Thabiti Anyabwile|1:08 am CT

T4G’ 14 Debrief

The every-other-year family reunion called “Together for the Gospel” has come and gone for 2014. Somewhere near 8,000 persons gathered for a week of preaching and teaching on the theme of evangelism. There couldn’t be a timelier theme or a more encouraging group with which to consider it.

As with all edifying events of any length of time, there’s much to give God thanks for and to reflect on. And there’s many way to distill one’s thoughts into a summary of sorts. In fact, there’s probably too much to comment on for any one debrief post. So, I’m going to narrow my thoughts to a series of superlatives. Mark Dever doesn’t like superlatives, but I think they’re the best! So, here goes….

1. Best sermon for my heart

Without question, Lig’ Duncan’s exposition of Numbers 4, “The Gospel by Numbers,” was the best sermon for this often weary, sometimes heavy, frequently wandering heart! As I listened, I felt a new appreciation for the Savior’s words, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me.” Christ was majestically lifted up and extolled as glorious! From Lig’s meditation on sin as defilement to his biblical theological run to Christ as the One who cleanses, my heart mourned over sin and rejoiced in my Lord! Thank you, Lig!

2. Most convicting sermon

That superlative goes to David Platt’s passionate exhortation to prayer, “Relenting Wrath: The Role of Desperate Prayer in the Mystery of Divine Providence” (Exodus 32). I wept listening to this sermon, heavily convicted of my relative prayerlessness. David’s preaching is consistently God-centered, really Puritan-esque (as was the title of the sermon) in its development of the doctrine followed by the exhortation/application. So his sermon’s tend to leave you with the escalating majesty and weightiness of God and a clear sense of what God wills you to do. I found that to be the case with this sermon. Afterwards, I felt we should have spent a season of pleading prayer with God for lost family, friends, and people groups. I was also warmed by this sermon since it’s the text the Lord used to save me nearly 20 years ago.

3. Sermon with the greatest likelihood to help a generation

That’s how I feel about Kevin DeYoung’s address on inerrancy, “Never Spoke a Man Like This Before.” A good 40-50 percent of the attendees were there for the first time and in their 20s or early 30s. In other words, this was a young crowd growing up in the shadow of the last major battle around inerrancy. They’ve grown up taking it for granted and now find themselves on the edge of renewed battles. Kevin’s talk was a piercing exploration of the Lord Jesus’ view of scripture and the view all Christ followers should take. I’ve never seen Kevin better, and I’m not sure any other sermon has led me to treasure the Bible more.

4. Most encouraging evangelism testimonies

I really enjoy the testimony elements that have been a part of the last T4G conferences. This year conference organizers filmed and presented a number of testimonies involving new converts and the Christian evangelists (none of them would like have called themselves that) who shared the faith with them. I loved the stories of God’s powerful grace. But the testimonies I found most encouraging were the two evangelists who shared with the friends who were not converted. It was such an encouragement to be reminded of the privilege and burden of pleading for the unrepentant and unbelieving. Here are the two testimonies:

5. Hymn I’m most likely never to get out of my head

“Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling….” Thank you John Piper!

6. Weirdest piano placement that kinda grows on you

Bob Kauflin in the middle of the arena floor. The singing at T4G is not about the guy up front. Nobody understands that as well as Bob, who serves so faithfully and cheerfully. Bob was his cheerful self leading with his usual joy and skill… from the “piano mosh pit” in the middle of the floor. But it worked. Or at least it stopped feeling weird and I was taken up in the wonderful singing of T4G once again.

7. Funniest line…

“Did I say ‘merely’? I love precision.” You had to be there.

8. Oddest microphone for a person’s skin tone

Mine. My wife says it looks like an ice cream cone hanging from my ear! Think I’m going to have to pull a Chandler and start bringing my own. That’s the price you pay when you have a head the size of mine! :-)

9. Sweetest truth in song during the conference

“He Will Hold Me Fast”

10. Most beautiful woman at the conference

Kristie Anyabwile! Forgive me, but after communion with our Lord, the sweetest part of the week for me was sitting with my lovely wife hearing the word and being built up in the faith we share. Doesn’t get any better than that!





