by Philip W. Barnes
Malawi is a highly Christianized nation. In fact, according to the Operation World website, the country is 76% Christian and almost 20% Evangelical. My family and I live in the capital of Malawi – Lilongwe, and hardly a day goes by that I don’t see signs for a revival or prayer meeting. When we go shopping at the grocery store Shoprite (a South African chain) we frequently hear Christian worship music being played. While we occasionally meet Malawian Muslims, most of the people we meet can tell us where they pray (i.e., where they attend church). With town names like Livingstonia and Blantyre (a town in Scotland) the entire country is full of evidences that the famous Scottish missionary explorer David Livingstone once trekked these hills and valleys. In a country like Malawi it seems that the missionary task is finished, right? Isn’t this an example of a place where the missionaries have “worked themselves out of job?”
The Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 defines the task of disciple-making and missions as “baptizing and teaching.” The second half of that clause – teaching – should not be simply equated with giving of facts and teaching central truths and doctrines that impact the mind. While teaching is certainly never less than giving facts and teaching central truths, Jesus instructed his disciples to teach the nations to “obey everything” that He had commanded them. The Apostle Paul told the young pastor Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2 to not merely teach others but train others in such a way that they would be able to teach others also. These two passages, Matthew 28:18-20 and 2 Timothy 2:2, serve as the foundation for the work that is still to be done in Malawi – namely, theological education.
Satellite images are beamed into many Malawian homes. In addition to destructive messages of Hollywood, these satellites also carry messages from deceitful teachers from places like the United States and Nigeria who preach false gospels. These false teachers often espouse the prosperity or health and wealth “gospel.” Some of these same teachers are also modalists who teach that the Trinity is a false theological construct rather than a clear biblical teaching. The New Testament is replete with warnings about these kinds of false teachers who both arise from within the visible church and infiltrate from the world. Just as a shepherd must protect his flock from wolves, one of the most important roles of a pastor is to protect his church members from these kinds of false teachings. Pastors in Malawi are in need of sound biblical theological education that will equip them to protect their flock from the various false gospels that are assaulting the One True Gospel. The New Testament book of Acts contains a great story of the kind of ministry that is still needed in Malawi.
24 A Jew named Apollos, a native Alexandrian, an eloquent man who was powerful in ⌊the use of⌋ the Scriptures, arrived in Ephesus. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught the things about Jesus accurately, although he knew only John’s baptism. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. After Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him home and explained the way of God to him more accurately. 27 When he wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers wrote to the disciples urging them to welcome him. After he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace. 28 For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah.
— Acts 18:24-28 (HCSB)
In this story we see a man who was a powerful and fervent preacher. He even spoke about things accurately. However, he was in need of further instruction. He needed to understand things “more accurately.” The Malawian church is in a similar situation. Pastors and church leaders preach fervently, but they are asking for more training in order that they may rightly handle the Word of God. As our team ministers to and with Malawian pastors and church leaders it is our prayer that we will help young pastors to know and understand the Word of God more accurately. In doing so, these pastors will be able to shepherd and guide their flocks not only to be “Christians” but to be fully-devoted Christ-followers whose entire lives are impacted by the gospel.
If you feel led to help with this endeavor, I encourage you to consider praying, going, or giving. We covet your prayers for our work in theological education for faithfulness to the Word of God, fearlessness in response to the call of God, and financial support for the Work of God.
Philip W. Barnes serves with the Malawi-Zambia Theological Education Team for the International Mission Board.
The views expressed by guest writers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of B&H Academic, Lifeway Christian Resources, or any employee thereof.