Grace and peace be multiplied to you.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).
2018 has been an amazing testimony to the deeply personal and caring way our God shepherds his people, especially our small church.
Allow me to highlight a few stories that personally stood out for me as an undershepherd as I witnessed the Chief Shepherd’s hand moving over his local church in Bellville South over this past year.
A Small Church
Let me first sketch you a picture of what our small church looks likes.
We are currently 15 members. We have excommunicated one person and have two people whom we are discipling towards membership. Our Sunday services have an average of 30–40 people attending. Sometimes that number goes up to 60 people attending our Sunday services. Our kids’ Sunday school are about 25 kids and our Friday youth group are between 15 and 20 teens.
A week in the life of our church would look as follows: Mondays or Tuesdays, members will be discipling members (working through a discipleship manual or a 9Marks book that I asked them to work through); Wednesdays we have testimonies and prayer meeting from 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM (first hour is for sharing and second for prayer); every second Thursday is for married couples and single parents (Paul Tripp) and outreach; Fridays are youth ministry; Sunday evening we have Bible study.
Two days in the week takes priority over all others: Sundays and Wednesdays. I praise God that I can say, with a clear conscience, that 13 out of 15 members are always in attendance except when special circumstances prohibits them. They are passionate about Jesus, his gospel and his word!
A Hungry Church
I praise God that our church is known in our community as a church that takes the Bible very seriously. For those Pentecostal pastors that regularly attend our pastors’ seminars, this has been a blessing. For others, we seem to be a threat (they warn people against our “higher-grade Christianity”). Many of the pastors in our community are shocked at the level of biblical knowledge our members have when they interact with them and are always amazed at their “unusual” hunger and passion for God’s word. God has not just blessed our church with elders that are passionate about the Scriptures, but also with members who love the word.
I have enjoyed many discussions with members who would ask about passages of Scripture that they want clarity on and things they wrote down while I was preaching. I have loved seeing the “spirit” of the Bereans amongst our people as they give feedback on a sermon I preached weeks ago, “searching the Scriptures to find out whether these things are so” (Acts 17). What pastor does not love having theological discussions with members who ask questions about the nature of the new birth; the Trinity; eschatology; Christian liberty; the Old Testament and Christ; the biblical view of marriage; practical holiness, etc.
What a joy to hear of church members visiting each other’s homes just for fellowship around the word—and to see the disappointment in their eyes when for some reason we have to cancel a Sunday evening Bible study. I felt like a proud father when one of our members explained how he shared the gospel with his neighbour. He started with the truth about God, man, Christ and the right response required. What impressed me was the wealth of Scripture references he used as he walked through each step of his gospel presentation to his neighbour.
As a pastor, I have not had to motivate our people to come to Bible study. Throughout this year, their faithfulness and hunger for God’s word have been such an encouragement to me. I have been blessed to overhear some members telling each other how they can best apply some of the truths of Scripture that they’ve learned.
A Praying Church
It is normal for our church to have God answer our prayers. This may seem like an obvious thing. Of course God answers prayer! However, I have heard of many churches of whom this in not their experience. It’s as if people pray without any expectation that God will answer them. I am not suggesting that God always gives us what we ask for, but most of the time he does.
Our members are passionate about prayer. Our prayer meetings will at times almost go up to 10:00 PM, not because we start late, but because the saints are weeping before the Lord as they pray for the community, each other, and saints everywhere. There are times when I just sit and look at our members calling on the Lord on behalf of others. I am humbled by their faith and the sincerity of their prayers and how their prayers are knitted together with God’s word. I could probably write a book on how God has answered many prayers that seemed to be impossible requests.
What a blessing to have members ask me to spend a half night of prayer with them. I have enjoyed the sweetest time praying with members who put a Friday aside to seek God, praying from Friday evening to the early hours of Saturday morning—praying through the Scriptures and just beholding the glory of our great Saviour. These prayer meetings are initiated by members and are totally centred around a deep dependency on Christ. I sometimes wonder whether this is also a norm in other Reformed congregations.
