Several years ago while I was in seminary, I heard some rumblings about a man known as the “African Spurgeon.” His name, as it was told to me, is Conrad Mbewe, a pastor serving in the city of Lusaka, Zambia. I didn’t know what to think of such a title, especially since many people tend to label themselves in order to fuel self promotion.
Over a period of time, I started listening to sermons by Pastor Conrad Mbewe and immediately knew that this man had something to say. He wasn’t like others who boast of exaggerated titles and yet remain very shallow in the content of their preaching. His preaching was quite good. His theology had the kind of depth that provides the basis for God exalted passion in the pulpit.
Last year, I had the privilege (along with our church) to host Pastor Conrad and his sweet wife Felistas for the 2014 G3 Conference. He preached twice in the conference and an additional time in our church on the Lord’s day immediately after the G3 ended. During the conference, we got to know one another as we shared meals together and traveled across town for an additional speaking engagement on Sunday evening. Our conversations centered primarily upon missions and church planting. I was interested in the work of the “African Spurgeon.”
After a thorough explanation over dinner in our home, he extended an invitation for me to come and see the work in person. After praying about it, we made plans to travel to Zambia. Anthony Mathenia extended an invitation to join him and a group from HeartCry as they were planning to have a missions meeting with the missionaries from the various church plants surrounding Zambia and beyond. The decision was made and soon thereafter the plane tickets were purchased. David Crowe (a member of Pray’s Mill – the church I serve as pastor) and I traveled together on this vision trip to Zambia.
After arriving in Zambia, it didn’t take long to see that the work of Conrad Mbewe taking place in the southern region of Africa is not exaggerated. From orphan care to chairing boards for schools, Conrad’s preaching is not the only thing that sets him apart from the normal pattern of pastoral ministry.
The mission philosophy of Kabwata Baptist Church and Conrad Mbewe is based on a commitment to plant healthy churches through indigenous missionaries. In fact, the churches that are planted through Kabwata are distinctly Reformed in their theology, led by a plurality of elders, are pastored by indigenous missionaries, and agree to a pattern of future reproduction through church planting. Although HeartCry comes alongside Kabwata Baptist in their efforts, the mission here is completely facilitated and managed through the local church.
During our 10 days in Zambia, David and I were able to sit in on missionary meetings, attend worship at Kabwata Baptist Church, visit the preaching interns who are being trained by Conrad, and visit other church plants. In fact, on Sunday evening I was given the privilege to preach in a church plant (Faith Baptist) located in an area known as Kabanana. Overall, my visit was enormously profitable on many different levels beyond mere information gathering and vision setting for our local church. I learned that the title “African Spurgeon” is not exaggerated. Below are several characteristics I witnessed regarding Conrad Mbewe’s ministry.
More Than a Preacher
During my 10 days in Zambia, I logged many miles in the truck with Conrad riding through Lusaka. During those days, he was engaged in many different tasks related to ministry. From a weekly radio commentary to hospital visits, Conrad proved that he was more than a stage man. He is more than a talking head. Conrad is a pastor who loves and cares for the flock that God has entrusted to his care. Over a meal, Conrad explained the way he and his elders make home visits each year within the church family. It is their desire to visit the home of every member at least once per year. This is the work of shepherding – not just preaching.
Conrad is a powerful preacher and sought after conference speaker here in the United States and around the world. That type of thing could cause many men to swell in conceit, however, Conrad consistently meets with his elders to discuss ministry plans, missions, and other shepherding responsibilities within the church. Rather than playing the role of dictator or becoming jealous of other trusted elders in his church, he willingly shares the leadership and oversight responsibilities. The elders of Kabwata Baptist are a band of brothers who work together to equip the body of Christ and oversee the flock. There is no tug-of-war going on behind the scenes. Genuine shared oversight is the permeated aroma of KBC.
Serious About Church Planting
Kabwata Baptist currently has around 450 members. However, they could be much larger if they were not committed to the task of church planting. Conrad and his church have consistently demonstrated a desire to plant healthy churches along the main highways and cities throughout Zambia. They have organized an internship program for prospective church planting missionaries. KBC houses, trains, and prepares these men for the work of ministry. This is an enormous undertaking. All of the money and resources are meticulously accounted for. This requires much time, energy, planning, oversight, and money. KBC has sacrificed greatly in this effort through the years and God continues to bless. HeartCry Missionary Society has come alongside KBC and assists in providing resources for the continued expansion of their ministry. God continues to raise up men and Conrad and KBC continue to send them out into the field. I found this to be enormously encouraging in a day saturated with empire building ministries.
Complimentary Doctrine and Practice
Make no mistake about it, Conrad Mbewe is solid theologically. If you want to sit and talk theology over tea (or as I would prefer – coffee), he is more than happy to go as deep into the ethics of 1 Timothy 3 or the doctrines of grace. However, his head is connected to his heart. High theology should always produce high doxology, and that comes out in the ministry of Conrad Mbewe. Not only does it appear in his sanctuary worship practices, but it also spills out into his orphan care, involvement in adoption, commitment to African Christian University, chairing boards for schools, overseeing the work of the school that meets on his church campus, missionary training, church planting, and relentless evangelism around Lusaka. His theology fuels a hot heart for Zambia and beyond.
Tough and Tender
Conrad is unapologetically serious about pursuing the God of the Bible. He is willing to defend the faith once delivered to the saints. As we were riding down the road, I asked him what his major challenge was in ministering to the people of Lusaka, Zambia and he responded by describing the relentless impact of the health, wealth, and prosperity message that is plaguing his land. In many locations, you can’t drive over a mile without seeing 3 to 5 different advertisements for “faith healing and deliverance” ministries. Although Conrad is willing to stand firm against the false teachings and false ministers, he remains a tender pastor who is approachable within his church ministry and a tender leader who loves his family and seeks to lead them to Christ. His home is filled with the fragrance of love.
I traveled over to Zambia to see the work of the “African Spurgeon” in order to bring a report back to our church about how we can get involved. I learned more than his missions philosophy. I witnessed faithful leadership practices and evangelistic zeal from a man who is passionate about reaching the continent of Africa with the gospel. Years ago, a man heard Conrad Mbewe described as the “African Spurgeon” and he protested. He said, “I don’t think he should be called the ‘African Spurgeon’ – after all – Spurgeon was Spurgeon.” Eventually that man went over to Africa and witnessed the work of Conrad Mbewe in person. He returned home and was immediately asked by his friend, “So, what do you think?” The man responded, “About what?” His friend replied, “You know, about the ‘African Spurgeon’ title?” He said, “I still have a problem with it. I don’t think Conrad Mbewe should be called the ‘African Spurgeon’ at all. I think Spurgeon should be called the English Mbewe.” Often times you hear men labeled and decorated with exaggerated titles only to be disappointed when you peak behind the curtain. I learned much during my stay in Zambia. I was only disappointed in the lack of coffee.
Please pray for the ministry of Kabwata Baptist Church and the continued involvement of HeartCry Missionary Society in the region of Zambia and beyond. They are now starting to explore opportunities to move into more dark corners of the African continent. Would you pray about leading your church to help in this effort?
*If you are interested in learning more about church planting opportunities in Africa, please reach out to HeartCry and they will explain the details.
Soli Deo Gloria,
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Connect with Conrad Mbewe:
His blog – A Letter from Kabwata