The seventeenth annual Sola 5 conference was hosted by Eastside Baptist Church in Windhoek from 6–8 September 2023. The theme of the conference was “Challenges to Gospel Advance in Southern Africa.”

Wednesday, 6 September 2023: Plenary Session 1

Delegates trickled into Windhoek throughout the day on 6 September, and the conference officially kicked off with good fellowship around a hearty meal.

Following the meal, Joachim Rieck, pastor-teacher of Eastside, welcomed delegates to Windhoek before delegates joined together in singing in awe of God’s amazing grace.

Tim Cantrell, pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Johannesburg, and Niel Kruger, a graduate of Shepherds’ Seminary Africa, shared a little about the seminary and some of the church plants that Antioch has been privileged to be a part of over the years.

Joachim then invited Francois Koch, pastor of Swakopmund Baptist Church, to deliver the first plenary talk of the conference. Turning to Matthew 5:2–10, Francois spoke about the challenge of the prosperity gospel to gospel advance in Southern Africa.

Francois highlighted the danger of various forms of the prosperity gospel and then used Jesus’ words in the beatitudes to formulate a response to this challenge. He highlighted that humanity’s real problem is not poverty, but sin, and that Jesus is the only solution to humanity’s sin problem. God’s people are truly blessed if they share the characteristics of kingdom subjects, which are listed in Matthew 5:2–10.

God’s faithful people respond to the challenge of the prosperity gospel—and every other false teaching—by preaching Jesus Christ crucified, buried, resurrected, and returning as the one and only true and living God, who became a human being to save his people from their sin.

Thursday, 7 September 2023: Plenary Session 2

On Thursday morning, 7 September, Thomas Endjala, a pastoral intern at Eastside Baptist Church, welcomed delegates back to the conference. After a Scipture reading and prayer, delegates joined together in singing “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.” Thomas then invited Joachim back to the front to introduce delegates to three church plants in which Eastside Baptist Church is involved.

Norman van Zyl, a former elder at Eastside, was involved in an Afrikaans church plant in Windhoek called Soetdoring Gemeente (literally translated, Sweet Thorn Fellowship). Norman spoke about the challenges of reaching out to the Afrikaans-speaking community in Namibia. The church plant had been meeting since 2021.

Uaundja Karamata was Eastside’s church planter at Antioch Fellowship in Otjiwarongo, a city some 230km north of Windhoek. Uaundja was encouraged with the consistency of people attending the church and the willingness of members to serve. The church was looking forward to baptising four new believers toward the end of September. Uaundja was working with several men in the church, whom he was training as potential leaders, and pleaded for prayer for this initiative.

Kornelius Kaweendwa was working to plant Katatura Reformed Baptist Church, alongside Immanuel Nghidengwa. The plant was very new and comprised about 30–40 and was serving many informal settlements in the Katatura area.

Mpumelelo Kunene, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Melville, South Africa, delivered the second plenary talk, addressing the challenge of feminism to gospel advance in Southern Africa. Mpumelelo began by reading from Titus 1:10–2:8 and spoke on how to guard the pulpit from the encroachment of feminism into the local church.

He challenged delegates both about embracing a worldly philosophy of gender roles in which it is argued that there should be no distinction whatsoever between what men and women do in the church. He equally exhorted those who are persuaded of biblical complementarianism not to speak of gender roles in a way that the writers of Scripture do not recognise by belittling and quashing the necessary and fruitful role that women are required by God to play in the life and ministry of the local church. There is, he argued, a danger of the church depriving itself of the gifts of the Spirit as seen in the pages of the New Testament because it is unjustifiably worried about falling into the trap of feminism.

Thursday, 7 September 2023: Annual Business Meeting

After a short break, delegates were invited back into the church hall for the association’s annual business meeting. Stuart Chase, the association’s administrator and a member of the steering committee, noted the meeting would be formally constituted if seventeen of the existing churches were represented.

