Posts Tagged ‘Conrad Mbewe’
Conrad Mbewe hits hard but fair, asking about our unwillingness to face risk for the sake of the kingdom:
My argument here is that the worthiness of a cause can be seen by how much people are willing to suffer for it. Look at the price that Jesus paid when he incarnated among us. He left the splendour of heaven knowing his destiny was not only the lonely hill of Golgotha but also years of hardship and tears. Why? It was because of the worthiness of the cause. His sacrifice was going to result in the salvation of billions and, above all, it was going to bring glory to our great God.
The interview is entitled “A Great Inheritance.” Here’s a snippet:
TT: What are two important lessons that Western Christians can learn from the African church?
CM: Western civilization has lost a lot of its interpersonal virtues. It has become overly individualized—if you see what I mean. Issues like hospitality, respect for authority and the elderly, being more people-conscious than time-conscious, and so on are largely lost. This has affected not only the society generally but Christians as well.
Western Christians have filled their lives with too many things (toys?) that have robbed them of eternal perspectives. Electronic gadgets, holidays, sports, recreation, and so on have almost become idols. Even church must be about having fun. The church has little time in the lives of its members to prepare them for eternity. There is a greater consciousness of eternity here in Africa. Perhaps it is because we have fewer toys to dull our spiritual senses and death is all around us.
A greater exposure of Western Christians to their African counterparts may help them regain some of these lost virtues, strengths, and perspectives.
Many thanks to those who prayed. I had a great time in Zambia.
Flying out Wednesday evening, I arrived early Thursday morning and then flew north to Ndola where Pastor Kabwe Kabwe of the Grace Reformed Baptist Church collected me. By the end of the day – having spent some time at one of the compound churches, Mapalo Reformed Baptist Church, here Pastor Marshall labours with a heart for his needy people – I had arrived at the Kaniki Bible College, a couple of miles from the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (and therefore supplied with a helpful bevy of armed police officers), for the National Annual Reformed Baptist Youth Conference 2012 on the topic of Assurance of Salvation.
It was a slightly tricky start as schools had only just finished, and consequently people were still arriving on Thursday evening when Matthews Fikati, a local pastor, kicked things off with a sermon on 1 John 5.13. Matthews was energetic and direct, very much in earnest. A slight concern as I heard him was that I was also beginning my series with a sermon on 1Jn 5.13. However, as Matthews preached it became clear that he was setting out to accomplish something different while still setting the tone, and in doing so laid a foundation for all that would follow.
My ministry began on Friday morning. Each day began with a prayer meeting at 6am followed by a ‘rise and shine’ exercise session to get the blood flowing at 6.30am. The main days had two morning sessions (followed by discussion groups) and one evening session, and I closed with a single sermon on Monday morning. I therefore preached six sermons on the topic of assurance, beginning with 1Jn 5.13, on the fact that assurance of salvation is definable, desirable and possible. I went on to look at false foundations for assurance, before defining four key marks of true assurance of salvation: accepting God’s divine diagnosis of and remedy for sin; devotion to the glory of God; increasing, persevering holiness; and, love for the saints. The Sunday services were attended by the sponsoring churches, keeping their Lord’s day in company with the conference attendees. I finished the series on Monday morning with a brief send-off address from 2Tim 1:12, identifying the substance of true assurance of salvation.
In the three evening meetings I was preaching three evangelistic services, taking a variety of topics: I considered the putting away of sin by Christ’s sacrifice from Heb 9.26, the questions that we must ask concerning the judgement to come from Is 10.3, and the conference between mercy and truth, righteousness and peace, which was conducted at Calvary from Ps 85.10.
During the afternoons there were three sessions: one on making and choosing friends, one of making Scriptures our daily companion, and one on young people and pornography (at least as much a problem in Zambia as here in the UK). These were taken by local pastors or conference leaders, and were more interactive sessions, with lots of solid, practical advice.
