Friday, May 20, 2005

Advice from Africa -- Start with Prayer

Rick-Ufford Chase, the Moderator of the PCUSA (for those of you unaware, the Moderator is the highest elected office in the denomination, and holds office for 2 years -- among other things, the moderator travels the world representing the denomination to the global church), has been blogging from his trip to the Congo -- on a recent post, he relates some wonderful advice from leaders in the African church:

After dinner, our conversation broadened to include the rest of the group, and Jean Marie asked her favorite question. Though their church obviously faces many challenges in a country that is both unimaginably poor and caught in seemingly never-ending cycles of war and conflict, their numbers continue to grow. What advice can they offer their sisters and brothers in the Presbyterian Church (USA) about evangelization and church growth?

In response, Pastor Chibemba offered these suggestions:

He said that we must start and end with prayer and that everything we do must be reinforced with prayer. “When we confront great challenges in my church,” he said, “we begin by forming groups to be in prayer about that matter, and we pray continuously for God’s intervention.”

Second, Chibemba suggested that we must share with people in their hardships. We must be with people who are in need and let them know that the God loves them, Jesus Christ died for them, and the Church cares about them. This is the work of accompaniment with God’s people who are most desperate and most in need.

“Next,” Chibemba said, “we must commit to real evangelization – the kind that trusts our lay people in the church to invite others to know Christ. We must give them more responsibility, not less responsibility.” Later, in another conversation, he elaborated on this theme by suggesting that if a pastor doesn’t train the lay people to share their faith with confidence, the church can only grow by the number of people the pastor can get to know personally. However, if the pastor commits to trusting the lay people, the work grows exponentially and the possibilities for church growth are limitless.

Rick lists other items that struck him, but to me, these are the three most important:

Deep, dependent prayer.
Commitment to demonstrating God's love
Commitment to everyone as an evangelist.

This struck me because these were the main themes in the Parkside Pastor's conference this year. If we are to see church growth, transformation, revival (pick your term) we need to BEGIN with deep heartfelt prayer. We are dependent upon a move of God's Holy Spirit. How often do we settle for the obligatory 15 second prayer at the start of a 2 hour meeting -- how much more ought we to yearn for deep heartfelt crying out to God!

Demonstrating God's love by identifying with and assisting the poor. We learned at the conference about George Whitefield and Charles Haddon Spurgeon. A major part of George Whitefield's itenerant ministry was in raising funds for an orphanage in Georgia. Spurgeon, while a great evangelist, was also intimately involved in the social issues that confronted Victorian London.

And lay evangelism -- well, that was the subject of part of my post from the first day of the conference!

We have much to learn from our faithful bretheren in Africa!

Soli Deo Gloria