The following excerpt is from an interview conducted by Tabletalk (TT) magazine with Conrad Mbewe (CM), pastor at Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka. Questions like “What are two important lessons that Western Christians can learn from the African church?” are addressed.
Regarding the interview, Conrad Mbewe noted on Facebook: “The link here is to a brief interview about my life and current convictions, which has come just come out in a magazine called Tabletalk in the USA. I think it is worth reading not because it says something about my brief earthly journey but because I share some of my convictions about (1) the effect of the health and wealth movement in Africa, (2) the challenges of being a pastor in Africa today, (3) the misconceptions Western Christians have about Africa, (4) some lessons Western Christians can learn from the African church, etc. Enjoy the reading.”
TT: What are two of the biggest misconceptions that Western Christians have about the church in Africa?
CM: Most Western Christians learn about Africa through the news items splashed on their television screens. The staple diet there comprises civil wars, poverty, corruption, AIDS, and so on. The second source is often those who come to Africa on mission trips. This also leads to lopsided news that tries to show how needy Africa is and, therefore, how the ministry of those missionaries is so vital. This news is not false, but because it emphasizes one side of the African story, it causes a lot of misconceptions on the part of those who are back home and have never come here.
This has resulted in Western Christians viewing the church in Africa as being both ignorant and poor across the board. Therefore, the general thinking is that the African church is still in the phase where paternalism is justifiable rather than true partnership. While it is true that there is more poverty here than, say, in the USA, there are some churches that have running water and electricity, and whose pastors drive good cars. We also have church leaders who are knowledgeable and very godly, whose labors are impacting not only the church but also their society.
TT: What are two important lessons that Western Christians can learn from the African church?
CM: Western civilization has lost a lot of its interpersonal virtues. It has become overly individualized—if you see what I mean. Issues like hospitality, respect for authority and the elderly, being more people-conscious than time-conscious, and so on are largely lost. This has affected not only the society generally but Christians as well.
Western Christians have filled their lives with too many things (toys?) that have robbed them of eternal perspectives. Electronic gadgets, holidays, sports, recreation, and so on have almost become idols. Even church must be about having fun. The church has little time in the lives of its members to prepare them for eternity. There is a greater consciousness of eternity here in Africa. Perhaps it is because we have fewer toys to dull our spiritual senses and death is all around us.
A greater exposure of Western Christians to their African counterparts may help them regain some of these lost virtues, strengths, and perspectives.
TT: What are the best ways that the Western church can serve the church in Africa?
CM: I know that what I am about to say will sound like a broken record because you have probably heard this said over and over again. I think that the best way for the Western church to serve their brothers in Africa is by allowing true partnership to take the place of patronizing paternalism. That is a loaded statement. We are all sinners saved by grace and need to give God all that we have so that together we can fulfill God’s evangelistic and cultural mandate. I really think that it must begin with the Western church learning to listen humbly to their African counterparts, who are also filled with the Spirit. Up to now, the listening has been largely one way. Thankfully, there are blessed exceptions to this rule.
Read the interview in its entirety here.