Goats eating grass on hillsides are a familiar sight here in Africa. Concentrating on one blade of grass at a time, they are never conscious of how far they’ve wandered when the sun sets.
That has been my experience as pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Zambia. I’ve never been conscious of the years ahead of me or behind me; I’ve simply concentrated on the work at hand. So, when I looked up recently and saw people cheering me on for the 30-year marathon, it dawned on me how far I’d traveled.
Like all other areas of life, it’s been a journey of ups and downs. Looking back, I see periods when tears were my daily experience, and other periods when I couldn’t find words to express my thrill and ecstasy.
But what stands out as I reflect on these three decades are primarily the positives, for which I thank God. Here are five.
1. Seeing gradual quantitative growth.
I’m grateful for our church’s steady quantitative growth. When I came to Kabwata Baptist, it had been constituted a year and a half earlier with a membership of about 35. The only properties the church owned were a few hymnals and a church stamp. Of those 35 members, only two remain. Although we’ve had Christians from other towns and churches join us over the years, as I survey the individuals sitting in the pews, I’m grateful many are a fruit of our consistent gospel endeavors.
Our current membership is more than 400, and we’ve had the privilege of planting about 30 churches, including six in our city. We put up a church building in which we’ve broken down walls to accommodate the growing congregation. Since our worship lacks modern bells and whistles, I can only attribute this growth to the grace of God accompanying the preaching of his Word (cf. 1 Cor. 2:1–5). I praise God because I know many men, whose bootstraps I am unworthy to untie, who have not known such quantitative growth.
2. Seeing the fruit of early reforms.
I’m grateful to God I’ve had the chance to see the fruit of the reforms I felt compelled to institute in the early years. When I arrived at Kabwata Baptist, it was a conservative, broadly evangelical church. Reformed truths were held by some of the leaders, but the congregation had not been brought to espouse this perspective.
With the new pentecostal winds that had begun to blow across Zambia, I felt I needed to move the church to a clear Reformed position, or we would fail to withstand the winds as they built into a destructive whirlwind. With a theologically mixed leadership, moving the church to a unified position wasn’t easy. But after five years of tension, sweat, and blood, the breakthrough came, and Kabwata Baptist Church was able to take its position in the historic Reformed Baptist tradition.
Since then, as the Pentecostal whirlwind has swept through many places wreaking havoc, it has left us largely unscathed, because we’re not doctrinal infants, like those Paul refers to in Ephesians 4:14. We have instead become part of a strong epicenter of Reformation in Africa south of the Sahara. Not every good pastor has had this privilege. Many try to bring reform in the early years of their pastorate, but in the process get ejected from the church. That happened to Jonathan Edwards, despite the fact he was arguably America’s greatest theologian.
3. Seeing babies become young adults.
I’ve had the opportunity to see babies born in the early years of my ministry come to Christ, become church members, finish college, start work, and even get married. The last wedding I performed a few weeks ago fit this category. The groom’s father was converted in my early years here, just a few years before his son’s birth. His son is now my fellow elder.
I feel like Paul speaking about the faith of his grandmother Lois, mother Eunice, and son Timothy (2 Tim. 1:5). If anything ever validates the power of the gospel, it is when one sees this kind of steady, generational fruit. The staying power of the gospel is thrilling.
4. Seeing biblical parenting authenticated.
For 30 years now, my marriage and family life has been the subject of the scrutiny and prayers of a single congregation. I married Felistas four months into my pastorate, and we had our first child nine months later. In the years since, I have tried—albeit imperfectly—to model what it means to raise a family in a godly way.
Initially this was all raw theory, since few individuals in our church were raised in Christian homes. Now, by the sheer grace of God, our children are working young adults who love and serve the Lord. In his kindness, our family’s legacy of faithfulness has gone a long way to authenticate what I’ve taught in the pulpit. Members have seen biblical domestic management bear fruit (Titus 1:6).
5. Seeing a church that grows with me.
A few times I’ve been asked how I lasted for 30 years in the same pastorate. I’m sure there are many answers. Upon reflection, though, one of the main reasons is that Kabwata Baptist Church has grown with me.
This growth has not always been easy. The church experienced sufficient challenges as I slowly matured as a pastor. But our family has also experienced sufficient support. As my ministry has grown, the church has graciously provided the time and resources—both human and financial—to undergird the growth God has given.
As a result, I’ve never felt as Paul did that his work in a particular region was over (Rom. 15:23). I’ve felt neither underutilized nor overburdened. I am neither bored nor burnt out. I am only grateful.
Am I up for another 30 years in the same church? I don’t know.
Like the goat on the African hills, I will go on eating one blade of grass at a time until the Great Shepherd takes me to another field or until the sun sets in God’s own time.
Editors’ note: TGC International Outreach is working to provide 100,000 free gospel-centered resources for English-speaking African church leaders through its Theological Famine Relief initiative. Learn more and consider making a donation to this important project. The first $25,000 will be matched dollar for dollar.
*This article originally appeared at 9Marks.