Dave Anderson experienced an astonishing response to his simple teaching about elder qualifications on his recent trip to Rwanda, a small but densely populated country in Central Africa where the fields are ripe for harvest.
Repenting of Ignorance of the Biblical Qualifications for Leaders
Dave, one of the BER core team members, traveled to Rwanda to speak at two eldership conferences and a youth conference and to preach the gospel in local schools.
Dave said he was “blindsided” by what happened at the first eldership conference, whose participants came from a much different theological background than he expected and included some female pastors.
“For four hours I simply taught through Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 and the qualifications for elders—just slow exposition with illustrations. I could tell they were very engaged, but I chalked it up to being in Africa and the excitement of having a visitor teach. They asked good questions, but I could tell this was all new to them.”
Dave described the response of the group leader, a bishop who oversees seventy churches, at the end of the conference.
“He stood up and said they all felt a heavy conviction of the Holy Spirit . . . that they have failed miserably at almost all of these qualifications. He asked me to lead them in public repentance that the Lord would have mercy on them and forgive them for their complete failure to model this kind of leadership.”
The people expressed a deep desire for more teaching on church leadership. “They could be appealed to by Scripture, and the content (not my teaching) was electrifying,” Dave said.
“He asked me to lead them in public repentance
that the Lord would have mercy on them and forgive them
for their complete failure to model this kind of leadership.”
Dave explained that the root cause of the leaders’ lack of awareness is neglect of the Bible. “Most of these denominations teach their pet doctrines, and don’t teach the Bible. It reminded me of Acts, where Paul passes through Ephesus and asks the people if they have the Holy Spirit, and the people said ‘We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ It’s like they were saying, ‘We have not even heard that there is eldership or qualifications…’
“It’s as though they had never even conceived that elders should be qualified or be gentle or loving, or have integrity with money and sex, or be examples to the flock. It was admittedly new information to them. Even my translator admitted to me he had never really read Titus!”
Three Spiritual Needs for African Believers
Dave said when he thinks about the spiritual needs of believers in Africa, three things come to mind:
- The need for believers to read and study and teach the Bibles they already have. “There is a phenomenal lack of basic biblical knowledge,” Dave said. “They can sing their hearts out, but oftentimes, it’s not according to knowledge. Instead, there is lots of emotion, merit-based salvation thinking, and sermons on tithing ad nauseam. My contacts here tell me it’s very rare for pastors to actually study the Bible or teach from the Bible.”
- The need for teaching on the “Diotrephes syndrome” of 3 John 9–10. “In Rwanda the pastor is the ‘big shot.’ He’s ‘the man,’ Dave said. “True biblical eldership is almost completely extinct, even among conservative churches. Theological distinctions are almost meaningless here. All churches are so similar in their expression and their lack of theological and doctrinal awareness.”
- The urgent need for solid teaching about biblical eldership. “The need is honestly overwhelming,” Dave admitted, “but Africa is ripe, ripe, ripe. There is a real thirst for it.”
Encouragement for Teens and Displaced Churches
More than two thousand teens came to the youth conference in Rwanda, organized by a man named Aminadab who leads a Teens for Christ club. More than a hundred such clubs meet every week in Rwanda. “He is teaching them the Bible and raising up a generation of warriors,” Dave said. At the conference, ninety of these students stood up to indicate their desire to follow Jesus.
The government of Rwanda has shut down many church buildings for failure to meet building codes, in attempt to prevent the tragic injuries and deaths that occurred in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Because Haiti did not have building codes at all, many buildings collapsed during the earthquake, making the devastation much worse.
As a result, many churches in Rwanda are meeting outside, including one that Dave visited that has one hundred and thirty members.
“The safety is a good thing, but it’s been hard on many smaller churches with poor structures, and I tried to encourage them,” Dave said. “Who knows what the Lord may do, but it seems He has begun a good work.”