Greg sat on our porch in the mid-afternoon, a pot of tea and generous bowl of sugar between him and the student. This student was in Greg’s Systematic Theology class last semester, but made an appointment to talk with Greg today about Church History. He wanted to see what from the history of Christianity could give insight into life today in Malawi. The conversation led quickly to the age of Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor, and how much concepts of Christianity changed when it became the official state religion, when there were incentives to be gained for being a Christian rather than persecution. “It’s a lot like Malawi today” the student observed. “Many people say they are Christians without even knowing what that means.” He estimated that only one out of ten Christian church-goers in Malawi could tell you what it means to be a Christian. In contrast, he said, the majority of Muslims, who make up about 15% of the population, probably have a better idea of what they believe and why.
We tested this theory over the weekend while driving with our Malawian friend, a Christian of 3 years who grew up with a Muslim father. He estimated that about 40% of Christians in Malawi could tell you the Gospel message - that Jesus died to reconcile mankind to God. But only ten percent, he said, live their lives to please God and serve others. People go to church for mostly social reasons, and to absolve themselves of sins committed in the 6 other days of the week. He has noticed that some pastors go into communities largely expecting to be served. A church might give a pastor a chicken or raise funds so he could have a car, but they leave a poor family in their community without food. “For people who already are Christians but not living a life that pleases God,” our friend said, “it is hard to change their minds.” It reminded me of the podcast sermon we listened to last week which shared the conclusion: it is hard to convert Christians to new ways of thinking and service.
Back on the porch, after a discussion about servant leadership and theology, Greg’s student verbalized agreement that pastors should serve their church instead of expecting to be served. “But how do we know how to serve if we don’t see that?” the student asked. For this, Greg had a few examples readily available from Malawian pastors who are really living out lives of service, such as pastors Thoko and Nixon Nzunga, whose stories we share often. Greg shared about how they brought a borehole along with their church, brought food along with their children’s program, and brought businesses and education to their community. They share what they have and bring healing to the whole community rather than living in comfort like chiefs because of their spiritual positions. In Chichewa, the word for pastor is the same word as Shepard, and we can point to some pastors who are really guiding their flocks toward wellness.
It is our prayer that this is only the beginning of finding practical ways to help pastors help their communities through teaching theology and community development. Please pray for us as we try to schedule our first training session with local pastors before we return to the US this year for the holidays.
Thank you for your prayers and support,
Greg and Christina