Prayer plays a vital role in everything we do as a church. Even our Sunday service program is woven together with a thread of prayer from start to finish. Here’s what our Sunday service program looks like:
- Call to worship (quieting ourselves before the Lord, reminding ourselves that God has called this assembly together);
- Welcome & opening prayer;
- Scripture Reading & Prayer (praying in line with the text);
- Three hymns;
- Pastoral prayer;
- Offering and prayer;
- Missions Prayer (after a short intro to a specific country we pray for highlighted prayer points);
- Prayer and reflection.
All of this happens in two hours and includes a 45min sermon. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Jesus Christ).
A Testifying Church
By God’s grace, our church has a number of wonderful testimonies to share of God’s grace through the gospel.
A Testimony of Unwavering Trust
Let me share with you the testimony of a faithful wife’s unwavering trust and dependency on God for the salvation of her adulterous husband.
At the beginning of last year, my wife and I started to counsel a married couple in our church. The wife suspected that her husband was having inappropriate relationships with other women, especially with an ex-girlfriend. He denied it and said that he was just being friendly and helpful to people that he was friends with before he met his wife. They agreed to put certain boundaries in place as discussed and to meet with us on a weekly basis.
Three months into counselling, we received a call from his wife to say that he left her for his ex-girlfriend. He also told us that he discovered that he was never saved. This man went back into a life of drugs after being free from it for four years. He fell sick and got kicked out by his girlfriend and went back to his wife. She nursed him back to health and he cheated on her again—this time with three other women after going back to his ex-girlfriend.
This woman’s heart has been broken several times by a man who married her as a virgin. They have one child together. Once again he is not well, and once again he is back home. This dear sister of ours has decided that she would best serve God by being a godly wife to her adulterous husband and to keep on trusting God for his salvation and the restoration of her marriage. Many times she wanted to give up, but then she reminded herself of Romans 8:28. Her husband needs Christ as much as those to whom she shares the gospel with outside.
This lady is such an encouragement to our church! She always has a word of encouragement for the saints and is always rejoicing in the Lord. She knows that God will get greater glory if her husband is saved and their marriage restored, rather than going through a divorce that, for many, would seem reasonable.
A Testimony of Deep Satisfaction
It is uncommon for a woman who grew up in our community to finish school and complete studies in computer skills and administration—especially if she used to be a drug addict involved with one of the most notorious gang leaders (Theo) in our community. This is our sister Candice—always joyful, always laughing, and always able to lift up the spirit of the downcast soul.
For almost two years, the church prayed that the Lord would provide Candice with a job that would fit her skill set. The Lord provided her with a two-year contract as an admin clerk. After the contract ended, the church started praying for a permanent job for our sister and within months she got called for an interview and after a few weeks she got notification that she got the job.
It was during our prayer meeting that she broke the news to the church. She was overjoyed and filled with gratitude that the Lord would answer in such a short while. She could not stop praising the Lord for his faithfulness and her unworthiness for such favour from God’s hands. It was truly a time of rejoicing for us all. All of us thought that she got a permanent job as an admin clerk—until she told us that she will be collecting waste, running behind a truck. We were so surprised that she would be excited about this kind of job. I asked her why she would be so excited about collecting waste when she has been sitting behind a desk in an office for two years. Her answer impacted all of us. She responded by saying that the Lord has answered her prayer. The Lord gave her this job. She was excited and grateful that the Lord has provided for her and that the Lord is sovereign in his choice for her. Her satisfaction is in him; therefore, she is grateful for whatever he provides. She then continued to talk about how fit this job will make her and how she knows that the Lord is sending her to people that must hear the gospel. That was in September and she is still shining for Jesus and sharing the gospel with her colleagues.
A Testimony of Gospel Reconciliation
Ricky used to be the leader of the 28 Numbers Gang—a gang known for violent crimes and drugs (like most of the gangs in our area). Ricky’s gang used to be rivals to Theo’s gang, who belong to the 26 Number Gang. Both Ricky and Theo used to be leaders of their respective gangs and they hated each other. In the past, they sought to take each other out and both sides have lost friends in gang violence. By God’s grace, the Lord saved Theo. Early last year, Theo reached out to Ricky and invited him to our men’s fellowship. Ricky by that time had left the gangs, fearing that harm might come to his teenaged daughter. His son is already in prison, following after his father’s footsteps. He has done what many gang members do: They make a profession of faith to get out of the gangs. It seems to be the only way you can leave a gang without getting killed.
