Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Challenges and Joys of a Young Pastor



Last month marked five years since I was officially ordained into pastoral ministry, and last week was my second anniversary as a lead elder in the church. Pastoral ministry comes with a lot of unique challenges and joys; these challenges and joys become more peculiar the younger you are. I will share the challenges this week and hopefully share the joys next week. Let me state that this is a personal reflection, so I am in no way suggesting that all young pastors face these challenges.

Un-informed zeal
Zeal is a blessing of youth. Young people are eager to have things done yesterday. When you add an aggressive personality to young zeal, it is often a deadly combination! The problem with this combination is that it is often accompanied by lack of know how. Even the Scriptures warn about the dangers of un-informed zeal (Prov. 19:2, Rom. 10:1-3). 

As a young pastor, I often find that I have overemphasized what one sermon can do and what can be achieved in a year. Yet, at the same time, I have underestimated what the Lord can do with one sermon, and the work He can achieve in a year. Un-informed zeal often leads you to want to change people and then you get impatient when people are not getting it, forgetting that it is God’s work to change people. In my un-informed zeal, I have found that i often do not know when to pick my battles. I am eager to jump into every fight that comes my way, when it would be better for me to let some things go.

Struggle with sin
This is perhaps the biggest challenge of them all. There is a reason Paul urged Timothy to flee youthful passions. The battle with sin is a huge challenge. The hard part about it is that it is unrelenting. Because of my inclination to sin, I have to be daily on guard so that I do not fall into sin either in thought, word, attitude or deed. An even greater challenge is cultivating an attitude of confession and repentance of sin.

This challenge is often made worse by the busy nature of ministry such that if one is not careful they do not have time to take care of their souls. You can easily deceive yourself into thinking all is well, that it is possible to go on “doing ministry” while your heart is far from God and no one knows. 

Identity crisis
There is a real danger for young pastors to feel guilty for being young, largely because of the stigma and mockery that comes with young age. Interestingly this comes from both those who are older than you as well as your age mates. This can then cause a young pastor to disregard his youth. There have been times I have thought to myself; “I am too young to be doing this, and why can’t I just be a normal young man!” It is for this reason that Paul urged Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because of his youthfulness. Instead Paul instructs him to be an example, and when you look at the passage, Timothy is to be an example of a righteous Christian. It is said churches want a 28 year old pastor with 35 years of experience! 

Other people’s burdens
Nothing can prepare you for the emotional, mental, physical and psychological demands of shepherding people. From the highs of rejoicing with those who are rejoicing, to the lows of weeping with those who are weeping or being devastated by a member who falls into sin, to enduring attacks on you and your family (attacks on my wife are the hardest to bare), and still I need to joyfully pastor these people! From the betrayal of someone you have loved, to encouraging someone who is out of employment and struggling financially, the list really is endless, and the rollercoaster ride can take its toll on a young minister and if not checked can lead to depression. 

Phillip Brooks sums it up perfectly when he says “to be a true minister to men is always to accept new happiness and new distress… the man who gives himself to other men can never be a wholly sad man but no more can he be a man of unclouded gladness. To him shall come every deeper consecration before untasted joy, but in the same cup shall be mixed a sorrow that it was beyond his power to feel before”[1]. It makes one resonate with Paul’s cry: “who is sufficient for these things.”

The incipient desire for success
Just like everyone else, young pastors want to do well. That in and of itself is not wrong. It is in fact a healthy desire. However, the desire for success can become the driving force, which is often sacrificed on the altar of faithfulness. This desire, coupled with the church growth movement that is often devoid of biblical principles and full of pragmatic, man centered thinking, results in preoccupation with building reputations, getting numbers, self-promotion and massive investment in programs, which in turn reduces the pastorate to a program coordinator.  Young ministers often face the temptation of getting success at all cost instead of pursuing godliness. The end result is often shipwreck.

Lest I discourage some young man somewhere about to answer the call, here are some encouraging words.