Thabiti Anyabwile|6:32 am CT

Spoken Word Monday: “I Will Wait for You” by Janette…Ikz

After a couple of years, this is still one of my favorites.





Thabiti Anyabwile|4:55 am CT

Spoken Word Monday: “I Am” by David Bowden

I guarantee you you’ll be praising God before this is finished! (HT: @isickadams)

Told you!





Thabiti Anyabwile|1:03 am CT

Spoken Word Monday: “Too Creative” by Propaganda

My man Prop likes to get in yo face. He was in my face with this one.
And since misery loves company…
or we can dress it up and call it “accountability”…
I thought I would pass it along to you,
And ask you, “Now what you gon’ do?”


Why you ain’t flying yet.
It’s because you still lying, I’ll bet.
Chicken. You scared you ain’t an eagle.
Don’t start barkin. You just a beagle.





Thabiti Anyabwile|8:39 am CT

5 Strategies for Ministering in a Cretan Context

I love the pastoral epistles. I ought to; I’m a pastor. I love them for their clear-sightedness, practical usefulness, and rich reliance on Jesus Christ and His work to save us. Any pastor that doesn’t regularly dip into the pastorals is likely a pastor trusting too much in his own wisdom or burned out from using worldly techniques.

Recently I read through Titus in my morning meetings with the Lord. As we met together, the Lord gave me fresh appreciation for the letter. Perhaps it’s owing to our upcoming move to DC to plant a church in what some think is a tough community. But as I read the letter, I saw more clearly the Cretan context into which the Lord sent Titus. It’s a context in which many Christians around the world labor, and a context many other Christians needlessly avoid.

The Context

At least three things stand out about the situation in Crete. First, God had a people there, but they were unorganized and unled (v. 5). That’s why Paul left Titus in the city. Second, the people of the community were known for being difficult and immoral. Their own prophets said this and Paul was compelled to agree (Titus 1:12-13). Third, Crete was a community with material needs and poverty, thus Paul’s repeated emphasis in the letter on doing good works.

This sounds like a lot of the “tough neighborhoods” we find around the world. Every city has them, places where social problems and material deficits get concentrated then stigmatized. They’re called “barrios” in Latin America, “townships” in South Africa, “slums” in India, “ghettos” and “hoods” in African America, and “trailer parks” in white America. Whatever we call these places, people made in the image of God live there and God has set His name on some of them. Thus, they need sound churches ministering there.

The First Strategy: Find, Recruit, and Grow Qualified Leadership

Job number one for ministering in a Cretan context is appointing qualified spiritual leadership. The issue is not that no leadership exists. Oh, there’s plenty of leadership in every community–just not the kind that you’d want God’s people to follow. There are drug dealers with exceptional leadership skills. There are political hucksters who mimic leadership very well. There are street corner and barber shop philosophers who shape thinking and feelings. There are even religious pretenders who carry on about religious myths and seek to control whole families (Titus 1:10-11, 14).

Precisely because there is so many leaders hawking their opinions, ministry in a Cretan context begins with and depends upon a radically different kind of leader, a godly, spiritually mature leader. So Paul begins his instructions to Titus with the well-known words, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you…” (v. 5). Then Paul lists the particular qualifications Titus should seek in fellow leaders: above reproach; the husband of one wife; children are believers and not open to charges of being wild; not arrogant, quick-tempered, a drunkard, violent or greedy; hospitable; lover of good; self-controlled; upright; holy; disciplined; and able to both teach and defend the truth (Titus 1:6-9).

Why would such leadership be important in a Cretan context?

First, think about what a concentration of such leadership would mean for painting a visible alternative to the models of manhood, family, character and service in a community. In the church would be a brilliant display of the good life and good leadership, one that would outshine other forms of leadership the way the noonday sun outshines a match. Many such communities are starved of leadership, especially healthy masculine models . Daddy deprivation drains entire blocks and neighborhoods. Think of the promise and possibility of a cadre of God’s men living personal, family and community lives marked by holiness, truth, goodness, strength and gentleness!

