Tony Merida: Welcome to Churches Planting Churches, a podcast on the theology and practice of church planting. I’m your host, Tony Merida.
There’s only one true gospel and it’s not the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel. In fact, the so-called prosperity gospel is no gospel at all. Jesus did not come to make us rich, healthy, and comfortable. He came for us in our sin, in our rebellion, in our hatred of God and he died for us. As Paul says in Romans 5, God shows his love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Thus, we must never settle for anything less than this one true gospel.
This is the very thing Paul warned the Galatians about when he wrote to them saying, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you’ve received, let him be cursed.” Paul took seriously the preaching of the true gospel, and as church planting pastors, we must do the same. In various parts of the world, today, church planters will encounter the so-called prosperity gospel. And in certain contexts, this is far more prevalent than others.
So, how can church planters penetrate the dark places that are deceived by the false light of this kind of teaching? To help us think about these things and more, I’m excited to have my friend Robert Manda with us on the podcast. Robert is the lead pastor of New Life Church in Lilongwe, Malawi. He also serves as the co-director for the rule of collective in Acts 29. Robert is married to Sheila and they have three children.
Robert, welcome to the podcast.
Robert Manda: Thank you so much. It’s good having me here.
Merida: It is great to have the great high bishop of Malawi on the podcast. You are in the land of Chick-fil-A. They are . . .
Manda: It is the land of Chick-fil-A. And I love Chick-fil-A, by the way.
Merida: You do? What’s your favorite thing to eat at Chick-fil-A?
Manda: Chick-n-Stripes and Chick-fil-A sauce.
Merida: Did you say stripes? Chick-n-Strips.
Merida: Yeah. Yeah. I like the way you said it better. I think they would sell more if they said like, you know . . .
Manda: That is how the rural guys pronounce things.
Merida: I wanna talk about your context and more. Robert, and I’ve had the privilege of being together in Kenya and Uganda.
Merida: And I’ve never made it over to Malawi, but maybe by God’s providence, that’ll happen, at some point.
Manda: For sure, can’t wait to have you, Tony, to come to Malawi. Yeah.
Merida: This is a very encouraging brother. He just lights up the room wherever he’s at. So, very thankful for him. Robert, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up, and how you came to faith.
Manda: Well, so this guy, he was born in a Christian family of eight children, four daughters, four boys. And I came to know the Lord, really, in 1999. At that time, I was in high school. And I thought I was a good boy because my mom would always say, “Dear, you’re a good guy.” I was never really much into bad stuff, so to speak. But it was up until I heard the gospel being preached about the love of God and how desperately, every individual human being needs to accept Christ.
And at that time, I realized how sinful I am and how desperately I need the love of God, to be in my life. And I gave my life to Christ. And the person who really, really helped me with the whole of this process was my sister. She was praying for me. She was encouraging me. And the day that I remember was, there was a revival in the community and somebody was preaching along what I’ve just said. And since then, I’ve been with Christ and I love Christ. I’m married, as you’ve said. The Lord has blessed us with three kids. My heart is for the rural communities of Africa.
Merida: Now, take us from your conversion to ministry. How did that all develop?
Manda: Yes. So, when I came to know the love of God in a better way of understanding, he gave me what I hold up so much dearly, even up to now, two things. Number one, is to read his word, so much that I used to read the Word of God, and I couldn’t really understand most of the times. And now my sister, whom I used to go back to her to say, “Can you help me to understand this? Can you help me to understand that?” And she said, “Bro, you need to go to Bible school because it seems you have got a lot of questions.” And I said yes. So, after my high school, God opened the door. I went to a Bible College. At that time, I really never thought that I would be a pastor and I never dreamt of becoming a pastor. But I just loved God’s Word, number one. Number two was to share with other youth group people, to share whatever I’ve been taught or whatever, studying God’s Word. But I remember I was so active in youth and the people used to say, “You up, here comes a preacher man. I was like, “I can preach, but don’t call me a pastor because that’s not what I’m dreaming in my life.”
And at our church back then, they used to give me on the youth program to preach. And I remember the first Sunday that I was asked to preach, I was so nervous. But by the end of the service, I had a lot of people saying, “This man must be a preacher. This man must be a pastor.” So, that continued for many, many, many years. But when I went to a Bible College, and that portion, you know, studying God’s word and also sharing with others, kept on growing and growing, up until when there was a missionary who came in our community. They were looking for a young person who could do the church plant alongside the hospital, alongside the medical school, and nursing school.