1.     The Lord knows the weaknesses and limitations of those He calls, and yet he chooses to use them anyway. Remember you are an instrument in the hands of a sovereign Lord. Your ministry is not dependent on your know-how or ability but on your humility before the Lord as he uses you.

2.      You are not all knowing. Shut up and learn! There is really no nice way of saying that. In His wisdom the Lord made the church a body so that there is inter-dependency. Do not try to be a jack of all trades.

3.      Find joy in your limitations. You are a mere man; God will not judge you on your success but your faithfulness. The farmer sowed the seed and went to sleep because he understood that it is the Lord who gives the harvest.

4.      Thankfully we do not have to come up with any tricks or schemes. Our primary task is simple and straightforward. Preach the Word!


[1] The influence of Jesus (London: H, R. Allenson, 1895, 191).

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Rise of the Reformed Baptist Movement in Zambia



I recently attended a conference with a group of pastors from five continents and 15 countries. A number of them had heard about the vibrant and growing Reformed Baptist movement in Zambia, and they asked me what the contributing factors have been. Thankfully, I have been doing some research for a writing project, and so I was able to give an informed answer. So here are the ten human agents and circumstances the Lord has used over the last 40 years or so to start a movement that is making waves in the country and across the continent.

Joe Simfukwe
We can never fully quantify the impact of Rev Joe Simfukwe in igniting the Reformed movement in Zambia. He will tell you that it was not his intention to start a Reformed movement since he simply describes himself as an Evangelical. However, he inadvertently sparked the movement in three ways. His expository preaching at Lusaka Baptist Church that began in 1980 and went through the book of Romans, Ephesians and John were particularly used of the Lord to draw souls to salvation and give them a passion for the Word of God and for evangelism. “Ba Joe”, as his disciples fondly call him, also introduced a whole host of university students to the Banner of Truth books which further grounded them in the Reformed teachings of the Puritans. Lastly, Rev Simfukwe helped the movement rise by spearheading a church planting movement in urban areas, which saw churches planted in the major towns of Zambia (Lusaka, Choma, Chipata, Chingola, Mufulira, and Mansa). As the university students who were sitting under the preaching of Rev Simfukwe began graduating and getting jobs in different towns, they were getting discontent with the churches in those towns and ended up planting Reformed Baptist churches.

Banner of Truth books
As has been mentioned that the Banner of Truth books played a major role in shaping the budding reformers’ beliefs as they devoured whatever books they laid their hands on. The Puritan flavor of the books invariably rubbed off on them and Reformed convictions were formed and/or cemented.

The rise of the Charismatic movement
The early 1990s saw the introduction of the Charismatic movement in Zambia with its emphasis on the supernatural gifts and the prosperity gospel. The young pastors and their young churches wanted to make sure they shielded themselves from this error. As a result, they were forced to define themselves with clarity and forcefulness. The movement’s emphasis on their identity drew labels of “separatists” at best and “cultic” at worst.

“Parsons’ diets”
In the early years the young pastors in the Reformed movement realized the need for training and fellowship. Since they could not immediately go into seminary, they held annual meetings in Chingola at meetings they termed “Parsons’ Diet” where they presented papers on different pertinent theological issues of their day. One result of these meetings was a camaraderie among the pastors which produced unity among the churches.

Achille Blaize
Achille Blaize was pastor of Grace Baptist Church in London when he came to Zambia in 1989 and 1990. He is now retired. He is the man who set Zambia “a-blaize” (forgive the pun). He came initially in 1989 at the invitation of Scripture Union Zambia but brought with him many copies of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, that year being the 300th anniversary of that document. The fledgling Reformed Baptist movement was excited to see that they had a historic document to fall back on. Pastor Blaize returned in 1990 and preached at the first Reformed conference organized by this movement and helped the young pastors and their congregation to be more defined doctrinally and to base all their practices on the Word of God. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Reformed Family Conference
From the talks with Blaize, the Reformed Family Conference was born. It has been running since 1990 and has grown in leaps and bounds. The conference has dealt with all kinds of themes with the goal of spurring the growth of the movement and has managed to draw different kinds of preachers in the Reformed circles around the world.
The international preaching itinerary of Conrad Mbewe
Dr. Conrad Mbewe’s international ministry did not grow the movement, but it brought it into the limelight before the larger Reformed movement was known around the world. As people heard him preach in different countries, they developed interest in the state of the Reformed movement in Zambia. This in a sense made the movement attractive, particularly to young people.