All told, it was an excellent conference. Toward the end it became apparent that the Lord was blessing the ministry, as some of the group leaders reported that there were a good number attending who had come under conviction of sin and were seeking – and some professing to find – the Lord Christ, and a similar blessing on several troubled and doubting saints, whose minds were made clear and whose hearts were made warm. In the kindness of God, the whole ministry sometimes fitted together in ways beyond human planning. For example, one report came concerning a young woman for whom the sermon revealing inconclusive grounds of assurance had made plain that she never was a child of God, and who therefore sought Christ as presented in all his saving fullness.
Perhaps it is worth pointing out here that these were the same kind of sermons (some of them the very same sermons, or at least the same in substance) I preach here in the UK, preached with no discernible difference in intent, tone, spirit and expectation by the preacher, and yet the sermons at which people shrug and shuffle here seemed to produce more rapid and discernible effects there. I hasten to add that the friends organising the conference are not inclined to judge too quickly, and would be the last to offer ‘numbers,’ as it were, but are competent and careful assessors of such things. For a preached accustomed to seeing little apparent effect from his ministry, such an experience is deeply humbling and a cause for great rejoicing and renewed prayer that the sovereign Lord who is willing to bless in one place would be pleased to bless in another.
Also instructive was the arrangement and constitution of the conference. Some of the attendees were very young, others well into their twenties. The conference is organised and managed by an older group of responsible young men and women who pretty much run everything during the conference itself. The conference draws from a wide number of churches, and some of those attending are just recently off the streets, have never heard the gospel before, or have other particular needs, while some come from mature Christian homes and churches. Whereas I can imagine some trying to exclude the former for the sake of the latter (or just to make life easier), here the organisers embraced all the workload associated with such a ministry (I think the preaching might have been the easy bit!), working tirelessly to marshal the attendees, to keep things moving at a reasonable pace, to entertain and feed the hordes, coping with everything from sickness to theft with a boldness and tenderness that was genuinely commendable. Oh, for a few of these to serve in our churches! I was grateful to be serving with such gracious and determined and hard-working hosts. One young couple, the Tholes, were even appointed as my guardians for the conference, and a greater care I could not have received as I navigated through all my duties.
We parted with many expressions of mutual affection, and I headed back south for Lusaka by road, graciously chauffeured by none other than Conrad Mbewe, who – with his wife, Felistas – had also been in the area preaching at a conference for another church. I had a delightful four hours or so with Conrad and Felistas, exchanging news of mutual acquaintances, and – for me – an opportunity to pick their brains about a variety of issues of interest.
Monday evening saw me arrive safely at the home of James & Megan Williamson (LION of Zambia), serving in Zambia and sent out by the Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville. It was through James that I first came to Zambia, when I taught last year at the Copperbelt Ministerial College. That night was punctuated by the rather unfortunate children of the Williamson clan who – with one exception – all fell victim to an attack of vomiting between the hours of 10pm and 8am the following morning. Quarantined for my own safety in a nearby lodge, I spent some of my time reading and writing while the Williamson succumbed, cleaned, and recovered in some kind of sequence. Mercifully, James and I were spared, and spent some time running errands and meeting friends. It was very useful to see the kind of challenges and opportunities that James & Megan have.
While James oversees various efforts, including a newer ministerial college in Lusaka itself, Megan has particular responsibility for the Hope for the Afflicted orphan ministry, and I spent three hours on Wednesday morning touring Kabanana, the compound where most of the sponsored children are found. Some of the needs are grievous. Two scenes stick out: the room barely six feet square which is the entire living space (including cooking, eating, sleeping – everything) for a family of five, and the skeletal father of the mother of some of the children, who sat weakly on the floor in a fly-infested room eating fly-ridden food, occasionally hanging on to a chair as he was wracked by coughing. I walked out thinking that perhaps I had come across my first ever case of tuberculosis.
A few hours in such a place does wonders for one’s sense of priority and thankfulness for material blessings, without forgetting that the crying need is for the gospel to be taken. A few handfuls of healthy food look like a feast when you have seen a pack of kids scavenging on a rubbish dump. The orphan ministry is taking on more children.
