GCI pastor and district pastoral leader Rick Shallenberger recently traveled to Africa on behalf of GCI President Joseph Tkach. For a report on his time in Zambia, click here. Following is Rick’s report on a Q&A meeting he held with pastors and other leaders in Malawi. Next week, he will share more about Malawi, introducing the pastors and giving information on the congregations.
On Saturday, January 14, I had the opportunity to speak at our congregation in Numenjale. On the way to the service I was informed that Malawi TV, one of two Malawi television stations, would be taping the service to be played later (it was played on January 21). This was one of those Holy Spirit moments, because when I realized I was preaching to all of Malawi, I shared the story of the Prodigal Son-Dancing Father and told the audience that all in Malawi are included in God’s love and plan. I’ve since been informed the response to the message was so favorable, they’ve played it two weeks in a row.
Following the service, I held a Question and Answer meeting with a group of our pastors and other leaders from that area. For four hours that day and two the next, we met at a lodge owned by Franklin Likupe, Chairman of the Board for the Malawi churches, and Chairman of Ambassador School. Here is a summary of what we discussed:
- Day of worship. I noticed that the congregation holds its worship services on Saturday. I asked if there was a particular reason. The first thing a few said was, “Well since the day doesn’t matter, we decided to not change it.” So I posed the question, “Not matter to whom?” After a few minutes of discussion, they came to agree the day does matter. All had stories about people wanting to come to church, but then not coming because services were on Saturday, a business day. After a while, I said it seems that their own culture tells them the day does matter. Then I talked a bit about the error in thinking that because it doesn’t matter to us, it doesn’t matter to others, along with the error we used to make, saying that it’s no concern of our to make it convenient for others. I suggested we focus on making it as convenient as we can for others to participate in worship by coming to church. They were looking forward to continuing this discussion among themselves.
- Name of the denomination. They asked what I thought of our name, Grace Communion International. I told them I could not think of a better name to describe who we are as a denomination. We talked about each of the three words in our name and their meanings and then the power of the name when all three words are put together. The more we talked the more excited they became about the name and its significance.
- Grace. One of the pastors asked me to help him understand grace better. So I pulled out two 50 kwacha bills (local currency). I then asked another pastor to name the four Gospels and told him if he did, I’d give him the money. He did and I gave it to him. Then I walked over to another pastor and handed him 50 kwacha. I told him it was simply because I loved him. He got very excited (not about the money) because he suddenly got what grace was all about. Then we talked about grace being undeserved. That led to a discussion among the men on how to handle various situations in their congregations.
- Grace based ministry. We had an animated discussion concerning how we can use a grace based approach in our ministry to people. One pastor was insisting that our chief responsibility is to point out to people their sins so that they repent and turn to Jesus. It was fascinating to see the group gather around this pastor, to help him come to understand a more grace based approach. It was beautiful to see this pastor (who sincerely wanted to understand) grow right before our eyes.
- The Lord’s Supper. On Sunday, I was asked to lead the group in communion, which I did. I commented that communion can be sober, however, it can also be joy filled. Communion is about us being one with the Father, Son and Spirit and about remembering that we are one together because of Jesus. I then led communion in a spirit of rejoicing and we ended with a shout of “Hallelujah.” There were many positive comments about seeing communion in a different light.
- Preaching. Because my sermon on Saturday included stories, I was asked how I come up with them. I told them I take stories from the Bible and my life experience – always to illustrate a key point in the sermon – relating it to real life. We discussed how Jesus taught using stories. I noted that the Bible is full of stories that we can use – in fact the Bible is God’s story, a story that, through Jesus, now includes us! And so we can use our life experiences to tell the story.
- Divorce and remarriage. It is common in their culture for a man to leave his wife to marry another, then not support the first wife and her children. Should this practice be allowed in the church? I shared that our responsibility is to teach about God’s love and forgiveness, not to condemn people in judgment. However, part of teaching about love is helping men understand that not supporting their wives and children is not showing love. This led to a discussion about men marrying girls as young as 14, and other related topics.
- Reaching the unchurched. A follow-up to the question about grace concerned how to reach unchurched people. We spent a lot of time talking about how we view the unchurched. We need to consider this before we talk about how to reach them. That discussion linked back to the sermon I gave about seeing people as God sees them and loving them because they are God’s beloved. This led to an animated conversation about being included and sharing the good news with others.
We discussed other topics including blessings and cursings. I ended by encouraging them to meet more regularly to let “iron sharpen iron” within their group of pastors. It was a profitable six hours – I felt like I was living in the time of the early church when Jesus told the disciples not to worry about what they were going to say, for the Holy Spirit would lead them. I had no way to prepare for this meeting, nevertheless, I felt that God used it to encourage, enlighten, comfort and uplift a group of dedicated servants of God.