Second, this kind of leadership is necessary for leaning into the harsh winds of ungodly resistance. The Cretes of the world need genuine shepherds, not hirelings. Crete needs men who will not only stand for something but also die for it if need be. Crete is accustomed to boastful talkers who seek their own gain. Such men flee at the first sign of trouble. What Crete isn’t used to are men who stand on principle, who stand for people, and who will stand when problems arise–on behalf of the people. The gospel always meets resistance from the world, the flesh and the Devil. Satan looks to steal the seed of the gospel from the hearts of the people as soon as its scattered (Luke 8:12). Ministry in Crete is spiritual warfare; so it requires spiritual warriors who stand in Christ. Most of Crete has never seen such leadership. Seeing it will change the hearts and minds of many.

Most importantly, ministry in the Cretan context begins with leadership because nothing will change in the context without it. Crete needs to be organized or put in order so that other things may follow: correction, good deeds, shepherding, gospel proclamation and so on. None of that happens without leaders to facilitate it. The power comes from the Spirit through the word, but the facilitation comes through godly leaders.

The temptation will be to jump right into obvious and pressing problems in the community, or to get on with the work of evangelism and preaching. Those are good and necessary in their place. But recruiting, training and deploying leaders comes prior. That’s the most foundational work assigned to Titus. It’s the most foundational work assigned to anyone working in a “Crete.” Training and appointing spiritually-qualified leaders is not only how the work goes forward, it’s how the work lasts beyond our lifetimes. When we die all the good and all the preaching we could do dies with us. But if we’ve trained leaders in Crete, then, as one preacher put it, God may bury us workers and carry on the work. If we care about Crete, that’s what we want–the continuance of gospel ministry in the hands of faithful gospel ministers.





Thabiti Anyabwile|8:25 am CT

Why Do I Agree to Be Publicly Shamed?

Together for the Gospel’14 is coming up in just a couple of weeks (April 8-10th). Registration remains open until March 31st. If you’re still thinking about attending, let me encourage you to do so. I’m certain you will be glad you did because of the encouraging fellowship, the teaching on evangelism (I know I need encouragement in this area!), and the precious time of retreat we all need from time to time.

And if that’s not enough, there’s a Christian pastor’s equivalent of the county fair’s dunking booth: Stump the Panel. This year our brother Mike McKinley is leading a panel made up entirely of questions from you, the ball buying, ball throwing public. It should be fun… in that heart-sinking, shame-inducing way it’s “fun” when you see the ball hit the lever, hear the bell ring, and plunge into ice cold water only to mount and do it all again! I don’t know why I agree to these things. Here’s Mike talking about it:

T4G 2014: Stump the Panel from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

Here’s How to Submit Your Question:

Option #1 (Preferred): Record Your Question (Via Smartphone Video)

  • Record a video of yourself asking a question.
  • Say your name, your church’s name, where it’s located, and then ask your question.
  • Only one question should be asked in each video. You may submit multiple videos.
  • Videos should not exceed 30 seconds.
  • Please hold the smartphone horizontally during recording and be in a well lit area.
  • Email your video to: info@t4g.org with “Stump the Panel” in the subject line.

Option #2: Write Your Question

  • To submit your question via written form, click here.

Please address all your questions to the guys with the multiple degrees!





Thabiti Anyabwile|1:56 am CT

Spoken Word Monday: “Insufficient Love” by Jose Palos

I love my mama, but this brother helps me see not nearly enough! Loved the way he honors moms. Enjoy!






Thabiti Anyabwile|9:28 am CT

Being a Missions-Centered Local Church: Lessons from Johnson Ferry Baptist Church

Perhaps the most missions-centered local church I’ve ever visited is Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia. Pastor Bryant Wright, the elders and staff at Johnson Ferry have by God’s grace led the church to an inspiring level of mission activity. They have adopted ten unreached and unengaged people groups. Last year nearly 50 percent of their active membership took part in short-term mission trips (just under 2,000 people). This year, Lord willing, they plan to take over 80 short-term trips and support over 90 full-time missionaries on the field.