Another observation: just because we do not have such abject poverty on our doorsteps does not mean that we do not have the poor with us. I remember that, after reporting on my previous visit, and issuing a challenge as to our response to need in our own area, someone retorted that the people near us are not really poor, are they? Such an attitude is the very one that cuts the nerve of merciful endeavour. There are homes of squalor, misery, loneliness, crime and abuse all around this and many towns in the UK, and the gospel, prompting and ministered with loving care to the whole man, is just as much the need here as there, and might bear just as much fruit.
Wednesday afternoon ended with my collection by Pastor Kasango Kayombo of Ibex Hill. Kasango had been one of the students at the Copperbelt Ministerial College when I was in Zambia before, and is now pastor of a church meeting at Old MacDonald’s Farm, the home of Don & Christine MacDonald who have made it their business to rescue some of the needy boys from the streets of Lusaka and give them homes and care for them, teach them and train them and preach the gospel to them. Several of the members and a few other friends had gathered and I preached at the midweek meeting, accompanied by some beautiful singing, on John 11, finding at least as many lessons for myself as for others as we took our faith to the school of Lazarus’ tomb.
Heading home, I had a surprise visit from Pastor Kabwe, who was himself in Lusaka for a day or two, just as I was packing, and then I headed to the airport at 6.15am the next morning, waved goodbye to James, who returned to his full house and full hands, and stepped into a plane which kindly deposited me about 10 hours and 5000 swift miles later in London, where I was shortly reunited with my family.
I had been reading a gift from my wife in my spare moments, Henry Morton Stanley’s How I Found Livingstone, and could not help but marvel with gratitude at the ease, speed, safety and comfort with which I accomplished my journey to the heart of Africa, compared with his. With barely a bite and few discernible health issues, I arrived home with a heart full of thankfulness to God, with the hopes of further trips to serve my Zambian brothers and sisters, and with prayers not just for continued fruit there, but for a grant of God’s Spirit and evidence of blessing in the work that we have to do here.
Thank you for your prayers. Do continue to seek God’s blessing on the work that has been, is being and will be done.
Here’s the publisher’s blurb:
With a “gutless orthodoxy,” Christians today quickly affirm biblical truth regarding evangelism and mission, but, author Jeremy Walker reminds us, “we cannot pretend that we know and believe the truth about men, souls, heaven, hell, and salvation unless it is making a difference in the way we think, feel, pray, speak, and act.” How do Christians develop this sense of urgency to see lost sinners saved? What motivates our evangelism? We must have the character of the brokenhearted evangelist, the David of Psalm 51, who recognizes the greatness of his own sin, looks to God for forgiveness, then recognizes his undeniable obligation to teach transgressors God’s ways. In an engaging style and with pastoral warmth, Walker urges Christians to exercise their obligation and privilege to teach transgressors God’s ways, providing both spiritual truth and practical guidance for carrying out this necessary gospel duty.
There are five chapters in the book, and you can read a sample by clicking the link for chapter one:
- Am I Willing? Our Undeniable Obligation
- Am I Effective? Our Necessary Equipment
- Am I Committed? Our Appointed Means
- Am I Focused? Our Declared Aim
- Am I Fruitful? Our Great Expectation
Several esteemed men have been willing to read it and provide endorsements:
John MacArthur: “In recent years providence has brought a number of people into my life and ministry who are passionate about evangelism. Some of them are especially keen to win friends, fellow-workers, and family to Christ; others are engaged in various kinds of open-air evangelism, bringing the gospel to people they have never met before. I thank God for all of them and the passion that drives them. This excellent book by Jeremy Walker explains the biblical principles that underlie and provoke such passion, reminding us that time is short, the need is urgent, the laborers are few, and the fields are white unto harvest.”
