What is a Healthy Church Memberby Thabiti M. Anyabwile
Length: Approximately 2 hours. To read (117 pages)
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To do “church” is so much more than just regular Sunday attendance, a bit of prayer, and Bible reading through the week. This short book lays a foundational understanding of 10 marks every Christian should strive for, in order to contribute to the health of the local church body.
Who should read this?
This book is a gem for new believers and/or those learning more about church membership, as well as the role and responsibility of individuals as part of the corporate body. Older believers will also find this book helpfully convicting, as we never move beyond these core tenets of the Christian life and continually find more room to grow in them as God allows us to see more of the breadth and depth of our sin and of his holiness.
As a complement to Mark Dever’s books, “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” (1997) and “What Is A Healthy Church?” (2007), this book by Thabiti M. Anyabwile uses a similar outline as its predecessors. Between all three books, the core tenets don’t change much, which makes sense considering that a church is only as healthy as its members are healthy, and the healthy Christian is a healthy church member.
For those less familiar with Mark Dever and the rest of the team writing these like-minded books, 9Marks is a ministry with the goal of “[equipping] church leaders with a biblical vision and practical resources for displaying God’s glory to the nations through healthy churches”. The common foundation of all these books is that the Bible is the crux of both the individual Christian and the church. That’s why “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” and “What Is A Healthy Church?” both have nearly every chapter’s title start with the word “Biblical”.
Fundamentally, to be a healthy, faithful Christian flows out of obedience to the Word, and thus each and every aspect of church life (doctrine, preaching, evangelism, discipline, prayer, leadership, etc.) must be conformed to the standard given by the Bible, God’s Word. While this may sound very basic, nonetheless, every church struggles to practically apply this in some way. As an aid then, this book focuses on various parts of the Christian’s church life in each chapter by examining the definition (i.e. “What is Discipline?”), the importance in the local church context (i.e. “What Does Discipline Look Like in the Life of a Healthy Church Member?”), and ways to grow in each aspect (i.e. “How Do We Joyfully Seek Discipline?”), all of which are abundantly supported with exact Scripture citations.
For those interested in possibly reading the book, the table of contents can be broken down as each chapter being titled “A Healthy Church Member…
… Is an Expositional Listener
… Is a Biblical Theologian
… Is Gospel Saturated
… Is Genuinely Converted
… Is a Biblical Evangelist
… Is a Committed Member
… Seeks Discipline
… Is a Growing Disciple
… Is a Humble Follower
… Is a Prayer Warrior”
This book certainly caught me by surprise. Reading it for the first time, I knew it was a 9Marks standard and very popular in my church friend circles. As I read the table of contents before starting (a strong personal habit), it was so easy to mentally check off most of the marks, thinking I would find just a few sparse points of personal application from the book. I was sorely mistaken.
Nearly every chapter is easy to digest and starts off with the definition and importance per mark, but Anyabwile thoroughly (though not exhaustively) provides concrete application examples of how to cultivate each mark. By giving such specific application points that can nearly be universally imitated, it was easy to find room to grow in each of these ten marks. The point is not to have merely some semblance of faithfulness in each mark, but to aspire for excellence in each.
In that regard, this book helped challenge me to not merely think of church membership as fulfilling a duty and having a commitment to prioritize the church body, but to humbly and zealously seek continual growth in each of these marks as I grow in treasuring each of these marks as part of God’s beautiful design of the church.
But perhaps giving examples of these very application points themselves would be of more benefit to people reading this. Here are a few helpful disciplines suggested through the book:
- “Meditate on the sermon passage during your quiet time.” The discipline of outlining the text that is to be preached the coming Sunday is something less common, but a great way to practice expositional listening as the church member metitates on and and studies the passage through the week instead of just having the preaching spoon-fed to them.
- “[Prepare] for the ordinances.” Likewise this mental intentionality is often overlooked in light of the ordinances of communion and baptism being written into a church’s calendar or Sunday service, such that a church member can passively participate instead of anticipating these ordinances with a right view of the joyful message behind communion and baptism, and receiving them with thanksgiving.
- “[Support] outside ministry and interaction of leaders.” This also points to an oversight we can have as church members – to forget the holistic condition of our leaders and not actively consider how to care for them. Rather, we should gladly encourage the growth and refreshment of our leaders (who are due double honor anyway), even to the extent of supporting a minister’s decision to help serve others outside our local church (i.e. overseas missions, church planting, coming alongside and aiding another church).
As hopefully you can see from the above examples, to be a faithful, healthy church member is so much more than to veer away from being unbiblical or in outright sin, but it is to consider God’s highly purposeful design and purpose of the church body and to do life with your church body in light of your understanding of God’s will for the corporate body. We cannot merely just try to cover our ground in church member expectations, but we must take root in the soil and thrive in manifesting God’s purpose for the local church, and this requires proactive meditation rather than catching how to “do church” from simply observing the social church culture around us.
This book is incredibly fitting to read with others, as it’s a short read and easy to lead others through via teaching or exhortation. Furthermore, there are reflection questions at the end of every chapter to facilitate conversation, making it that much easier to use for leading small group, discipleship, or for growth in a ministry team.
It also has abundant Scripture citations throughout each chapter, making it accessible to know which passages were referenced so that readers can do their own research like a Berean. On a sidenote, there are also suggestions for further reading geared towards pastors, making it a helpful review resource for church leaders as well. Finally, it’s highly applicable and relevant to new and older believers alike, making it edifying for both teaching something for the first time, as well as an ever-needed heart check for older believers.
Considering the length of the book and its nature as fundamentals on ecclesiology, the content depth is appropriate, so there are few (if any) weaknesses to the book. It does however jump straight into the 10 marks, aside from a series preface, foreword, and introduction section.
In that sense, there may be a presumption that the reader understands how to differentiate between church culture versus Biblical ecclesiology to some extent. While readers can get a lot of these thoughts in correlated books (such as “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” and “What Is A Healthy Church?”), an extended introductory chapter to lay the groundwork for how these 10 marks were derived could be a nice supplement.
“What is a Healthy Church Member?” is an excellent book to build and recalibrate our understanding of God’s vision and design for the church, especially about the role that we as individuals have as members. It’s prime for walking through with others to teach, as well as refreshing for our vision on how to go about church life. I easily and often default to it as a suggestion for people that are on the fence about commiting to church membership, that desire to learn to edify the body rather than merely attend twice a week, or simply are looking to be challenged more in learning to love others in the body.
It’s an excellent supplement to the Bible to grow our ecclesiology and consider why and how God has designed and mandated church the way that it is.
- “When you are born again, you are born into a family. And that family is not only the great extended family of Christians throughout the world, but also the particular nuclear family of a local congregation.” (11)
- “At root, all of these perspectives on the local church stem from the same problem: a failure to understand or take seriously God’s intent that the local church be central to the life of his people. People don’t become committed church members – and therefore healthy Christians – because they don’t understand that such a commitment is precisely how God intends his people to live out the faith and experience Christian love.” (64)
- “So discipline is about education and learning, order and growth. It is discipline in the life of the congregation and the healthy church member that provides an atmosphere for growth and development. It leads to the rare polished jewel of Christlikeness.” (75)
- “A growing church member is someone who looks more and more like Jesus in attitude of heart, thought, speech, and action. That’s what we long to be and long for our churches to be.” (89)
- “Rather, healthy members of a local church should strive and encourage others to strive to follow their leaders with wide-open hearts, eager obedience, and joyful submission.” (103)