And by some reason, some people gave my name, but then I was in college. So, they gave my name to her and then she drove on the campus. And she said, “I’m looking for Robert Manda.” And I had a meeting with her and said that, “I’ve heard about you and you’re a young man. We’d love to work with you.” And I was nervous, like I said, I said, “Well, I can just help with the preaching, but don’t consider me as a pastor, as a planter. But some Sundays because I love preaching, I can do that.” But little did I know that that was a stepping stone to what later, it was confirmed, even in my own heart, that that’s what God was calling me. And I give . . .
Merida: Now, how long have you pastored the church you’re currently pastoring?
Manda: I’ve been a pastor to New Life Church for 10 years now.
Merida: Okay. Yeah. Robert’s one of these guys, when you meet him, and he’ll just sort of say in passing that, you know, they have a hospital. They have a school. They have…” And you’re like, “He doesn’t have a hospital. Like, he’s not overseeing a school and pastoring.” And then you talk to people and they’re like, “Yep. Yeah. He is. He’s got all that.” You’re a very high capacity brother. And he’s a very humble in his own story. So, we wanna talk about Malawi for a moment, okay? Talk to us about where you’re at. I haven’t been there. This is what I’ve been told because, you’re part of the Rural Collaborative, right?
Merida: David Pinkney, who was on the podcast, he said, Malawi is not technically small, in terms of population, but in terms of infrastructure, he said, you will have 400, 500 people on a Sunday. Does that sound about right?
Manda: Four hundred to 500 people, every single Sunday.
Merida: But very few cars, he says, are in the parking lot. They walk. Is that correct?
Manda: Very much. So, out of 400, we’re talking of maybe five cars alone. Only.
Merida: Yeah. Yeah. So, it’s small, but it’s not small. Right? You’ve got a lot of people, but it has a small feel, right, a rural feel.
Manda: Exactly. And partly because, maybe for those of you who doesn’t know Malawi, Malawi is the poorest country in the world. And by that, I mean, like, more than half the population of the country, people are living below the poverty line. What that means, families are surviving on less than $2 a day. And being in the rural, like where our church is, our church is in between where the city has ended and the beginning of rural side. That’s where our church is positioned. So, we are reaching to the poor of the poorest within the poorest country in the world. But the beauty of it is that the hunger that people they have to listen to God’s Word, it’s something that I’ve never seen anywhere that I’ve traveled in the world. It’s just unbelievable how much people are thirsty for God’s Word.
Merida: So, take us to a Sunday here for a moment. All right? What does preaching look like? Do you use the Bible? Do you preach the books of the Bible? How long is your worship service? Yeah.
Manda: Yeah. So, if you come to our Sunday service, and you’re gonna love it. It’s a bit different, like, how you do here, in the West. But anyway, God’s Word is paramount. We give a big chunk of time to preach, to expose God’s Word, not more than 40 minutes. It’s different. Like, what some people, they say, “You go to Africa, people preach for three hours.” If you come to my church, our elders would expect whoever’s preaching to be 40 minutes. And that’s for a purpose because we want people to concentrate and to hear, and then they go. And also, we as Africans, we love worshiping through music. So, music is fabulous, fabulous. We dance. We dance for the Lord. And that’s another component that you are likely to get there. And also, there is a component of prayer, where we pray corporately, every single Sunday, praying for different things of the nation, and even globally, for other churches. So I would say, like, these are the paramount, the things that you would expect to see on Sunday, preaching God’s Word, and then worshipping through music, but also corporate prayer.
Merida: At what percentage do you preach? 75%?
Manda: Well, I used to preach maybe 80%. But now that I’m serving as a co-director in Rural Collective, so it’s about 50% of my time, I dedicate to preaching every . . . Yeah.
Merida: Cool. So, the prosperity gospel, you’ve encountered it right? In your context, what have you guys tried to do to combat that problem?
Manda: Well, prosperity gospel has really done damage to the church, not only in my country, but even Africa as a continent. And people have seen maybe what I’ve seen in the media. They’ve exported these from the West. You know, I’m not gonna mention somebody’s name here. But, you know, whom I’m talking about. And they think that’s the way to go. Not so much that every corner, if you don’t talk about prosperity as a preacher, and not only prosperity, but also false prophets, whereby somebody wanna predict about your life. I’ve encountered some people say, “Prophecy to me.” What that means that I should talk about the future. I should talk about what will happen in the next week and also . . .