The centrality of preaching in the churches
One distinguishing mark of any true Baptist is their high regard for the preached Word of God. This should be true of any Baptist worth their salt. One could argue that this is even more true among Reformed Baptists. And for over 30 years, God has blessed these churches with faithful and, dare I say, world class preachers. These men have been steady, sure and consistent. Some of them have labored in one place for years. God has in turn blessed their faithfulness with abundant fruit from east to west, north to south. The steady and faithful preaching of the Word has anchored the growth of the movement.

The exposure to international preachers & their writing
The growth of the internet has meant easy access to blogs and sermons of different pastors and authors. People have been exposed to all kinds of preachers of the Reformed persuasion that have in a way grounded them in the doctrines. In fact, there have been cases of people who have developed Reformed convictions while they are in non-Reformed churches because they are largely listening to and reading from international preachers and writers of Reformed persuasion.

A growing church planting movement
People who are Calvinistic in their doctrine of salvation are often accused of being un-evangelistic and lacking a passion for missions. However, the Reformed movement in Zambia has been characterized by a zeal for church planting that has seen them plant churches in all the 10 provinces in Zambia, and they have planted or have partnered in planting in at least 5 African countries. This passion for church planting has contributed to the growth of the movement in Zambia as more people have come to salvation through the preaching of the gospel.

Let me offer a few concluding statements without much explanation
1.      No work can flourish, unless the Lord blesses it. If this was a human effort, it would have crashed years ago. Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it.
2.      God uses human means to carry out His purposes. He particularly uses faithful men and women who have a burden for his work, Word and glory.
3.      One cannot over emphasize the importance of preaching to the life of the church. In a time of gimmicks, tricks and business strategies in the church, Paul’s word to Timothy should ring ever louder: Preach the Word!
4.      There seems to be a direct correlation between a healthy reading and writing culture and depth in doctrinal understanding. When Christianity was flourishing in Europe, they were the hub of Christian literature, and the same has been true of the USA for a number of years. Could it be that the general shallowness in theology on the continent is due to a lack of thoughtful articulation through pen and paper? I leave you to ponder on it.


Friday, May 18, 2018

The Rise of Atheist Thinking Among Young African Intelligentsia



There has been a rise of atheist thinking among the intelligentsia in Africa in the recent years. This of course is nothing new in Zambia as there was a similar rise in the 70s and 80s among the university communities as young people bought into the Marxist beliefs of communism. One trait this group of people has is a scornful attitude towards Christianity and Christians. With the easy flow of information on various platforms, the new breed of atheists has gained a daring boldness in their talk and mockery of Christian beliefs. What has contributed to the rise of this thinking?

-         Frustration with legalistic Christianity
Traditional Christianity has often wrongly assumed holiness equals adherence to rules and regulations. This kind of Christianity (traditional, legalistic) is often a reaction to the trendy Christianity that is basically worldly and simply seeks to indulge in one’s fleshly desires in the name of liberty and staying current. Both are wrong, unbiblical and not Christian at all. But a lot of young people who have grown up in strict, legalistic and often hypocritical Christian homes have grown disillusioned and frustrated with a suffocating religion. They have been fed and taught a misrepresentation of Scripture, and they have seen that it does not work since the people who often preach mere rules and regulations are often living double standards (i.e. a strict father who is respected at church and yet he is a womanizer and harsh to his wife and children). These young people have grown weary of being forced to conform.