Conrad Mbewe: “Jeremy Walker’s book is in the tradition of the Puritan classic, Joseph Alleine’s Alarm to the Unconverted, but this is more Jeremy Walker’s Alarm to the Converted. It is a pleasant surprise, coming as it does from a part of our world where Christianity has largely entered a ‘garrison’ (bunker) mode. The book, based on Psalm 51:13, is not meant simply to teach us about evangelism; it demands a verdict. He enlists the help of the great soul winners in history to reinforce his appeals. Even before I finished reading the book, I was already asking myself whether my heart was truly broken about the lost around me—and if it is, what am I doing about it?”
Paul Washer: “The Broken Hearted Evangelist will refresh, strengthen, and equip the most timid saint for the work of soul winning. Jeremy Walker’s consideration of evangelism from the perspective of Psalm 51 is like fresh water drawn from a new well. He does not merely exhort us to greater faithfulness in evangelism and then leave us bewildered and guilty. Instead, he takes us to the very fountain from which all true motivation and strength for evangelism springs forth—the gospel and its glorious impact upon our own lives.”
What is the state and what is the church? Once we come to a biblical understanding of these two institutions and what their purposes are, we will have no problem seeing the absurdity of declaring Zambia a Christian nation (or a secular state) and enshrining it in the constitution.
So writes Conrad Mbewe in a slightly reworked version of an older lecture on Zambia as a Christian nation. 20 years after the then-President declared it to be such, Conrad returns to the issue and gives some excellent insights into the relationship between the church and the state, and the roles and relationships of individual Christians in and between each, which we would do well to heed, especially with our Prime Minister recently suggesting that he wants Britain to be a Christian country.
Should a pastor ever answer a call to move to another church? Within our Reformed Baptist churches in Zambia, there are only two of us older pastors who have not moved churches yet. If any of the others wrote such a blog post I am sure some readers in our church circles would think it is self-justification. Since the other older pastor does not have a blog, it just hit me this morning that I am best placed to clear the air on this subject—at least for the Zambian Reformed Baptist constituency.
So saying, Conrad Mbewe writes another Letter from Kabwata about the hows and whys of pastoral moves. While some of it is evidently coloured by local concerns, there is a much wisdom and straight talking here.
UPDATE: A friend graciously contacted me off-blog to query the apparent blanket endorsement that I had given to the post above, and prompted a more thoughtful comment.
First of all, I do appreciate particular elements of Conrad’s post. Having had to work through issues relating to calls to other congregations, this is no theoretical matter to me, and I was grateful for Conrad’s robust response to some of the more unhelpful opinions bandied around at such times. For example, I can find no justification in Scripture for the notion of the pastor-church relationship as in any way analogous to a marriage (even taking into account the fact that the Great Shepherd of the sheep is also the Bridegroom to his bride; I do not think that the second illustration transfers to the under-shepherd of a local church), and to use that analogy insinuates a degree of unfaithfulness and betrayal on the part of the pastor in question and ‘the other woman [church].’ It is not a matter of a permanent and indissoluble bond, though that is not for one moment to undermine its durability or dismiss its significance.
Furthermore, I appreciate Conrad’s discussion of that sense of “inward disturbance” – a concatenation of outward and inward prompts suggesting that the ultimate Overseer of the church may be shaking you loose from one place with a view to moving you to another – and the need to consider it carefully, taking counsel from trusted friends. I do think that when a soldier receives a posting order from his commanding officer, he is to obey it.
I also believe that the matter of a righteous investment of a particular man’s gifts and graces is a central concern. We only have so many (so few!) talents to invest for our Master, and it would be a sin, perhaps arising from a false humility or a lazy cowardice, to turn one’s back upon the opportunity for that investment. A man should invest all he has wherever he is, and if his gifts end up making room for him elsewhere, then that must be taken into account in considering the time and place of his investments.
