African pastors’ conferences
North Africa was full of churches in the first centuries after the apostles. Churches, Bible schools, libraries and missionary enterprise flourished across the Mediterranean coast of North Africa.
Before the apostles set foot in Europe, the church in Africa was advancing. It grew for 600 years. Then suddenly in the mid-600s the visible church was almost entirely snuffed out (Ethiopia and what is now northern Sudan escaped this demise).
The forces of Islam extinguished entire swathes of Christian congregations. How could this happen? Why did this happen? Why did professing believers line up to renounce their church memberships and receive tax benefits for converting to Islam?
In his excellent book The kingdom of God in Africa (Baker), church historian Mark Shaw tells us that not only had the church become lifeless and ritualistic, but the leaders were no longer trained for Christian ministry. Many had become mere church functionaries, and not passionate evangelists and under-shepherds grounded in God’s truth.
What is to preserve the professing church in Africa today from being swept away by another wave of false teaching? Liberal theology has devastated the Western church and is still a threat in Africa.
The prosperity gospel already predominates in many parts of Africa. This false gospel sidelines repentance from sin and offers materialistic, self-centred values far removed from the blood of the cross. There is considerable syncretism with African traditional religion under the guise of contextualisation.
The lesson we must learn from the past is clear. It is imperative that church leaders be grounded in biblical truth and trained for Christian service. Those on the front line of church life must have their roots sunk deeply in sound theology and in a biblical understanding of Christian ministry. Without Bible-based expository literature this is not going to happen.
The need to equip pastors to teach the Word of God faithfully is clear. Many of those who have the great responsibility of ministering in the urban and rural areas of Africa have received little training. Few have adequate libraries and few receive ongoing teaching to support their ministries.
Even those who have received such training tend in the course of time to yield to the pressure of preaching what people want to hear, rather than faithfully expounding the Word of God.
The purpose of the African Pastors’ Conferences (APCs) is to supplement the work of faithful Bible colleges and seminaries by providing basic doctrinal preaching. Together with expository preaching, it aims also to supply theological books.
The majority of preachers who have not had the privilege of seminary training struggle because of the lack of biblical literature. In addition to this, we seek to revive those who are weary and need to be refreshed and re-equipped for the exacting work of faithful pastoral ministry.
APCs are African in style, with mainly black African speakers. Many of the speakers are from Zambia where a thorough reformed theological renewal has taken place. The advantage of Reformed African preachers is that they are familiar with the African ethos and its syncretism, and are able to apply the Scriptures, by way of practical and corrective application, more effectively than preachers from abroad.
Accommodation in these conferences is basic rather than expensive up-market. This makes the conferences affordable. For some individuals, external subsidies are needed, but self-support and assistance from local churches are encouraged.
Books are sold at substantial discounts. In all the APCs all pastors who attend receive several books free of charge. The policy is to work in unity and harmony with all Bible-centred organisations and seminaries that share the same vision of providing materials faithful to the Scriptures.
The only qualification for attendance by a pastor at an APC is that he accepts the Bible as the inerrant Word of God in his personal life, preaching and church government. Delegates do not have to accept the doctrinal basis of APC, which is in accordance with the historic Reformed confessions of faith.
The fact that our preachers are mostly from within the region has major financial advantages. It cuts down the costs by avoiding long distance international air-fares.
With regard to books, the APCs depend on generous discounts granted by the publishers – Banner of Truth, Christian Focus, Day One, Evangelical Press and IVP.
Financial support comes mainly from churches and individuals in the UK and USA. By this means, the conferences can be made more affordable.
The number of conferences has increased to twelve. Most of these are in South Africa. There are annual APCs in Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. One is planned next year in Zambia. Exploration is being made for an APC in Tanzania.
We would urge you to partner with us, especially in terms of urgent prayer, so that we may make an impact of such effectiveness that the loss once suffered in North Africa will not be repeated in the future.
APCs are reaching increasing numbers of untrained pastors. Pray that the ministry of preaching and the ministry of books will be truly dynamic and life-transforming for the pastors and the churches they serve.