Five Lessons after 30 Years of Pastoring in Zambia
Goats eating grass on hillsides are a familiar sight here in Africa. The goats concentrate on one blade of grass at a time and are never conscious of how far they wander when the sun sets. That has been my experience as pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church. I have never been conscious of the years ahead of me or behind me. I simply concentrated on the work at hand. So, when I looked up at the end of August this year and saw crowds of people cheering me on for the 30-years marathon, it was then that it dawned on me that I had travelled so far.
FIVE REFLECTIONS AFTER 30 YEARS
It is a good time to reflect on my 30 years of ministry here at Kabwata Baptist Church. Like all areas of life, this has been a journey of ups and downs. Looking back, I see periods when tears were my daily experience, and other periods when I could not find words to express my thrill and ecstasy. What stands out as I reflect on these 30 years are primarily the positives, for which I thank God.
1. Seeing gradual quantitative growth.
To begin, I’m grateful for our church’s steady quantitative growth. When I came to Kabwata Baptist Church, the church had been constituted a year and a half earlier with a membership of about 35 individuals. The only properties the church had were a few hymnbooks and a church stamp. Of those 35 members, only two have remained over the last 30 years. Although we have had Christians from other towns and churches coming to join us over the years, as I survey the individuals sitting in the pews, I am grateful that many of them are a fruit of our consistent gospel endeavors.
Our current membership is over 400, and we have had the privilege of planting about 30 churches, six of them in our city. We have put up a church building and more recently begun to break down walls to accommodate the growing congregation. Since our worship lacks modern “bells and whistles,” I can only attribute this growth to the grace of God accompanying the preaching of his word (as Paul did in 1 Cor. 2:1–5). I praise God because there are many men I know whose bootstraps I am unworthy to untie who have not known such quantitative growth.
2. Seeing the fruit of early reforms.
I am grateful to God that I have had the chance to see the fruit of the reforms I felt compelled to institute in the early years. When I came to Kabwata Baptist Church, it was a conservative, broadly evangelical church. Reformed truths were held by some of the leaders, but the church itself had not been brought to espouse this position.
With the new Charismatic winds that had begun to blow across Zambia, I felt I needed to move the church to a clear Reformed position or we would fail to withstand the winds as they build into a destructive whirlwind. With a theologically mixed leadership, moving the church to a unified position was not easy. But after five years of growing tension, sweat, and blood, the breakthrough came and Kabwata Baptist Church was able to take its position in the historic Reformed Baptist tradition.
Since then, the African import of the Charismatic whirlwind has swept through the land wreaking havoc, but it has left us largely unscathed because we were not doctrinal infants, like those whom Paul refers to in Ephesians 4:14. We have instead become part of a strong epicenter of Reformation in Africa south of the Sahara. Not every pastor has had this privilege. Many try to bring reform in the early years of their pastorate, but in the process get ejected from the church. That is how it was with Jonathan Edwards, despite the fact that he was arguably America’s greatest theologian.
3. Seeing babies become young adults.
I have had the opportunity to see the babies that were born in the early years of my ministry in due season come to Christ, become church members, finish college, start work, and even get married. The last wedding I performed a few weeks ago fit this category. The bridegroom’s father was converted in the early years of my ministry, just a few years before the bridegroom’s birth. That man is now my fellow elder.
I feel like Paul in 2 Timothy 1:5 speaking about the faith of his grandmother Lois, mother Eunice, and son Timothy! If anything ever validates the power of the gospel, it is when one sees this kind of steady, generational fruit. The staying power of the gospel is thrilling.
4. Seeing biblical parenting authenticated.
For 30 years now, my marriage and family life has been the subject of the scrutiny and prayers of a single congregation. I married Felistas four months into my pastorate, and we had our first child nine months later. In the years since, I have taught the congregation what it means to raise a family in a godly way.
Initially, all this was raw theory, especially because very few individuals in our church were raised in Christian homes. Now, by the grace of God, our children are working young adults who love and serve the Lord. By God’s grace, our family’s legacy of faithfulness has gone a long way to authenticate what I have taught in the pulpit. Members have seen biblical domestic management bearing the fruit of Titus 1:6 with their own eyes.
5. Seeing a church that grows with me.
I have been asked on a few occasions how I have lasted for 30 years in the same pastorate. I am sure there are many answers to that question. However, upon reflection, one of the main reasons is that Kabwata Baptist Church has grown with me.
This growth has not always been easy. It has experienced sufficient challenges as I matured as a pastor. However, this growth has also experienced sufficient support within the church. As my ministry has grown, the church has graciously provided the time and resources—both human and financial—to undergird this growth.
As a result, I have never felt as Paul did in Romans 15:23 that his work was over in a particular region. I have neither felt underutilized nor overburdened. I am neither bored nor burnt-out. I am only grateful.
Am I up for another 30 years in the same church? I do not know. Like the goat on the African hills, I will go on eating one blade of grass at a time until the Great Shepherd takes me to another field or until the sun sets in God’s own time.