Thabiti Anyabwile is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Grand Cayman Islands and the author of numerous books, including What is a Healthy Church Member? The Faithful Preacher and The Gospel for Muslims. He is a popular conference speaker and blogs regularly at Pure Church. He and his wife, Kristie, have been married for more than 20 years and have three children.
Thabiti is one of the founders of a brand new blog entitled, The Front Porch, which features conversations about theology in the African American church.
I corresponded with Anyabwile recently about this new endeavor, about racial reconciliation in the church, and about the importance of marriage and family in society.
Why did you see the need for The Front Porch?
Tony [Carter], Lou [Love] and I have great times whenever we’re together. We enjoy one another’s company and we enjoy talking about a whole range of topics and issues. We thought it would be wonderful to have a “space” where we could do that with other pastors and Christians who share our interest in the African-American church and Christian themes. To my knowledge, there really aren’t many “porches” of this sort where people can gather and talk about the Black Church. We hope The Front Porch meets that need and helps to connect different quarters of the church in fruitful discussion.
Is this an organization, a website, or both?
Right now we’re a website. We’re not trying to start a denomination or start an organization that takes energy away from our primary calling as pastors. We’re men who love the local church and we hope to invest the bulk of our energies and efforts in our own congregations.
We also host what we hope will be an annual meeting of African-American pastors who share our love for the Black Church and it’s vitality. About thirty of us gather once a year for prayer, discussion, and encouragement. We hope those times might also provide a space conducive to talking about difficulty issues, sometimes disagreeing in love, and working together in a collaborative way.
Looking at your mission statement--one of your voices is on family. Why is it important to address topics and issues related to the family of God?
Well, that’s what a local church is—an expression of the family of God. We are “God’s household” and God’s adopted children through faith in Christ. This spiritual reality is captured very regularly in the tendency of African-American church members to refer to one another as “brother” or “sister” so-and-so. There’s warmth and dearness that comes with seeing yourself as more than a club or social activity, but as a family. And there are things we need to address as one part of the family of God that’s really family business. We can’t be healthy as a church if we don’t.
And some things that affect our family don’t affect other families in the same way. For example, somewhere there’s a family in a neighborhood who doesn’t have health insurance. Across the street is another family with a member who suffers depression. Down the block parents of two young children are thinking of getting a divorce. They all belong to the same community, but they deal with some very different realities. Churches across our communities, across ethnic groups, and across national borders are much like that. So, we need places—porches—where the family can iron some things out, take care of its business, in order to be fruitful parts of the wider community.
What are specific areas that you see that need to be addressed in regards to the family of God or that you plan to address?
Well, central to being the family of God is knowing you’re in the family of God. Before one belongs they have to believe. So we’ll spend a fair amount of time thinking about the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and what true conversion and spiritual life entails. Also, there’s nothing quite like the family meeting in the Black Church. And central to that meeting is the preaching of the Father’s word. So we’ll discuss preaching a fair bit. And we hope to interact with some of the major cultural concerns that affect the family of God in the African-American community.
What about family as in marriage and children? Do you plan to address the core concerns of the African American community in regards to family? If so, what are a few areas that you and your team might focus on?
Family and family formation is perhaps the most urgent issue in the African-American community as well as the wider country. So many things are affected by whether or not couples form healthy marriages and whether children are raised by their biological parents.
On The Front Porch you’ll join us in conversation about biblical manhood and womanhood, the biblical roles of men and women in the church and the family, parenting, family worship, human sexuality, choosing local churches that are right for your family, leaders and their families, and engaging music, art and culture as they affect the family. We’re happy to address everything the Scripture addresses when it comes to our families.
We also involve the voices of our sisters in this conversation. We’d look crazy trying to talk about the African-American family without including the persons who are right now doing the most to hold families together!
At the end of the day, local churches are very much in the business of helping people live as disciples of Jesus Christ—and that rubber meets the road in our families. If we won’t live out the faith in our homes, we won’t live out the faith anywhere.
I love the idea of the front porch being a place where people gather. What ways are you intentionally drawing upon your site name for an audience that will be primarily over the internet?
Well, creating conversations in an electronic medium can be quite difficult. But for me, the most porch-like experience is the laughter! We enjoy each other and we enjoy interacting with folks. So there tends to be a fair amount of laughter even as we talk about important things.
We’re also trying to keep the porch theme alive in everything from the reader’s ability to comment on posts, to “vote up”/”vote down” other readers’ comments, share posts and comments with others, and express our welcome to folks who “join us on the porch.” I love the fact that Lou, Tony and I engage with people whether or not it’s a post we’ve written. We all dive in to try and keep the conversation going.
We’ve also created a place where folks can “register” with The Front Porch. All that means is we ask you a few questions about your current church experience and background, then we include you in our list of contacts and send you a free book. Then we try to “get other people on the porch.” So there are guest posts and videos where we expand the conversation to include others. And you can take the conversation with you via our podcast.
And every once in a while, though we try not to, we have to “kick somebody off the porch!” No self-respecting homeowner would allow just anybody to come onto their porch and act any ol’ way!
You’ve addressed theological issues that can often divide the Black community, such as the prosperity gospel. How do you approach these topics with those who may disagree?
We try to establish a friendly front porch tone. Though there may be disagreement, we don’t want to be disagreeable. We want to welcome folks. Louis’ post, “Helping Them Out," is a good example of being patient and kind. Then we try to be as biblical as possible. Here’s where the site is not like a regular front porch. People can offer any opinion they wish on most front porches in America. But we’re bound by the word of God, so we want to bring biblical solutions to bear. Finally, we recognize that not every issue can be resolved in a single conversation. So we try to give other resources for further consideration. Many of those we keep in our bookstore.
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