-        The rejection of authority
People do not like authority unless they are the authority. The biggest problem atheists have with Christianity is that it teaches the absolute authority of God over everything and that does not sit well with them. It is no wonder that in the recent years any institution that has an order of authority has come under severe attack. People have attacked headship, roles and commitment in marriage, submission to a local church and its leaders through membership, and now even governments are under attack, and there has been a rise in protests and the forceful removal of leaders around the world. Anything with authority is viewed as an enemy, and God has been public enemy number one! These guys cannot stand the fact that God is sovereign and will hold them accountable for their lives.

-        Senseless versions of Christianity
Yes, I am talking about the word of faith movement and their health and wealth gospel: their preoccupation with miracles and sign gifts; their belief in superstition to explain away suffering and people’s genuine struggles; their ridiculous mantras and illogical talks; their despicable and immoral acts including undressing and abusing women; their preying on the poor; their promoting laziness and blaming the devil for people’s sinfulness. The list is endless, but this kind of senseless Christianity which is predominant in Africa has caused many to look down on Christianity and assume we are a bunch of illogical fanatics that throw away our senses when we gather together. If this was the truth about Christianity, even I would be an atheist. Suffice to say there are versions of Christianity that have bordered on the ridiculous and have made those with an informed mind think that religion is nonsensical.

-        Absence of a clear and logical presentation of Christian beliefs 
The old saying is true: while truth is lacing up its shoes, error has traveled around the world. The young budding atheists have been putting up arguments to discredit Christianity; the only problem is they have not properly understood biblical Christianity, so they are often discrediting their own version of Christianity or a misrepresentation of Christianity. This is largely due to the fact that there seems to be a lack of clear and logical presentations of the Christian beliefs by those of us who actually know the truth. Dear Christian, heed Peter’s charge to give a defense of the hope that lies within you (1 Peter 3:15). If people are going to deny and reject Christianity, it should be because they have fully understood what Christianity actually is.

With all that said, it is important to realize that people reject the truth because they have chosen to. Unbelief is man’s biggest problem and no amount of eloquent argumentation can transform a soul. We need to remember that salvation is a divine work and the proclamation of gospel truth must be accompanied by great striving in prayer. It is said that before the death of actor W. C. Fields who was an atheist, a friend visited his hospital room and was surprised to find him thumbing through a Bible. Asked what he was doing with a Bible, Fields replied, “I’m looking for loopholes.”

We need to faithfully, accurately and clearly declare the gospel of Christ, and yes, we need to make a defense of our faith regularly to all who ask the reason for our faith. These young people are asking for a reason; oh for the sake of Christ’s name, dear Christian, let’s give a defense for our faith with gentleness. Preach, teach, write and engage in discussions to proclaim the Truth!


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

SIGNS OF DEADNESS IN A CHRISTIAN’S LIFE



A danger for Christians is that one can pretend to be what they are not. It is possible to go through the motions of the ceremonies or the rituals of Christianity and yet be far away from God. One can say with their lips what they do not mean with their lives. It is possible to teach great truths of Scripture and assume because you have taught them you have lived them. Furthermore, it is very possible for anyone of us to actively and faithfully serve and be involved in church programs and yet not know God. Just as it is possible to be free from scandals and still not be walking with the Lord. In light of these truths let me suggest three things that might be an indicator that you are not walking with the Lord.

Absence of confession and repentance for sin
One reality for a growing believer is the daily realization of his sinfulness as a result of daily beholding the holiness of God (Isaiah 6:1-9). A Christian who is walking with the Lord is never under any illusion of their greatness or goodness; they instead constantly cry with the apostle Paul “wretched man that I am who will deliver me from this body of death?” However, also like Paul, they do not remain in despair because they find comfort: “thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25). A mark of Christians who are walking with the Lord is daily confession and repentance of their sins against God and man. A person who never acknowledges sin nor repents of it is a person whose relationship is not right with the Lord. A red flag should go off when someone habitually justifies, explains away, excuses, belittles or blame shifts their sins. You cannot walk with the Lord and not be in the habit of confessing and repenting of sin.