There were, he noted, 56 member churches of Sola 5. Twenty-five of those churches were represented at the meeting:

  1. Central Baptist Church (Gaborone, Botswana)
  2. Manzini Fellowship Church (Manzini, Eswatini)
  3. Eastside Baptist Church (Windhoek, Namibia)
  4. Swakopmund Baptist Church (Swakopmund, Namibia)
  5. Antioch Bible Church (Honeydew, South Africa)
  6. Antipas Pretoria (Queenswood, South Africa)
  7. Birchleigh Baptist Church (Kempton Park, South Africa)
  8. Brackenhurst Baptist Church (Alberton, South Africa)
  9. Central Baptist Church (Rustenburg, South Africa)
  10. Glorious Gospel Christian Fellowship (Jan Niemand Park, South Africa)
  11. Grace Baptist Church (Daveyton, South Africa)
  12. Heritage Baptist Church (Melville, South Africa)
  13. Hillcrest Baptist Church (Hillcrest, South Africa)
  14. Houtkruis Bybelkerk (Centurion, South Africa)
  15. Living Hope Bible Church (Pietermaritzburg, South Africa)
  16. Living Hope Church (Hatfield, South Africa)
  17. Lynnwood Baptist Church (Lynnwood Ridge, South Africa)
  18. Midrand Chapel Baptist Church (Midrand, South Africa)
  19. Nelspruit Bible Church (Nelspruit, South Africa)
  20. Sovereign Grace Baptist Church (Centurion, South Africa)
  21. Sydenham Baptist Church (Gqeberha, South Africa)
  22. Kabwata Baptist Church (Lusaka, Zambia)
  23. Kitwe Church (Kitwe, Zambia)
  24. Lusaka Baptist Church (Lusaka, Zambia)
  25. Mount Makulu Baptist Church (Chilanga, Zambia)

It was noted that the meeting was formally constituted, with the minimum number of representative churches noted in attendance. For voting matters, each church would have one vote. The only voting matter to be brought before the association at the meeting was the application of new churches. Because of uncertainty as to the number of churches who would be present, it had been decided not to nominate new steering committee members at the business meeting. The committee was open to receiving nominations to be put to a digital vote at a later stage.

Four of the existing churches had not submitted renewal in time for the conference:

  1. Christ Baptist Church (Mokopane, South Africa)
  2. Crystal Park Baptist Church (Benoni, South Africa)
  3. Grace Baptist Church (Khayelitsha, South Africa)
  4. Robertson Reformed Community Church (Robertson, South Africa)

In the absence of membership renewal, these churches’ memberships had automatically lapsed, leaving the association with 52 member churches. Two new churches—Living Stone Bible Church (Bryanston, South Africa) and Mooi River Baptist Church (Mooi River, South Africa)—had applied for membership, while one former member church—Midrand Christen Gemeente (Midrand, South Africa)—had applied for membership renewal.

The pastors of Living Stone Bible Church (Jonathan Klimek) and Mooi River Baptist Church (Andrew Pennels) were present and briefly introduced their churches. No member of Midrand Christen Gemeente was present. Voting forms were distributed and, after the vote had been counted, Stuart noted that all three churches had received the required number of votes to affirm membership in Sola 5.

The voting matters having been completed, Stuart invited Chris Mnguni, chair of the steering committee, forward to deliver the annual chair address.

Chris began his address by asking whether there was yet value in maintaining formal associational and fraternal relationships between churches. He answered with a resounding yes. Chris argued that the body principle in 1 Corinthians 12 is as significant for inter-church relationships as it is for member relationships within a local church. Churches are most effective in the Great Commission when they partner together in gospel work.

As a part of working together, Chris appealed for churches to think wisely about how to handle differences with each other. Differences were inevitable but did not necessary negate the possibility of working together for the gospel. Churches that experienced differences should engage with one another freely in seeking to resolve those differences.

Chris further exhorted churches to consider what they can give to the association, not only how they can benefit from it.