I had the honor of joining Bryant and the saints at Johnson Ferry for their missions conference called Move (audio here). That’s just what they’re doing–moving! I learned a great deal during my time there and thought I would summarize five things in this short post.

1. Staff for mission not maintenance.

John Ferry is now a large church of over 4,000 members. It would be easy to staff the church primarily for the maintenance of its own ministries and service to its members. But Bryant Wright wants to see a day when the missions staff in a local church is as large as the typical ministry staff serving the church. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have as many Missions Pastors as Senior Pastors in the Evangelical church world? Ricky Wheeler began as Johnson Ferry’s youth pastor. He now serves as Associate Pastor of Missions and leads a staff of about ten folks at Johnson Ferry Global, their “missions department.”

Not many churches will be able to staff a missions department with ten people. But some will. And all churches can ask themselves, “Does the staffing pattern in my church reflect an emphasis on the Great Commission (missions) or an emphasis on local programming (maintenance)?”

2. Involve every ministry in missions.

One of the things Ricky Wheeler began to do when he became Associate Pastor for Missions was to spend  a lot of time talking with leaders of every ministry at Johnson Ferry to ask, “How can your ministry participate in getting the gospel to the nations?” That took a lot of time, but it’s paid huge dividends. Most every ministry at the church chose to participate in short-term trips and, consequently, they’ve never had a shortage of people to go on trips. Now at Johnson Ferry missions isn’t “one thing we do” but has become the main thing under which everything else fits. Sixth-grade Sunday school classes, men’s and women’s small groups, youth groups and everyone in between gets in on world evangelization. It’s no longer something the “Indiana Joneses” of the world do, but something everyone can and should contribute to in someway.

This is slow cultural change in a church. But it can happen. Simply putting the question to every ministry signals the importance of missions. Patiently walking through the many discussions, questions, fears and changes will deepen the importance of missions to the congregation.

3. Require evangelism training for short-termers.

I’ve long agreed with the sentiment that says, “If you’re not doing evangelism at home, you’re probably not going to do it on the mission field.” People pull back in fear whenever evangelism is mentioned. A good many of our church members know they’re supposed to do it but feel incapable or ineffective. We don’t want to spread that to the mission field or have it cripple our short-term efforts.

The folks at Johnson Ferry require every person taking a short-term trip to complete evangelism training each year they take a trip. Each year. As a consequence of requiring this training over a number of years, not only have their short-term trips become more effective, the church has slowly grown more comfortable with and a culture of individual evangelism. More members feel able to share the Good News with their neighbors.

4. Put your money where your missionaries are.

Getting to the field can be expensive. Trips can run in the multiple thousands of dollars depending on where you go and how long you stay.

Johnson Ferry has made missions a budget priority. Here are a few examples of how that works for them. As a matter of policy, they fund 50% of short-term trip costs for everyone who goes. That goes a long way in sharing the costs as a church family and supporting those who may have the zeal and gifts but not the money. They also prioritize mission funding by dedication the first ten percent of capital campaign fundraising to missions. If they’re raising $100,000 then the first $10,000 goes to missions. They’ve allocated the first ten percent of funds from their first six capital campaigns. Now they’re on the seventh campaign and they’ve raised the allocation to missions to the first 20 percent raised. All of this is in addition to the portion of their regular budget that goes to prioritizing missions in their denominational giving.

Again, this may seem daunting to smaller churches. But in the beginning their mission budget was only $88,000. They invested it in the SBC’s cooperative program and gave another 1 percent of their budget to Young Life. Everyone can start somewhere. The main issue is to put your money where your missionaries are so that the heart of the church follows it.

5. Embrace a people group until it’s win them.

There are approximately 3,000 unengaged people groups in the world. These are ethnic groups where there is no viable Christian witness present (less than 2 percent evangelical Christian) and where no missions agency or church has any active plan or effort to reach them with the gospel. As SBC President a couple years back, Wright championed the effort to reduce the number of unengaged people groups by encouraging local churches to adopt a group. Johnson Ferry has adopted ten. They’ve accepted the task of getting the gospel to these people with the motto, “Whatever it takes for as long as it takes.”

