Finding a Christian man who embodies the Scriptural qualifications for serving as a deacon or elder isn’t easy. Thabiti Anyabwile wrote this book to help.
I’m grateful that author Thabiti Anyabwile makes clear in the “How To Use This Book” portion of his book Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons that, and I quote, “This book is not a sourcebook for leading witch hunts and rebellions against leaders. Shepherds are not perfect men. Though God sets the bar for pastoral ministry necessarily high, he uses the poles of grace to support that bar. Users should keep the Lord’s grace in mind as they read, lest an overly critical, gospel-forgetting, judgmental attitude develop. Few things are are as harmful as the Lord’s people becoming censorious toward the Lord’s under-shepherds. In fact, the Bible itself tells us that rebellion against our spiritual leaders is of no advantage to us (Hebrews 13:17).”
I reference Thabiti verbatim as I do above because Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons doesn’t mess around. Drawing from the doctrines in Paul’s letters to Titus and Timothy, Thabiti masterfully boils down the qualifications for men who would possibly serve as a deacon or elder in their church to very simple and straightforward explanations of what the qualifications mean, along with simple and straightforward questions to ask when considering whether someone embodies said qualifications.
Someone who has thought about the possibility of serving the church in either way, such as I, can be very intimidated by the reality that God indeed sets the bar necessarily high. To put that into perspective, I’ve read through Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons twice. The first time, I walked away scared of attempting to enter either office. The second time, I walked away terrified. I don’t tell you this to gain pity, and I know that’s not the response Thabiti intended to evoke. The truth is as all Christian men should live out the collective qualifications the more they grow in the Lord. I perhaps focus too much on my perceived spiritual inabilities and not remotely enough on God’s abundant grace, but still… if Scripture is serious about such service, then the body of Christ must be the same. And not to mention, Thabiti declares at the end of most of the questions he suggests that if a prospective deacon or elder falls on the wrong side of the issue, the man is not qualified.
Altogether, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons is comprised of three major parts. Chapters 1 through 6 focus on the qualifications for deacons, 7 through 18 on the qualifications for elders, and the remaining 10 chapters bring the book’s content full-circle by discussing what quality pastors do. And as I’ve already mentioned, Thabiti uses each chapter to explore the background of a specific verse from Titus or the Timothys, and to suggest questions for a committee, individual church member, etc., when a deacon or elder search is underway. There’s no reason for me to point out anything in particular. If anything, I occasionally wondered how a certain question really had anything to do with serving as a deacon or elder, but having had the opportunity to think about it more… I understand that every aspect of our lives must fall under the piercing scrutiny of Scripture. Hoping it’s obvious by now that I believe you should read Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons, I encourage you to be on the lookout for this very possibility in your own heart.
Hmm… actually, I’m going to renege on a statement I just made; I will highlight specific content because I think it’ll help you better understand what this book brings to the table. Since my wife and I love the ministry of hospitality, it’s no accident that the book’s chapter on the same subject caught my attention in a big way. It’s increasingly rare these days, I think at least, for Christians to invite others into their homes and lives. Yet in one church that Thabiti visited, as he explains in Chapter 12, an elder there made sure that he and his family were welcomed. And beyond that, despite not knowing the guy for more than five minutes, the elder invited Thabiti and his family to his home for lunch. During the service, Thabiti learned two additional facts about the elder’s hospitable heart that should make all Christians rethink how they approach the ministry. One is that the elder’s family lived 45 minutes away from the church. The other is that the elder’s family had received over 300 members of the congregation into that home to date. Say or think what you want about the supposed inconvenience of such a distance to travel; that elder embodies biblical hospitality!
Finding a qualified deacon or elder isn’t easy, nor is applying the Scriptures that spell out the qualifications. And be aware that reading Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons won’t necessarily ease the burden or difficulty of the process. Even after reading this very helpful book, you could still pursue and ultimately install someone that fails to uphold the office in a biblical manner. These things happen, no matter how careful a church is. But given that Thabiti was someone who desired the noble task of serving as an elder (I Timothy 3:1), was effectively discipled by various men in the office, and is now a pastor himself, he’s able to help the rest of us search for similar men. It is my prayer as well that millennial Christian men will consider the wonderful privilege of serving as a deacon or elder, embody the qualifications where they are now, and one day allow themselves to be used of the Lord just like Thabiti.