Chris also appealed to churches to take advantage of the digital opportunities provided for fellowship and prayer. While digital platforms would never replace face-to-face fellowship, they were not completely without value. It had been disappointing to see how few pastors had taken the opportunity to join the Zoom calls when the invite had been extended.

Above all, Chris appealed for meaningful working relationships between churches in church planting initiatives. Much more could be accomplished together than individually, and we must work hard to find ways to work together in the advance of the gospel in Southern Africa.

Stuart was invited back forward to address some other matters.

First, he noted that, while it had been agreed in principle to return the conference to South Africa every alternate year, no specific venue had yet been set for the 2024 conference. The churches would be informed of the venue as soon as it was settled.

Stuart briefly offered some financial feedback, noting that the association did have a bank account in South Africa. The association was funded by free-will contributions; there was no membership fee for joining Sola 5. Eleven churches regularly supported the association in some form, with a handful of once-off gifts contributed over the years. Regular expenditure included an administrator stipend, a small amount of bank charges, an annual Zoom license, website-related charges, and regular monthly support to Imprint. The last year had also seen some contributions to churches in a one-time capacity.

The year had opened with R90,732.05 in the Sola 5 bank account. Income for January to August had amounted to R66,889.66 with expenses standing at R94,224.68, for a total income-expense deficit of R27,335.02 for the year. The bank balance at 31 August was R63,397.03.

Stuart noted that the year-to-date deficit was something of an anomaly in that some of the expenses—particularly gifts toward Hope Baptist Church in Chinhoyi and The Church of God in Ruimsig—were made in January on the basis of income received in December 2022. The deficit, therefore, had much to do with the timing of payments and did not reflect a regular deficit in monthly income and expenditure. Conference-related expenses had not been included in the reported figures but would be calculated as and when the host church claimed expenses back from the association.

The business part of the meeting having been concluded, the steering committee had invited representatives of four ministries related to Sola 5 to share briefly about the ministries.

Nico van Zyl, pastor of Birchleigh Baptist Church in Kempton Park, South Africa, shared about the African Pastors Conferences (APC). This was a ministry that had been started by the late Erroll Hulse and the late Irving Steggles and had born out of a desire to see African pastors undergo reformation to become more biblical in their teaching and practices for the benefit of healthy churches. Started in January 2006, the ministry now operated in fourteen different African countries with around sixty conferences each year. Nico pleaded for prayer for upcoming conferences in the remainder of 2023, for the conferences being planned for 2024, and for a new conference manager. Nico had served for seven years as the conference manager, but his church was preparing to send him to Thailand as a missionary and so there was need to replace him as the conference manager.

Gideon Mpeni, representing Kitwe Church in Kitwe, Zambia, shared about the Central African Baptist University (CABU). Based in the Zambian Copper Belt, CABU existed to train the next generation of leaders in Africa for Great Commission living. Gideon shared about the history, mission, philosophy, and projects of CABU and asked for prayer for the ministry to remain faithful to its calling.

Tshepo Laka, pastor of Glorious Gospel Christian Fellowship in Mamelodi, South Africa, shared about Together 4 Ivangeli (T4I), a ministry of several township churches (including Sola 5 churches Sovereign Grace Bible Church, Moletsane Baptist Church, and Grace Baptist Church Daveyton) passionate about advancing the gospel and promoting the health of local churches in South African townships. Tshepo noted that an estimated sixty million people lived in the townships of Gauteng, and faithful, gospel-preaching churches were few and far between.

Many township churches were planted in an unconventional way, with groups of believers gathering together for fellowship eventually forming churches with no planting oversight. Many others were planted as Charismatic churches and came to a Reformed understanding and felt alone in places surrounded by the prosperity gospel. T4I hoped to help these churches understand they were not alone.

Tshepo asked for prayer that the churches would continue to experience the Lord’s encouragement. Prayer was also appreciated for an annual conference to be held on 24 September.

