Getting a glimpse into the churches of New Zealand, Australia, and Zambia was one of the great blessings and privileges of our recent travels. What an incredible joy to share in worship and hospitality with brothers and sisters “on the other side of the world.”
We spent a significant portion of our time meeting, hanging, laughing, thinking, reflecting and hoping with pastors in each of those countries. We had many experiences in common–sheep are sheep wherever you are. We discussed some differences between our contexts–turns out accents can make a world of difference. We compared notes regarding the well-being of local congregations and networks in our countries–there’s the beautiful, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
What sticks with me most from my travel is the realization that the Lord God has an army of Spirit-filled, faithful and gifted men serving His Church all around the world. Many of these men wouldn’t be “known” in some commercial or popular sense. But that doesn’t mean they’re “ordinary.” In fact, we should probably be careful with all of our well-intended talk of “ordinary pastors.” I’m not sure there’s much ordinary about the pastorate and a great many of the men who serve the church are quite extraordinary. We found again and again that “unknown” is not the same thing as “ordinary.”
A Couple of Faithful Pastors in New Zealand
In New Zealand we had the privilege of spending time with Peter Somervell (senior pastor) and Joe Fleener (assistant pastor) of Howick Baptist Church. Along with the older elders of HBC, they provide the shepherding, discipling, and teaching care of the church. These men are anything but “ordinary.” Peter possesses a genuine, joyful, and tender spirit. His heart seems soft toward the Lord and toward the sheep. He has a keen mind which he brings to bear in his preaching. I am jealous of how efficiently and clearly he preaches God’s word. Passionate about cross-cultural missions, he breathes gospel into his preaching in a seamless and organic way.
Joe makes a wonderful partner with him. I didn’t hear Joe preach, but I watched him in the community. His home is always open–and not just his home but also his heart. He’s doing a yeoman’s job at discipling younger Christian men and counseling young couples. He loves and is serious about God’s word, and yet that firm commitment doesn’t spoil into a dour, argumentative, cantankerous spirit. He’s gracious and joyful even as he’s focused and sober. He not only serves the saints of HBC but also serves the wider church through their annual conference, writing for the denominational paper, and increasing teaching and preaching on the mission field and at various conferences.
These men are not ordinary even though they don’t have and likely aren’t interested in a “platform.”
Australia’s Noble Men
Compared to our time in New Zealand, Australia came and went like a swift breeze. We were there about five days during which I had the privilege of speaking with a group of about 40 Baptist pastors on “The Pastor’s Warfare.” Later in the afternoon, Mark Dever, who was there spending time with the Sydney Anglicans, came over to join me in a panel and to give the concluding address to our meeting. Following our one-day conference I also had the privilege of visiting a local church to address their leaders of various ministries on replicating leaders in the church. It was a full and fruitful day, symbolized perfectly by dinner at a pancake restaurant!
In Australia, the Lord’s work goes on steadily by his grace. I can’t mention all the men I had the privilege of meeting and hearing from, but I do want to mention a couple as examples. He’d likely be embarrassed, but I greatly appreciated the few moments I had Michael Prodigalidad at Stanmore Baptist Church. Michael has taken the reigns of a church with an admirable history of trying to reach Sydney for the Lord. He has served through some transition in both the community and the church and his perseverance provides a worthwhile example to every pastor serving through growth and change. He struck me as humble, generous, eager to learn and grow, and very dedicated to the congregation. He’s committed to God’s word and doing God’s work God’s way. He’s maintained that commitment through lean seasons and now into seasons of promise.
I spent dinner and late evening with the pastoral team and ministry leaders of Narwee Baptist Church. After stuffing me full of pancakes, Angelo Gratsounas (senior pastor) and Nathan Dirs (associate pastor) granted me the privilege of speaking on “Mulitplying Leaders through the Local Church.” I’m certain I received more encouragement from Angelo and Nathan than the church received from my ministry that night. Angelo and Nathan were a model of gospel partnership and genuine brotherly affection. They joked each other mercilessly and supported each other unfailingly. Large-hearted pastors are an extraordinary blessing to any congregation–and Angelo is certainly that. And pastors like Nathan who combine overflowing passion with administrative skill and vision help God’s people grow in immeasurable ways.
Space and time will not allow me to mention all the men we met with while in Australia. But gatherings of pastors of like precious faith have a way of filling the heart with strength, courage, and expectation. We hear much about the work of Sydney Anglicans (and rightly so), but there’s strength among the Baptist brethren there as well. It was a joy to glimpse it. It would be a mistake to regard these men as ordinary.
An Army of Faithful Men in Zambia
We left the land “down under” on Qantas Airways (our new favorite carrier), flew over Antarctica and landed in the warm climes of Zambia. The moon was full and so were our hearts. We’d enjoyed three weeks of sweet fellowship with God’s people and were looking forward to two more weeks at the Zambian Reformed Family Conference where Don Carson and I would have the privilege of preaching and where we’d extend friendships with many faithful servants in Zambia.
There again we heard from men that would be somewhat “unknown” in the States or other places but who would be anything but “ordinary” pastors. Chances are you’ve heard of Conrad Mbewe. But consider, for example, Pastor Ronald Kalifungwa who opened the conference with a Puritan-esque exposition of Romans 13:14-18. It was my first time to hear and meet Ronald and I’m grateful to the Lord for the opportunity. I found him to be not only a very effective teacher of God’s word but also a man who excels in graciousness and generosity. He’s been the senior pastor of Lusaka Baptist Church for the last seven years or so. LBC hosted the conference and the more people we spoke with the more we heard mention of LBC. The Lord has used that church in a tremendous way to evangelize, disciple, and send a generation of men and women into the plenteous fields of harvesting. The Lord has used Lusaka Baptist and Kabwata Baptist to plant some forty churches over the last twenty years! That’s meant the training of at least as many preaching pastors, teams of elders, and core members to carry the work across Zambia’s major cities and towns. My faith was built as I met pastor after pastor who left promising careers in engineering, medicine and other fields to give their lives to the work of the ministry, supported by faithful local congregations pooling their resources to honor such men. Pastors like Isaac M., Alfred, Singogo, Richard N. and many others inspire by their daily faithfulness and use of their extraordinary gifts. By any measure, the Lord’s work with Pastor Kalifungwa and Pastor Conrad Mbewe is outstanding.
Then there are pastors like Charles Simoonga. I’ve mentioned Charles on the blog before. He’s a pastor our church supports in rural Zambia, near Chirundu. He left a church in the city to pastor and evangelize in the villages of Zambia. If you want to see a picture of what it looks like to minister to the whole person, consider Charles’ ministry of not only church planting and evangelizing but also of farming, running orphanages and building schools. You can find out more at the Mufutuli Ministries website.
Sometimes we’re to eager to predict the doom and destruction of the church. Certainly there are problems afoot–have been since the apostles. But the Lord is faithful to His Church and He gives gifted men to lead and bless her. As I reflect on my recent travels, I’m greatly encouraged that the Lord’s Church is in the hands of some very faithful and extraordinary shepherds. We may not know them all, but that doesn’t mean they’re ordinary in some non-descript, run-of-the-mill sense. Praise the Lord!