In addition, I do think that there are occasions on which the financial care of the pastor and his family may be taken into account. Of course, it is possible for this to take place on an entirely carnal level, and I am far from persuaded that mere financial reward should ever drive a man’s consideration. However, when a church is neglectful of a man – the 1689 Confession states that “it is incumbent on the Churches to whom they Minister, not only to give them all due respect, but also to communicate to them of all their good things according to their ability, so as they may have a comfortable supply, without being themselves entangled in Secular Affairs; and may also be capable of exercising Hospitality toward others; and this is required by the Law of Nature, and by the Express order of our Lord Jesus, who hath ordained that they that preach the Gospel, should live of the Gospel” – then it may be part of his consideration of how he is to fulfil the mandate he has to “provide for his own,” though financial hardships may be part of the price paid for faithfulness in his charge, either because of non-culpable inability on the part of those whom he serves or sinful culpability by opponents of the gospel who use poverty as a weapon against a faithful man.
I was also intrigued by Conrad’s treatment of the potential breaking either of a man or of a church (or a mutually assured destruction) when a man’s usefulness in a certain place comes to an end. While he suggests that this may be because of stubbornness and resistance to the truth on the part of the church, it might also be because of a change of conviction on the part of the pastor that prevents him from continuing with integrity (for example, a man pastoring a baptistic congregation who comes to paedobaptistic convictions, or vice versa, without the congregation shifting with him with sincerity and without browbeating), or indeed a decline of capacity (many men have built up a church gradually, and then gradually dismantled it as their gifts for public ministry decline, with no-one who loves them enough to point out that the time has come to reconsider their position, or perhaps with not the humility to accept it). I agree that a faithful man must consider whether or not he is still able to be of any use, or whether a consistent fruitlessness because of an unwillingness to heed the Word of God may be the occasion on which he shakes the dust from his feet and moves on.
With all that said, I am compelled not to go along with every aspect of my older and wiser brother’s assessment. I wonder if Conrad’s view of the pastorate as opposed to eldership may be informing his view somewhat here, as well as a genuine failure to recognise that his particular gifts have given him a wider ministry than others might and should have. Conrad’s view of the pastor seems to be that he is first and foremost a servant “in the universal church,” a calling that cannot be limited to a local congregation: “it is important to see your pastor as, first of all, God’s servant to the wider church.” All a local church does is to provide a platform upon which his particular gifts are recognised and operate.
It is in this respect that I must part company with Conrad to a degree. It seems to me that, Biblically speaking, the local church is the very sphere in which pastoral gifts (whether those of a preacher or of an elder who teaches and shepherds without having a vocational ministry) are assessed and validated. Not least, there is a danger that a man recognised in one sphere might become a sort of roaming pastor or preacher-at-large without any ties or accountability to the church of Christ. How can you have a shepherd without sheep? A man is made a pastor and preacher by Christ and recognised as such by and within a local church (whether they then use his gifts primarily within that congregation or recognise that his gifts require some sort of expression without that immediate local body). There does not seem to be sufficient weight given to the local church in Conrad’s model. I am not suggesting that the pastor’s convictions must always and only be governed by the corporate opinion or depth of feeling, but – in addition to knowing the mind of Christ and the convictions of the man – there are also the attitudes and actions of the two congregations involved which must be taken into account.
My attention was helpfully drawn back to the experience of Benjamin Beddome, pastor of Bourton-on-the-Water Baptist Church in the mid eighteenth century. Having considered an appeal to him to quit his church and take the pastorate of another he refused. Robert Oliver records, “Beddome’s final refusal is interesting. . . . He appealed to the writings of the great Puritan John Owen, who declared that ‘such removals only are lawful, which are with the free consent of the churches concerned, and with the advice of other churches or their elders with whom they walk in communion.’ Beddome added: ‘if the prospect of greater usefulness is in itself a sufficient plea for the removal which you press, then it would be impossible for churches of a lower rank ever to be secure of the continuance of their pastors.’”
