacArthur, Pastor, Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California; Chancellor Emeritus, The Master’s University and Seminary
"Given the state of so many of our churches today, this book arrives not a moment too soon."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
"This book provides an excellent and much-needed focus on the individual church member."
R. C. Sproul, Founder, Ligonier Ministries
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Joni and Friends gives the church a wonderful study and resource to answer the really tough ethical and moral questions of our day. Issues like abortion, stem cells, eugenics, disabilities and the right to life debate are clearly articulated, processed through scripture and laid out in a great fashion for the reader. I found the research and clarity very helpful as I continue to hone my beliefs about these complicated and emotion charged issues. The end of the chapter study questions are perfect for small group meetings and book clubs. As an added bonus the book is replete with personal stories and life commentary from Joni and others that have been personally impacted or entrenched in these issues. I believe the church is in better light when Joni Eareckson Tada speaks and writes as she stands taller in her chair than most do even standing on a chair.