Ronald Kalifungwa, pastor of Lusaka Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, shared a little about the African Christian University (ACU), which was a ministry of Lusaka Baptist Church, Kabwata Baptist Church, Mount Makulu Baptist Church, and Evangel Baptist Church. Ronald directed interested parties to find out relevant information on the ACU website. The vision of ACU was promote higher Christian education.

Delegates spent some time in small group prayer before breaking for lunch. Following the lunch break, the first two plenary speakers—Francois Koch and Mpumelelo Kunene—led workshops on deeper discussion into the topics they had presented. The afternoon was then reserved for rest and informal fellowship, with dinner beginning at 5:30 PM.

Thursday, 7 September 2023: Plenary Session 3

Following dinner, Frans Brits, an elder at Eastside Baptist Church, welcomed delegates back for the third plenary session of the 2023 conference. Delegates joined together in singing “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” and “Come, People of the Risen King” before Gideon Mpeni was invited forward to share about the church planting initiatives of Kitwe Church in Zambia.

Ryan and Samantha Shields had been commissioned by the church to plant a church among Somali people in an undisclosed location. God had recently blessed the Shields family with a newborn and so they were taking some time to visit the grandparents before returning to the field.

Gideon shared about several Kitwe interns and graduates of CABU who had finished, or were soon to finish, their internships and studies and return to their homelands for church planting purposes. Because of the sensitive nature of the church planting fields, detailed information has been withheld from this written update.

Having heard from Kitwe Church, the conference’s third plenary speaker—Andrew Zekveld from Living Hope Bible Church in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa—was invited to speak on the challenge of single-parent homes to gospel advance in Southern Africa. Specifically, Andrew addressed the need for reclaiming male leadership in the home. There was a deep and chronic hunger for godly fathers. To address this problem, it must first be biblically identified and isolated before a solution could be applied.

Having identified the problem, Andrew highlighted five areas of ordinary church ministry that directly address the hunger for godly fathers in our world and churches: biblical manhood; biblical sexuality; biblical marriage; biblical family; and biblical ministry. To effectively address this challenge, these five areas must be tackled in our churches and homes.

Friday, 8 September 2023: Plenary Session 4

After a good night’s rest, delegates arrived early on Friday morning for the final day of the 2023 conference.

Peter Slabber, an elder at Eastside who had recently relocated to Swakopmund, welcomed delegates to the first morning session. After reading Scripture, Pieter invited delegates to join together in singing “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven,” after which Nico van Zyl was invited to share about a church plant initiative of Birchleigh Baptist Church in Kempton Park, South Africa.

Nico explained to delegates that, for some time, he and his wife had had a desire to move to Thailand as church-planting missionaries. This desire had been affirmed by the church and plans were underway for the transition to take place. The van Zyls planned to spend the first two years in language acquisition before intentionally labouring to plant a church in the area to which they were being sent near the northern border of Thailand. Churches could assist by prayer, by financial assistance, and by inviting the van Zyls to present the ministry to their congregations. Nico appealed for prayer in several regards: approval of visas, quick language acquisition, the potential partnership with existing ministries in Thailand, and for the eventual church planting plans.

Bheki Bembe, pastor of Sovereign Grace Bible Church in Olievenhoutbosch, South Africa, was invited to deliver the first plenary talk of the day. Bheki’s focus was the challenge of Christ-less Christianity to gospel advance in Africa. He exhorted that, while many conservative churches in Africa were concerned about the Charismatic movement, African Traditional Religion (ATR) was a far greater challenge to gospel advance in the continent.

Bheki surveyed several forms of ATR, which pretended to be Christian but from which Christ was entirely absent. To face this challenge, Christians must be committed to living Christlike lives, to boldly preaching the unadulterated gospel, to planting biblical churches, and to training and sending wise church planters. The biblical gospel is the only hope to countering the challenge of Christ-less Christianity.

Friday, 8 September: Plenary Session 5

After a short tea-break, delegates gathered for the second morning session. Werner Hamukoto invited delegates to join in singing “Only by Grace” before inviting Chipita Sibale, pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, to share about the church’s planting initiatives.