Beddome consequently wrote to the seeking congregation saying: “If my people would have consented to my removal (though I should have had to sacrifice much on account of the great affection I bear them) yet I should have made no scruple of accepting your call. But, as they absolutely refuse it, the will of the Lord be done. I am determined that I will not violently rend myself from them, for I would much rather honour God in a much lower station in which he hath placed me, than intrude myself into a higher without his direction” (History of the English Calvinistic Baptists, 26-27, see also 41, 47-48).
In all honesty, I cannot find that this is, in itself, a Scriptural absolute. As I have searched the Scriptures myself, it seems to me that there is a definite moving and directing of the Holy Spirit as the Head of the church manages his Father’s holy household in all its particulars. There is also a degree of consensus that often develops within and across the parties interested, but there is also a great deal of scope given for wisdom given from above to be exercised by all those involved. In short, I do not think it is ever an easy decision, but I hope that – where the Lord is genuinely at work – there will not only be a growing conviction on the part of the individual man that this is the will of God for him, but that divine direction will be received and acted upon by the churches involved, even though one might (hopefully, should) do so with great sadness and some resignation, and the other will do so with joy and relief and expectation.
So, all that to say, thank you, Conrad, for a stimulating post, but I hope you do not mind a little push back from a little brother. And thank you to my other friend who prompted me to make all this more explicit. Another helpful perspective might be gained by reading through David Murray’s post on “Why I left my congregation,” which includes a pointer to a book which I hope to read before too long: Handle That New Call With Care by David Campbell (DayOne).
Conrad Mbewe tells us the sad story of a pastor who fell into sin and – overwhelmed by shame – took his own life. He draws out a single, primary lesson:
I have only one appeal: Pray for your pastors. The devil is real and there is only one that is stronger than him—not your pastor but God. Satan knows that if he can strike the shepherd, the sheep will scatter. Hence, he targets pastors with his most potent missiles. Many Christians are oblivious to this fact. They tend to simply admire their pastors as if they were super humans. They project their childhood invincible comic heroes (Spider Man, Mr America, etc.) upon their pastors and simply watch them as they fight sin with heroic energy in the community and in the church. They forget that pastors are also fallen creatures.
I will be the first one to confess that there are times when my struggle with my own fallen nature is so vicious that I wish I were still a private unknown Christian plying out my trade as a mining engineer in the Zambian copper mines. I would be less overwhelmed by my failures and would not carry so many people down with me. So, I end this blog post with an impassioned plea that all those who know me (and especially the Christians in my own church) should pray for me to run my race well to the very end. As Paul pleaded with the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:25), I say, “Brethren, pray for us!”
Pastors are not super creatures but fallen creatures, not uber-Christians but frail and dependent saints. I heard of the story told by a man not given to fancy and exaggeration of how he knew of Satan-worshippers pleading with their dark lord for the downfall of pastors, to the destruction of their families and the devastation of their churches. It was for this reason that I wrote in A Portrait of Paul that if
you find faithful men full of the Spirit of Christ, diligent in the discharge of their stewardship from God, then esteem them, love them, help them, encourage them, be open to them, and never stop praying for them. There is a real sense in which the shepherds of Christ’s flock wear an insignia that marks them out as overseers. In the same way that snipers in combat identify officers by their badges and pick them off first to create disorder and confusion in the ranks, so Satan’s snipers will seek to pick off those who wear the insignia of the shepherd, knowing that it is still a functioning principle that if you can strike the shepherd, the sheep will be scattered. Bless God that the Great Shepherd is beyond their reach, but be warned that the undershepherds are exposed still and daily expose themselves by the very nature of the work that they do on the front lines in Christ’s great battle with sin in the flesh, in the world, and from the devil.
The devil passionately hates Christ’s pastors. If he can make them stumble, he knows that more often than not others will stumble with them. Your faithful pastors are marked men. For their sake and for Christ’s, daily stand in the gap for them; pray that their faith may not fail them.
Every tale told of a man, a brother in arms, fallen in this way, ought to bring to the hearts of God’s under-shepherds the cry, “Lord, keep me!” and an answering prayer in the hearts of all those who are led by those men.