American Christians are already doing a lot to help Christians in Zambia, for which we are deeply grateful. When we see the church in eternity, there is no doubt that the American church's contribution to missions will stand out like Mount Everest compared to contributions from any other parts of the world.
And Africa has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of this missions output from the American church.
So if this article sounds a little negative, it must not be seen as betraying a lack of gratitude. Rather, 9Marks has invited me to present the perspective of one beneficiary who wants to help American Christians ensure that their help is more effective.
1) LEARN THE ZAMBIAN CULTURE
It seems to me that the best place for American Christians to begin trying to better help Zambian Christians is for them to take time to understand African or Zambian culture. When Paul said, "To those under the law, I became like one under the law
To those not having the law, I became like one without the law
" (1 Cor. 9:20, 21), the least we can say is that he took time to understand how people in both cultures thought in order to win them to Christ.
Sadly, we have far too many well-meaning Americans who climb off the plane for the first time wanting to correct everything they see. They don't realize that the sensational view of Africa presented to the American people via CNN is often very superficial. A person needs to be on Zambian soil for some time, observing and asking questions about the presuppositions that make up African culture, before one can effectively minister here.
Space forbids me to apply this lesson to the huge area of modesty, decency, and propriety, especially when American young people are sent to Zambia on short-term mission trips. We often blush on your behalf!
However, let me say a little more about another area. Like most Africans, Zambians rarely want to give offence to anyone. Hence, when an American comes and appeals to his hearers to repeat a sinner's prayer, many Zambians comply merely out of a desire not to offend him. The deceived evangelist goes back to America with glowing reports of the number of converts he has left behind on African soil. But the truth is that no sooner was he on the plane crossing the Atlantic than his "converts" went back to their life of sin. They were not converted at all!
2) PARTNER WITH THE ZAMBIAN CHURCH
American Christians should also realize that the pioneer stage of missions in Zambia is largely over. The church of Jesus Christ has been firmly planted here. Therefore, American Christians should not do all their planning while in America, or try to do all their work through sending missionaries to Zambia. Instead, they should consult and plan with indigenous Zambian church leaders. Once this is done, it will soon become apparent that our greatest need is not for more missionaries from the West but for us to be challenged to send out our own missionaries (perhaps with your support).
I am not suggesting that there is no need for Western missionaries. We could do with many more hands! Rather, I am saying that if you plan with indigenous church leaders here the emphasis will certainly shift. It costs ten times more to send and keep a Western missionary and his family on Zambian soil than it does to briefly support an indigenous missionary as he begins to minister among his own people. So, even from the angle of stewardship over the Lord's resources, the present emphasis needs to change.
3) DEMONSTRATE BIBLICAL CHURCHMANSHIP
Western Christians entering Zambia as missionaries are generally very good examples to us with respect to their personal and domestic lives. In these two areas, we see a very clear difference between them and their non-Christian counterparts from the Western world.
However, where we see no difference is in their commitment to the local church. Their church attendance is scanty to say the least. They do not join a local church. We do not know where they give their tithes and offerings. They are not involved in any local church ministries (except to preach when they are asked to do so), and so on.
As a result, our young professional Christians believe that this is enlightened Christianity. They also end up having a very loose relationship with the church. I really think that this has been the Achilles' heel of the work of Western missionaries in Zambia today. They are not good examples of biblical churchmanship!
We need to find a way in which Western missionaries can maintain relationships with their sending churches and at the same time exhibit biblical accountability to local churches where they labor, so that they can be good examples in this area to those whom they win to Christ.
4) ENSURE EQUITY IN CHRIST'S BODY
If American Christians are really going to help Christians in Zambia, one other area that needs some serious thinking is the price that your books cost when they arrive on this side of the Atlantic. They cost an arm and a leg!
The biblical principle is that "he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little" (2 Cor. 8:15). That is certainly not what is happening. Books are priceless when it comes to the work of ministry, and Zambian pastors need books just as much as American pastors. Yet in addition to the discrepancy in salaries between pastors there and here, add in the cost of transportation and the books become too expensive for the average Zambian pastor.
I do not want to be unfair to book publishers and demand a pricing system that will put them out of business tomorrow. All I am saying is that there is need to implement the biblical principle of equity in Christ's body if Christian books are not just to be a form of business but also a true spiritual ministry to the worldwide body of Christ.
5) COMBAT AMERICA'S CHIEF, AND WORST, SPIRITUAL EXPORT
As I close, I wonder whether Reformed and conservative American Christians are aware that the charismatic prosperity gospel is America's chief spiritual export to our shores. In Zambia, the only free television channel that we have twenty-four hours a day is Trinity Broadcasting Network. It is the most unhelpful thing you can give us!
As a result, the kind of preaching now taking hold in Zambian pulpits is being modeled after preachers like Joel Osteen. Preaching is fast becoming nothing more than motivational speaking. Reformed and conservative American Christians need to do more to be helpful to the church in Zambia before the damage presently being caused by America's chief spiritual export becomes irreparable.
As someone has rightly asked, "Why is it that false teaching is often halfway around the globe before truth finishes tying its shoes?" I hope the readers of this article will, therefore, not just sit there but do something about it!
Conrad Mbewe is the pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia.
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