Different continents, same basic problem

July 5, 2010

I was with 100 pastors last week from all over the central region of Kenya in east Africa. I had gone there with my son, Jesse, and with Eric, a brother from the church who helped me lead a three-day pastors’ conference. We made the 4-hour journey from Nairobi, the bustling capital of Kenya, passing wonderful landscapes of coffee and pineapple plantations, on our way up to elevations of over 5,000 feet. Our destination was Meru, which sits near the northeast slopes of Mount Kenya, just five miles north of the equator. We stopped at the equator and took some pictures, and watched the locals demonstrate that if you walk 20 meters north of the line, water flushes in a clockwise direction, and does the opposite 20 meters south of the equator. That’s your science lesson for this week.
The conference was three days packed full of hours of teaching, interrupted by tea time in the morning and afternoon, lunch at midday, and lots of question and answer time. This is always one of my favorite things at a pastors’ conference in Africa, and in every country that God has given me the opportunity to teach, the questions are almost always the same. The question that is asked most often has to do with women’s roles in the church. Two of the first people I met on the way to tea were ladies. The first introduced herself to me as “Bishop Miriam.” The second was “Pastor Alice.” I try to distinguish between ministry, which the Bible clearly teaches is not gender-specific, for all who come to Christ are given spiritual gifts which are to be used for ministry in the church, and leadership. The Bible just as clearly teaches that pastors and elders are to be men. The issue is not superiority of the male gender, for in the eyes of God, male and female are equal but complementary. The issue is design: God has clearly spoken that men should lead the home and the church. He certainly gives grace to the women when their men abdicate their responsibility to lead, but that doesn’t change God’s design.
Another popular question at these conferences has to do with how much authority a pastor should have. This question is always a hot topic when I teach about the biblical pattern of leadership that Paul established in the churches he started, which was a plurality of elders, not a single pastor who has all authority in his hands and can easily become more a monarch than a shepherd. There are always many questions about the family. One I got this time was whether it is OK for a young man who has been to college to tell his father that since he is more educated than Dad, it is no longer necessary for him to be under his authority.
Tomorrow we celebrate our 234th birthday as a nation. It seems we have wandered far afield from a nation led by men like John Adams, who said on April 18, 1775, “We recognize no sovereign but God, and no king but Jesus.” The greatest need, I believe, in the church in America is the same as the greatest need in the church in Africa or anywhere else on the globe: the Bible is not being taught clearly, or it is being misinterpreted, or it is being replaced by the latest fads or fancies of the culture. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

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