So, these are the challenges of our times in our continent, and in Malawi, in particular. And as a church for us, four years ago, we have seen that some pastors are doing that because they’ve never been discipled. They’ve never been to any theological school. So, we started a church-planting school, which we call Pastoral Training Institute of Africa. And we have designed it in such a way that, with this institution, we could probably provide some basic theological training to this church planters so that they know some doctrinal issues, they know how to interpret God’s Word, and they know how to prepare a sermon that is Christ-centered. And as a church, we’ve done this for the past four years, and we wish we could do more. But we have got limitations because of resources, at the moment. So, answering your question, how are we combating the prosperity gospel? For me and for our church, we believe it’s bringing back people to the biblical truth, by teaching leaders—leadership is critical. If we don’t train pastors, then the whole church will be lost because leadership is at the helm of the church growth in a healthy way.
Merida: It’s very interesting that the poorest country in the world, the prosperity gospel is prevalent, you know, telling people you can be wealthy. And it’s obviously not working. Right?
Manda: It doesn’t work.
Merida: People are not getting wealthy. Right.
Manda: It doesn’t work.
Merida: And yet there’s some fleshly hope that this will benefit me, you know, physically, materially. And it’s really sad. It’s a dead-end road. And . . .
Manda: It is. Yeah.
Merida: . . . I’m glad you are where you are . . .
Merida: . . . preaching the true gospel.
Merida: Yeah. So, as we think about the prosperity gospel, combating it, dealing with leadership development, what are some of the challenges that you guys face? I suppose everybody has critics in ministry. Perhaps you have other challenges, long conversations, debates. What’s the fight like?
Manda: Well, to most people, they look at us . . . Those of us who are very Reformed, they look at us as if we are not spiritual enough because we don’t have this supernatural power, as other “prophets,” would demonstrate to them. And so, that sometimes, even when you try to teach the people, they’ll be like, “I hear you, you’re teaching me this, but I’m still poor on one hand, and you are not giving me what my heart is longing beyond the gospel.” Because they have gone to these other churches, they’ve been given all these false promises, I mean, false promises, which never really come to pass. And so, there is a challenge there because people are thirsty. They’re longing. They’re thirsty. They’re searching, which is right. And sometimes, they bypass this, which is that, as far as my knowledge is concerned, the whole truth is God’s truth. There is no other truth apart from God, what he has revealed to us through the written Word. Now, if somebody comes and makes up promises, which is outside the written promise of God’s word, there’s danger. But unfortunately, these are the times. He says, like, Paul was talking to young Timothy. He says, “Be careful in the last days.” People wanna hear what their ears are itching to hear. You see, it’s happening. It’s within our time.
Merida: Yeah. So, when you’re training your guys, is there a particular focus that you’ll have on prosperity gospel? Do you talk through that with them or is it just a given that this is just the context in which you live, and so, it just sort of pops up through various conversations? Do you really target the prosperity gospel with the guys your training?
Manda: Well, there’s a component. But like I said, earlier on, that we are focusing on the theological component, and which includes within those theological, you know, courses that we offer to them, obviously, there’s about Christian worldview, where we look at the contemporary issues that are within the context of Africa. Because we don’t face challenges, as in the West, where you have got people who don’t believe that God exists—in Africa, in Malawi, pretty much everybody believes that God exists. But it’s the understanding of who this God is, which is our major problem because people have brought in different ideologies. So, we deal with it by teaching in-depth theologically, and one of them being the Christian worldview, dealing with the contemporary issues.
Merida: What about your discipleship at your church? Obviously, you preach on Sundays. What does that look like as you’re just discipling your people in your local church, classes, small group, curriculum, anything? What do you guys do?
Manda: Well, yeah, because our church with that number of 500 to 600 people, we have got 12 elders, who are looking different sections of the community, different communities. And on Sunday, we begin by, we have what we call Sunday school classes, where we look from different doctrinal, like, maybe, for example, marriage. How does a Christian marriage should look like? And so, we have classes from 8:00 to 9:00—an hour. And in that class, people can ask questions. And then we also have small groups, and these are meeting on Wednesdays, in different locations. So, the elders are looking. . . . They’re leading in all these different locations. And again, it also gives us an opportunity to the guys that we are training in the residency program that we have. We plug them in, in these several groups, so that their training is not only academic, but it is also practical. Yeah. So those are some of the. . . .
Merida: How do you train your elders and aspiring pastors?
Manda: So, elders at two levels. By that, I mean, we have got those that are from within the church, our church, and then we’ve got some who are from other churches. So, those that are from within our church, we plug him in, then in the Pastoral Training Institute. It’s a two-year program. So, if we see someone in the church, like, currently we’ve got two guys that we are discipling and training, and by the end of two years, and then the church will affirm them to be for elders within the church. So, yeah, we basically use the tools of Pastoral Training Institute as a way of doing the training and discipling them.