He then joined a Christianised cult, but soon got convicted that he really does not know the Lord when he started visiting our church. In May this year, he visited our Sunday evening Bible study. We were working through the 9Marks book, What is a Healthy Church?We were discussing membership and the need for members to confess sins to one another and to carry each other’s burdens when Ricky suddenly started weeping over his sin, confessing them before all, and voicing his need for Jesus. He told the church that he has seen over the past months, as he visited the church, that the people here really love each other and that they are really serious with the Lord and that he wanted to be part of that. Donnie (also an ex-gangster and drug addict) put his arm around him like a father would his own son. The church prayed and after this we have seen brother Ricky grow in the Lord with an insatiable hunger for God’s word and prayer.
It was just natural for Theo to start discipling Ricky. He is working through the Discipleship Manual that Brackenhurst Baptist donated to our church. Donnie is also meeting with him on a weekly basis. Ricky is faithfully attending every meeting of the church and is growing in the grace of our Lord. Two men who used to be enemies are now brothers in Christ. Ricky told me that he used to “battle” Theo, but now God made them brothers who love each other. That’s the power of God in the gospel!
A Testimony of a Beloved Disciple
If you have ever spent some time with our church, you probably have met Donnie. We call him the beloved disciple. This man is known for being the most gentle and overwhelmingly loving person in our church. He just has a deep love and compassion for people that cannot be ignored. He loves Jesus and he loves the gospel. Walking with Donnie down the road is an evangelistic event in itself. He always finds opportunity to share the gospel with those he meets.
Donnie is married to Shihaam. Both of them were considered the scum of Bellville South. They were both drug addicts and have eight kids they didn’t care for. They lost all their kids to social services because of their drug habits. Donnie used to rob pensioners when they got their social government grants. He had no problem beating up an old lady for her money.
Praise God that his grace reaches even those who are the scum of the earth! That’s what we all were anyway.
The Lord saved Donnie and, last year on Good Friday, his wife came with him to church. After the service she came to me and told me that she asked the Lord to save her while I was praying. My wife and some of the ladies in our church immediately started to disciple her. She rejected Islam and has already started to tell her Muslim friends what Jesus has done for her. The Lord has delivered Donnie and his wife from drugs and have restored their kids back to them. They are testimony and a light in our community to wonder and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A Weak, Dependent Church
Our church is in a poor area where few people finish school. Gangs, drugs, domestic violence, prostitution are as normal as catching a cold in winter. HIV, TB, and mental disorders are typical in such an environment. Many are unemployed and just fall into the cycle of drug abuse or gangsterism as their parents did before them. We are thankful that the Lord has saved some and added them to a biblically sound church made up of a bunch of losers who have nothing to boast in but the cross!
We are a small church of which there are “not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble.” Our dependency cannot be on man. We have no strength of our own to look to, neither will we lean on the arm of flesh. We are many times looked upon as too aggressive in our preaching and too zealous in our gospel drive. At times our boldness is seen as foolishness and risking our lives for the gospel as lacking wisdom.
This might all be true. We are weak in many ways and we lack much wisdom, but “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence” (1 Corinthians 1:26–29).
I do not care much about our weaknesses as a church. What I do care about is that we remain dependent on the Lord through it all. It is for his glory that RFMCC exists and it is in our utter wilful dependence upon him that he is most glorified!
May the Lord help us in 2019 to have a simple trust in him and to say, like David, “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 131).
A Needy Church
We are grateful to the Lord for those who gave toward the opportunity we have to buy an existing church building. We still need R2 million before the 24 January 2019, unless the Lord allows for this date to be extended.
I trust that the Lord will work in your heart to give sacrificially to this opportunity.
May the Lord accomplish his will for us. We look to him!