Thabiti Anyabwile never aimed to be in the public eye—but somehow, he keeps finding himself there.
You might recognize him, for instance, from his blogs at The Front Porch and The Gospel Coalition (where he also serves as a council member), from books like The Faithful Preacher or Captivated, or from his articles in such venues as Desiring God, The Washington Post, and here at Christianity Today.
Meanwhile, in the fall of 2015, Anyabwile made waves when the Atlantic published his response to a piece on mass incarceration by Ta Nehisi Coates, which led to a must-see conversation between the two racial justice advocates.
As far as Anyabwile’s concerned, though, he’s a pastor first and foremost, which means that his most important work takes place not in the limelight of the evangelical blogosphere, but in the relative anonymity of the Washington, D.C. neighborhood that his Anacostia River Church calls home.
On this week’s episode of The Calling, Anyabwile joins CT managing editor Richard Clark to share his love for the local church, why sometimes it’s okay for a congregation not to be diverse, and how he manages being a vocal voice for public change while still remaining invested in his community.
On converting from Islam: “I had been a Muslim for a number of years prior to my conversation, and the religious worship life is really quite different from Christianity. One of the ways it’s different is just the emphasis on Christian life, community, and fellowship. When you find that and get that for the first time—for me, at least, it was an awakening. I was tasting a new fruit….Imagine tasting sweetness for the first time, biting into your first orange and the flavor bursting into your mouth.”
On enduring the burdens of ministry: “Leadership is about loyalty. Leadership is about perseverance. You don’t cut and run. There are legitimate times when you have to decide, ‘I’ve gone as far as I can go’. But we should not be running from hard things as Christian leaders. We can’t follow Christ and look for ease—those things don’t go together.”
On pastoring a “neighborhood church”: “Our neighborhood is full of church buildings…. Many of the members of those congregations may have lived in the neighborhood at one time, but during the crack era or some other era of promotion and advancement, they moved out to the suburbs. …But I’m looking at all my neighbors who are saturated in the world without Christian witness for ninety percent of their weekly life, and I’m saying, ‘As a congregation, we actually want to be here and be neighbors. We’re not saviors, but we do know the Savior.’”
On balancing local ministry with public presence: “There’s so much seduction in the evangelical Christian world we live in now. Conferences are everywhere. There’re temptations to celebrity. There are people who are lusting for platforms. It’s best I know my own heart. I despise platforms. I’m not looking to build one. And yet, I’m a citizen. I have a responsibility and a privilege to speak, to engage—not even primarily on behalf of my community, but on behalf of Christ.”
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The Calling is produced by Richard Clark and Jonathan Clauson.
Theme music by Lee Rosevere, used under Creative Commons 4.0.