Kabwata was involved in various church planting initiatives throughout Zambia, as well as in Nigeria, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, and in Botswana. While it was a great joy to witness these church plants become autonomous (Hillview Baptist Church; Silverest Baptist Church; and Senanga Baptist Church), there were also challenges to these church planting efforts. Two of the church’s missions stations were currently without missionaries and there was the need to place missionaries in these areas to sustain the ministries there. Finding regular meeting places for many of the church plants was also a challenge, particularly due to financial constraints. This had been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Much of the church’s energy—in partnership with various other Lusaka-based Reformed churches—was now being put into reaching into Ethiopia. Ethiopia had been identified as a strategic country to reach people from many different countries who could eventually take the gospel back to their homelands. Chipita appealed for prayer for more sound churches to be planted in Ethiopia, and for more faithful men to be trained to lead churches. There was also a great need for solid, affordable books and resources to get into Ethiopia. Prayer was also appreciated for the pastoral internship initiatives of Kabwata.

Monametsi Bahudi, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Gaborone, Botswana, was invited forward for the penultimate plenary session of the conference. Monametsi’s particular focus was on the challenge of poorly trained pastors to gospel advance in Southern Africa.

He argued that it is the biblical responsibility of pastors to train pastors and that the primary training ground for pastors is the local church rather than seminaries. He appealed to four examples in Scripture of leaders who intentionally trained other leaders: Ezra, Jesus, Paul, and Timothy. In each instance, there was intentional focus on life-on-life training.

He suggested two broad avenues for training faithful men: formal pastoral internships and life-on-life apprenticeships. Training pastors was both a pastoral and a local church imperative. Training must focus on character development, biblical knowledge, theology, apologetics, and pastoral leadership. If pastors and churches do not train future leaders, we will only perpetuate the problem of poorly trained pastors.

After a time of small-group prayer, lunch was enjoyed, after which plenary speakers 3–5 (Andrew Zekveld; Bheki Bembe; and Monametsi Bahudi) led breakaway workshops to dig deeper into the topics on which they had preached. The rest of the afternoon was once again reserved for rest and informal fellowship before dinner at 5:30 PM.

Friday, 8 September: Plenary Session 6

After dinner, Leahm Lucas, an elder at Eastside Baptist Church, welcomed delegates back to the final session of the 2023 conference. Delegates joined together in singing “Only by Grace” and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” before Alan Lester, an elder at Living Hope Church in Pretoria, South Africa, was invited to introduce the church’s church planting initiative, which took the form of a video.

Alan briefly introduced Akani Hlungwane, who was being sent by the church to Ka-Bungeni in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, Akani’s home village, to plant a church. Akani revealed his deep desire to see faithful local churches planted in villages so that it was not necessary for people to relocate to more urban areas before they encountered the true gospel. The Hlungwanes were busy building a home in the village, which they hoped to complete before they moved there so they could begin their ministry in an undistracted way. The elders at Living Hope Church invited anyone who wished to partner with this initiative to enter discussion with them.

Following Akani’s video presentation, Chris Mnguni, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Daveyton, South Africa, and chair of the Sola 5 steering committee, was invited to bring the final plenary talk at the 2023 conference.

Chris closed the conference by arguing from the book of Philippians that, while there were certainly challenges to gospel advance in Southern Africa, and throughout the world, there was no true hindrance to gospel advance. Jesus Christ had promised to build his church and he did not need anyone’s permission to save people. He would ensure the advance of the gospel even in the face of challenges and it was the responsibility of the church to preach the gospel and planting healthy churches as his means to advancing the gospel. Gospel ministry may be hard and painful, but it was not impossible.

Conclusion: Thanks to Eastside

We thank Eastside Baptist Church for its hospitality and the excitement with which it approached planning the 2023 conference and we look forward with great eagerness to coming together in South Africa in September 2024 for the eighteenth annual Sola 5 conference.