Friday, July 15, 2005

Evangelism and Church Growth in the Congo

Friends,

After dinner, our conversation broadened to include the rest of the group, and Jean Marie (Vice-Moderator of the General Assembly) 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.

Chibemba stressed another important point that I think our pastors could learn a great deal from. He said that when someone leaves his church, he goes to meet with that person. He asks why they are leaving, and if they are angry, he tries to reconcile with them. He insisted that no one leaves his church without his following up to find out what has happened to cause them to do so.

“Another thing to remember is that one of our greatest strengths can also be one of our great weaknesses,” Chibemba added. “We are a church of tradition, and that can help us to survive over long periods of time. However, it is also a great danger. The danger is that many will block innovation, especially in worship, and our liturgy will become routine and boring.” Chibemba said he is constantly challenged, especially by the young people in his church, to keep worship alive and vibrant and interesting. He said that in his experience, renewing our worship will threaten many people, and they will oppose our efforts. “We must have the strength to overcome their opposition,” he said. “We will have to be strong in prayer, extremely wise, and strong-hearted if we are to keep our worship full of God’s spirit.”

Finally, Chibemba suggested that we should travel and experience other churches in order to find our own renewal. He said that their children were being brought up to be good church members, but they were leaving for more exciting churches and those other churches were reaping the harvest that their church had sown. “We had to try to understand what the kids needed, and then we had to be willing to change,” he said.

Wisdom from under the Mango Tree! Please continue to hold our delegation and the people of the Presbyterian Churches of the Congo in your prayers.

Rick

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