The gospel is needed everywhere, but some places don’t have access to it at all. The only way that gap will be eliminated is with intentional efforts to engage the unengaged. It’s a question every local church’s leadership and membership should ask: “How can we play a part in reaching people groups currently unengaged by Christian witness?”


The reason Jesus established the church in the world was to bear witness to His love by calling sinners from every nation to flee His coming wrath into His salvation. A church that does not center itself on obedience to our Lord’s Great Commission is a church in significant sin. They’ve lost the story line, abandoned their post and marching orders. I’m grateful for what feels like a renewed emphasis on international missions in many quarters of the church world and I pray the Lord fans that flame into an inferno! And may He raise up more churches like Johnson Ferry, churches that center their ministries and money on the work of world evangelization and church planting.





Thabiti Anyabwile|1:43 am CT

Spoken Word Monday: “Deadbeat” by Jackie Hill

Here’s one that hits home. With the current epidemic of absentee fathers continuing unabated, we need policy, prose and poetry to describe and address the issue. Here’s an offering from Jackie Hill that I found gripping.






Thabiti Anyabwile|7:04 am CT

The Most Difficult Ministry Decision I’ve Ever Made


Yesterday my family and I announced the most difficult and emotional decision we’ve ever made in Christian ministry. We shared with the spiritual family and congregation we love our plans to transition from FBC Grand Cayman to return stateside to plant a church East of the River in Washington, D.C.

I began to feel a sense of the Lord’s leading about two years ago. But the actual decision was reached over the last ten months. That’s when I first asked the elders of FBC to shepherd me through my burgeoning desires and to help me discern the Lord’s will. When we began I only knew my desires seemed consistent enough that I needed shepherding, but not so consistent that I’d made a decision. The elders allowed me to put all my thoughts and assumptions on the table. They asked questions, listened to me ramble, gave feedback and offered their support in whatever path we’d take. It was as healthy a process of discerning a call and transitioning from a senior pastor role as I’ve ever seen or known. I’m profoundly grateful to the Lord for these men.

And I’m profoundly grateful for the church family at FBC. While many were and are shocked, the congregation lovingly communicated with us and eagerly embraced the vision for expanding the wider kingdom of God. Many spoke of having a sense that God had prepared them for this moment and excitement about the unfolding chapters ahead. Their love made a most difficult announcement an occasion for yet more grace from God. We love these saints dearly. From approximately 30 nationalities, we have been deeply united in Christ our Lord and the fellowship of His Spirit. We’re going to greatly miss the saints.

If you’re a part of the FBC family and you missed our service yesterday, or if you’re a reader of the blog and you’re interested to know what I shared, my comments to the congregation are below. For those who have a moment, I’d greatly appreciate your prayers for our FBC family and for our future. And for those tempted to ask, please do not send me your resume to replace me :-). I’m sure everyone would like to “suffer for Jesus” in the Cayman Islands, but what we need most is prayer right now.

Grace and peace to all.



Dear FBC Family,

In April 2006, while borrowing Stephen Ryan’s old apartment on Outpost Road, I read the words of 1 Thes. 2:8: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” I read those words and knew the Lord was sending me to the Cayman Islands to pastor the saints of First Baptist Church.

We landed in Cayman on August 1, 2006 and were met at Owen Roberts airport by some 30 members of the church. It was one of the warmest receptions we’ve ever received from a group of Christians—and it was only a brief glimpse of the love, support, encouragement and help we would receive from this church family for nearly eight years. You helped us set up house. You encouraged us in our ministry. You had us over for dinner and introduced us to “heavy cake.” Right away you cared for our daughters. And you’re the only church family and home Titus has ever known. He’s been carried in many of your arms and loved by you all. You’ve loved and honored my wife—which I count as a special gift. She has thrived here more than perhaps any other place we’ve lived. You have been our family.

