Post by James
Thanks very much for praying for Lusaka Ministerial College, which began meeting in the middle of May. We are more than half-way through the first term, which will end in early August. In our first couple of months we were here, we saw a great need for and interest in theological training in what are called “compounds” or townships—what we also call shanty towns, which are unplanned areas that have a high density of population and poverty. Churches seem to start up and close down overnight here, and the main “education” for those doing church planting are the TV preachers or tent revival sort of speakers they may happen to have come across. All of this only serves to confirm the people in ignorance and superstition with a glaze of Christianity cast over it all. Most people in the compounds would profess to be Christians, and a large majority go to “church,” and yet the drunkenness, laziness, superstition and dishonesty in these places remains dominant and entrenched. Whatever gospel is being proclaimed is certainly not “the power of God unto salvation” from the enslavement of sin and ignorance. It is usually, rather, the promise of prosperity and riches and healing (if you have enough faith), mixed with some self-help counseling on topics of interest. The name of Jesus is readily and frequently mentioned, as well as different Bible texts, but all with a distorted meaning and disconnected from a truly Christian worldview. That is the bad news, but the good news is that several of the pastors in these areas feel their need to know God’s Word better, and are teachable and engaged.
I began to speak with pastors in these compound areas about the need and potential for training. Eventually, the idea of starting a college formed. Though there is a theological institution run by the Reformed Baptist churches here and elsewhere in Southern Africa (called Sovereign Grace Theological Seminary (SGTS)), it is mostly a correspondence school, and is out of range in terms of location, curriculum and cost for the pastors in the compound areas. With the blessing and help of the churches here, therefore, we started this work back in mid-May. We began by meeting Wed and Fri mornings, but have since extended the hours until 4pm on those days to make sure we cover the courses thoroughly by the end of the term. The college is set up to have three terms per year with about a month off between each term, which is how schools in Zambia operate. We are planning on teaching 4-5 classes per term. The majority of lecturers are pastors in the area, and I am also scheduled to teach at least one class per term. Right now, we have 19 students, which is very encouraging. The students pay a modest fee for the school, and also for the books which we ask them to read. The fees are a bit of a challenge to meet, but not impossible. They cover about 20% of the school’s costs right now. The reason we require payment for the school and for books is that Africa as a whole has been cursed by a hand-out mentality that dominates the society. Often, missionaries have unwittingly fostered this mentality by simply giving out for free everything to the students. And where there is no personal “investment,” there is often little personal application and impact into life.
The other area we think is critically important is mentorship of the students. This is a bit of a challenge with students who are pastors of churches. However, we are asking instructors to visit at least one of the students’ churches per month, and also that the students visit one of the instructors’ churches once a month. You can see the reasoning behind this articulated well in Pastor Mbewe’s blog from a recent forum he participated in, where he talks about preaching being “caught not taught”: www.conradmbewe.com. In short, the issue is that we are wanting to do more than dump instruction on the students. It is our burden to see that they “get it” and that their churches change and grow as a result. And that cannot be done without relationship on the personal level, pastor to student, and on the corporate level, as a student sees and participates in the normal local church life of a healthy congregation.
About our students: around half of our students have a Pentecostal background of one type or another, and the other half are mostly Baptists, with a couple of other types mixed in. Many of our students started the churches which they currently pastor. These churches are usually under 30 or 40 in attendance, and the pastors have a very low salary. The churches are usually fairly new, having begun in the last three or four years. In light of the theological diversity of the students, we made it clear upfront that we would be teaching from a Reformed perspective and have a confessional basis. We ask that students let us know of any disagreements with the statement of faith which the college believes. However, many of the students don’t have a confession of faith in their churches and are not clear on what they believe themselves. But I also told the students that we aren’t here to change the church sign or denominational affiliation of any of them—just to see them come to understand and apply God’s Word in their lives and churches. The great need here is first and foremost a grasp of the heart and message of Scripture, and the development of a consistent and faithful way of interpreting and preaching it. So, that is our concentration. Thankfully, we have had help in teaching courses from others, including Victor Kanyense and Isaac Makashyini, two Reformed Baptist pastors from the area. They are doing a great job and it is a privilege to be able to work with them in training the men.
Starting a college has proven to be a huge undertaking! It consumes a lot of my time and energy, as I am wearing a lot of “hats” like the college administrator, principle, lecturer for two of the five courses, lunch coordinator (now that we meet in the afternoon), and a lot of other jobs. I am seeking to get some of the students and other lecturers involved as much as possible and am beginning to get some help from them, which is a relief. We now have a small library taken from books I brought over earlier for KBC. Because the books were a combination from two libraries, we had a second copy of several of the books, and these are now acessible for the LMC students. What a blessing, since we didn’t even know that this college would come into existence when we first planned the KBC library project! It is encouraging to see the men checking out Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J.C. Ryle, Sinclair Ferguson, A.W. Pink, and other good authors when the main influence to this point for several men had been Benny Hinn, Kenneth Hagin, Joel Osteen, and others. During the interviews with the students, such teachers were commonly mentioned in answer to the question, “Who has had an impact/influence on you and your ministry?” Those of you familiar with these names will understand how it was sad to hear that and showed how much work there was ahead. In the first couple of weeks, I hit hard the prosperity gospel which teaches that the more faith you have, the more blessings and prosperity will come your way. It is a huge problem in Zambia. The students were receptive and seemed appreciative of these lessons. The Lord has helped us and it is encouraging to see changes in their thinking and interaction slowly developing as they sit under the teaching in the college. We need much prayer for this work!