A general apathy towards church life
While being active in church is not always a sign of spirituality, apathy toward and a lack of desire to be involved in the life of the church is definitely a sign of serious spiritual problems. It is a refusal to heed the exhortation of Scripture:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25.

It is important to note that other people’s shortcomings and failures do not justify your apathy. If the reason you are not involved in the life of the church is because you think other believers are hypocrites (and they may well be), then you are clearly not in the habit of self-examination leading to daily confession and repentance.

A critical spirit of other believers
People who do not regularly self-examine in the light of God’s holiness often ooze with a rather disturbing self-righteousness in which they are not only apathetic toward the things of God, but they are also critical of those who are faithful in service. They will tell you everything that is wrong about you, inform you of how everything you did was wrong, and then advise on what you should have done.

“Among the seven deadly sins of medieval lore was sloth (accidie)—a state of hard-bitten, joyless apathy of spirit. There is a lot of it around today in Christian circles; the symptoms are personal inertia combined with critical cynicism about the churches and supercilious resentment of other Christians’ initiative and enterprise. Behind this morbid and deadening condition often lies the wounded pride of one who thought he knew all about the ways of God in providence and then was made to learn by bitter and bewildering experience that he didn’t.[1] 

Guard your heart from a dead Christianity which simply goes through the motions. Guard your heart from a deadly pride that thinks there is nothing wrong with you and convinces you of being good. Cultivate the habit of seeking God and enjoying communion with him. Do not underestimate the importance of your local church and attending to the various means of grace. Develop genuine friendships that will provide meaningful accountability so that you are daily walking with the Lord.



[1] Packer, J.I., Knowing God. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1973, pg 94.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

AN EASTER MESSAGE THAT CHALLENGED MY SOUL



A few weeks ago we joined Christians around the world in reflecting on the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. The resurrection is such a cardinal teaching that the entire Christian hope stands on it. It is no wonder that from the time of Christ to today people have sought to discredit the resurrection either in subtle ways or in more direct and brash ways. People’s view of the resurrection is seen in the way they respond to the message.  My dear brother Ben Straub preached a brilliant sermon showing four different responses to the resurrection of Christ by the eyewitness of that day.

The Guards
After the death of Jesus and his subsequent burial, the Sanhedrin (the council responsible for his death) requested for guards to be posted at the entrance to the tomb as they feared the disciples might come and steal his body since they remembered that Jesus had said he would rise from the dead.
After three days, Christ truly rises. The guards were the only people to actually witness the resurrection in its full glory. They ran away in fear and reported what happened to the Sanhedrin who in turn bribed them to keep quiet and say that the disciples came and stole the body. Having seen the resurrection with their own eyes, they chose to accept the bribe and deny it all together. They chose immediate gain over eternal life. If they could only hear Christ’s warning: “what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?”

Peter and John
Peter and John had been with Jesus for three years, and they even heard him constantly teach that he would die and rise from the dead. They were supposed to know. And yet when they found the empty tomb, they left confused, fearful, and indifferent. As a result, they went and locked themselves in. They should have known better, yet they missed the main thing all together.

Mary
Mary, on the other hand, worshipped the resurrected Christ and that worship led her to be a witness as she went and told the disciples that he had risen. Worship leads us to witness.

Thomas
The famous doubting Thomas! He like the other disciples also heard Christ predict his death and resurrection and yet when it happened, he doubted and demanded proof before faith. When Christ eventually shows him the proof he demanded, Christ rebukes him and says, “blessed are those who believe without seeing.”

All of these people except the guards claimed to follow Christ! The resurrection changes everything, and it demands a response from you! How will you respond?