As a church family:

  • We have served together. Every week we’ve gathered to sing amazing praises to our God, to pray, and to hear God’s word. You’ve endured my preaching, and you’ve encouraged me constantly. Some of you have met to pray and study with me at various seasons during my ministry here. Others have traveled with me as gospel partners to give support at conferences and on mission trips. We’ve partnered together to operate a school, send missionaries, plant a church in the Middle East, eliminate our debt, and seek revival for our own beloved Cayman.
  • We have mourned together. We’ve sat with one another as older brothers and sisters grew older and weaker, as sick saints grew yet sicker. We’ve hugged and wept at the loss of loved ones. Even before we arrived in 2006, you prayed for me and my family at my brother’s death of cancer. I’ve tried to faithfully do the same when it’s been your loved ones. Together, we’ve fought for marriages, agonized over wayward children, and scraped through financial loss.
  • We have rejoiced together. Some of you I have married. We’ve celebrated the birth of many of your children and grandchildren. We’ve gone to house warmings and the opening of new businesses to ask for God’s blessing. I’ve had the honor of seeing some of you raised from death to life through the power of Jesus Christ. Some of you I have baptized. And I rejoice at the great spiritual growth that’s happened in all of us.

All of this has been one of the greatest privileges of our lives. We feel so honored that you would allow us to participate in the most intimate times of your lives. And because of these things and so many more, we will carry you in our hearts for the rest of our lives. Because all of you are in our hearts, our hearts are heavy with sadness at the prospect of leaving. We hope you will also carry us in your hearts and carry us to God in prayer as we embark on this exciting and uncertain venture.

The apostle Paul once wondered about what would happen to his fellow Jewish community which did not yet believe the gospel. He writes: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” He says: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Rom. 9:2-3; 10:1).

Over the last two years, something like that has become an increasing burden for me. Great sorrow. Unceasing anguish. A heart’s desire to see my “kinsmen according to the flesh”—the greater African-American community—come into the glory of God’s salvation—especially those in the forgotten and forsaken cities of the country.

About ten months ago, I began to talk with the elders about what was then a feeling. When we began, I did not know what the Lord would have us do. It was such a blessing to have a group of men welcome the opportunity to pray and discern with me the Lord’s directions. Many pastors could never do this with their fellow leaders. The elders graciously joined me in praying and seeking the Lord’s will—whether I should continue in ministry here or transition to this new work. Over those several months, we met individually, held a retreat to focus on this issue, and they met several times without me. In the end, they could detect no sinful motive, recognized the needs of the wider kingdom of God, understood my burden for urban African-American communities, and offered their support whether I chose to continue at First Baptist or follow the Lord’s leading elsewhere.

I have decided to transition from FBC to pursue this exciting and difficult ministry for the glory of Jesus Christ and the salvation of many in African-American communities. Effective June 30th I will transition from my role here as senior pastor. In early July, we hope to move back to Washington, D.C. where we will, Lord willing and pending an official call, land at Capitol Hill Baptist Church as members and as church planters. From there we hope to launch a new church in a part of the city commonly called “East of the River.”

The elders of FBC have communicated their desire for the church to stand with us and to send us into this harvest field. I am grateful for these men, for their faith, love and hope, and their partnership in the gospel.

I’m praying for a deep unity and deep faith for us as a church family. During my ministry here I’ve tried to emphasize two things: (1) the absolute centrality and sufficiency of Jesus Christ and His gospel, and (2) the great importance and joy of being a true spiritual family, committed to one another as members in the local body of Christ. With this transition, I’m hopeful that what I have treasured and taught will be treasured and lived all the more by everyone here.

I firmly believe that the best days for FBC are ahead of it. Jesus never abandons His Church. While I intend to get completely out of his way, I will be completely supportive of the man the Lord has prepared to shepherd you. I have a deep sense that the leadership that is to come will be precisely what the church needs for the years ahead.

We love you more than you know or than we can express. And we are confident of your love for us. That’s what makes this sorrowful and also what makes it promising. We are hoping to spend as much time as possible with as many of you as possible between now and July. Whether this is a shock to you, a disappointment, something that you expected, or something you’re excited about, we’d love to hear from you and have time with you.

It has been our honor to know and serve you these 7.5 years.

With an everlasting love in Jesus Christ our Savior,

Thabiti, Kristie, Afiya, Eden and Titus