Merida: Now, have you experienced people who are in the prosperity gospel, being converted, coming out of that. Being disciples of yours, can you share maybe a story or some of it?
Manda: We have many, but just for the sake of time, I’ll give you one. So, the first cohort that we had when we started the Pastoral Institute of Africa, there was a guy by the name of Arias, from the Northern part of Malawi, and this guy is charismatic. He is a guy who knows how to bring stories, like, in a reality way. And so, before he came to our residency program, he was already preaching. But the challenge that he had, he wasn’t preaching that big story that you and I, we know, the big stories about Jesus Christ. So, after he came, and after two years of his completion, and he came back, and he said, “Thank you for taking me through this. I thought I knew how to preach, but I wasn’t. And I feel sorry for all the mistakes that have done in the past. Now, I know how to handle God’s Word, that God’s Word must interpret with another God’s Word, not just making one verse, a big story, and that Bible story is about King Jesus Christ.”
Now, it’s funny. A couple of months, I went to visit him in his home village. And they met the chief of that village. And when I met this chief, I’ve never seen him, I stopped my car, as I was coming out, he comes up, and then he welcomes me smiling. He said, “Are you pastor Robert?” I said, “Yes.” He says, “Thank you.” I said, “What are you thanking me for?” He says, “What you have done to the young man, Arias! I said, “What about, Erias?” He said, “This young man is different.” I said, “What is different about this young man?” He says, “His ministry has changed, his preaching has changed, and his own marriage has changed.” And I said, “We give thanks to God.” It’s God’s Word that brings transformation. And if only more men would go through the training like this, it would make a big difference. God is still at work. He’s still in the business of redeeming his people.
Merida: Yeah. What about. . . ? You’re in the context of poverty, can you just share with us what it’s like for someone to cling to Christ in the midst of just desperate situations? Help us to think about that.
Manda: Yeah. That’s a hard one.
Merida: You got a church, I would imagine of people, who just live day to day, right? So, give us this day our daily bread is a real prayer, right? It’s not just something that’s a model prayer.
Manda: I would summarize it in this way: that people who are in very impoverished places like ours, they live by faith because most of the times, the basic needs are not even there. They get sick, maybe hospital is far from them, maybe they don’t have even money to take the child to the hospital. I’ll give you an example. There was a lady in our church, who used to stay one-hour walk, walking, like, one hour away from the church. And her daughter got sick during midnight. She had nothing to do, except to kneel down and to pray to God. In the morning, when she called me, she said, “Pastor, last night, my daughter would have died.” I said, “What happened?” She said, “She had malaria, the fever went so high, and I had nothing, except calling upon the Jesus, you are teaching us in the Word of God.” So, most of them, I would say it’s, it’s by faith, really, really by faith. It’s hard to describe it because until you come down there and you see and you know they believe by faith, because of the joy that they have, even though they have nothing, in terms of material.
Merida: That’s beautiful, man. And that’s the one thing that always strikes me about you is your joy, and you just light up a room, man. I think joy is a very undervalued leadership quality in the church and in the world, but especially, in the church, to see a leader that is enjoying the grace of God, trusting the Lord, loving his Word, loving his church, all the stuff you just talked about, man, you know, the basics. And these gospel essentials that give us a joy that . . . you know, you radiate a contagious joy. And people would wanna come to your church, even if you couldn’t preach very well, right? But I know you can because I’ve heard you several times. Well, it’s been a joy, man, to have you on the podcast. If listeners want to keep up with you, perhaps, help support your work or the Rural Collective, you wanna give us some ways to keep up online?
Manda: Well, yeah. I think if people were listening, I would even say pray for us because, at the moment, we are at a place, we don’t have a church building. It’s a desperate need for us. And if there’s someone who is listening today, I’d urge you to pray for us, that God should raise up men and women who may be willing to support so that we can have a church building in place. We are meeting in a pavilion. But that pavilion is full of people now. We have grown so big. It cannot fit everybody. So, getting maybe on Acts 29 on Rural Collective website, and then you see our information there or maybe talk to you, Tony. You have my number, you have my email, and then we can see how that will go. And above all, we want people to come and see Malawi.
Merida: Amen. Amen. I think you just made me your secretary; that’s what you just did. I’m many people’s secretary, you know. Thanks, Robert. Appreciate your time, brother.
Manda: Thank you for having me. Like I said, God bless.