Christianity and theology

My Review of Conrad Mbewe’s Pastoral Preaching

I wrote this review a year ago and was posted on another site which currently is not active. I am posting it here for those who will find it helpful but cannot access it on the other site.  

Reviewing Dr. Conrad Mbewe’s Pastoral preaching: Building a People for God is a very huge task for me mainly for two reasons: first, Mbewe is not only a friend but also a seasoned and gifted preacher who has been faithfully preaching the gospel for over 30 years while I am a fledging preacher. Second, I am a Presbyterian and Conrad is a Baptist and as they say, “Baptists are good preachers while Presbyterian are good scholars” (please take that with a grain of salt).

However, I have decided to undertake this exercise because I believe that Pastoral Preaching is one of the great books that pastors, more especially in Africa, need to read and apply the helpful insights and principles therein to their pastoral ministries. As far as I know, this isprobably the first published book on preaching written by an African Reformed preacher apart from Dr. O. Palmer Robertson’s Preaching Made Practical.  I always consider Robertson as an African owing to many years he has spent in Africa training preachers and Christian leaders and also because he wrote Preaching Made Practical with a true African touch.

Pastoral Preaching was released at the beginning of 2017 by Langham Preaching Resources. In the book, Mbewe begins by highlighting why he decided to write. He had noticed that more often than not the preaching in Africa is not producing believers who are spiritually mature because more pulpits are occupied by motivational speakers rather than preachers. The important role of preaching has also been replaced by exorcism services and entertaining “worship” in many churches. Although the problem is not unique to Africa, the continent scores highly on the chart.

Mbewe has also strove to make the book more relevant and easily understood by an African readership. He is totally aware that the essence of effective communication is good understanding of your audience. For instance, Mbewe substitutes the expression, “the tip of an iceberg,” with an illustration of thatching a house (p. 1). Then he goes on to note, “As your read this book you will soon discover that my primary audience is pastors serving in Africa. This is deliberate. Pastors in the Western world have so many Bible colleges and seminaries and so many books on pastoral ministry that to write for them would be like adding a drop to an ocean” (p.4). He then adds, “I appreciate the principles being taught (by Western authors) but I often find the authors shooting over the heads of those who live in my own neighborhood, who have not been exposed to the thought patterns and idioms of the Western world…So, what I have done in this book is basically to take the same principles and clothe them in the African attire” (p.4).

Mbewe also makes it clear at the beginning of the book that Pastoral Preaching is not a homiletics book. (Homiletics can basically be defined as the art of preparing and delivering sermons). Rather, his book is concerned with how preaching should be done in a pastoral context. “In this book I am addressing a number of key areas related to preaching in a pastoral context” (p. 2). This means that if one is looking for a book that guides you through the stages of sermon preparation, this book is not ideal for that undertaking. Yet, despite not concentrating on preparing and delivering sermons, in chapters 13-15, Mbewe takes time to briefly guide the preacher on how he can develop sermons from narratives (stories), didactic passages (passages that contain instructions), and poetic and prophetic passages of the Bible. In chapter 11, he also tackles how a preacher can craft an introduction, body and conclusion. Mbewe, further, discusses the effective use of illustrations and applications. He concludes the chapter by writing on how a preacher can modulate his voice and gestures and maintain a good eye contact.

Pastoral Preaching reveals the pastoral heart of Mbewe. As you read the book, you realize that he is not a hireling but an undershepherd of Christ who fully understands and cares for the challenges that pastors and Christians in Africa face. He endeavors to propose some measures that might alleviate these problems.  For instance, for the lack of formal training for many pastors in Africa, he encourages the old but trusted approach of having men trained under a more mature and godly minister. Obviously, he does not argue that formal training is irrelevant; however, in cases where it is impossible to attain such training, this approach will suffice.

Mbewe also points out the need for congregations to fulfill their biblical mandate to take care and support those who labour among them faithfully despite that many African Christians live with limited resources. In chapters 17-18, he discusses the importance of godliness in the lives of ministers. He gives an ever-timely admonition: “It is vital to remember that as a pastor you are first of all a Christian. You are a sheep before you are a shepherd. Therefore, all the pleas in Scripture for a Christian to live a godly life apply to you as well…You live in a fallen world and struggle with the remains of your own fallen nature, and so you must pursue holiness in the same way that every Christian is urged to do so” (p. 163).

One area, which I wish Mbewe, could have given more thought is the distinction he makes between evangelistic and pastoral preaching. “Evangelistic preaching is needed to bring sinners into the kingdom” and pastoral preaching is “to help those who have come to Christ to grow spiritually” (p.9). I found this distinction to be somewhat confusing in the sense that it seems to imply that evangelistic preaching is not pastoral. Mbewe somehow realizes that and points out, “Although I have made a clear distinction between evangelistic and pastoral preaching, I am not suggesting that pastors need to choose one over the other. Pastors are called to do both…So, the two types of preaching are not necessarily mutually exclusive” (p. 14). He further discusses the difference in chapter 2 as he uses the illustration of a pastor as a shepherd (p. 18-19).

Despite the effort to convince the reader of this difference in chapters 1 and 2, I still think that Mbewe’s distinction is “artificial” as he rightly observes in chapter 1 (p.9) because both evangelistic and teaching aspects should be understood as being part and parcel of pastoral preaching. Evangelistic preaching is pastoral preaching. Perhaps a better distinction could have been evangelistic and doctrinal or instructional preaching (“doctrinal” meaning “teaching” from the Greek word “didache”) as Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones rightly distinguishes in his masterpiece on preaching, Preaching and Preachers.  “It is important that we should recognize these two main sections in the message of the Bible. The first is what you may call the message of salvation, the kerygma, that is what determines evangelistic preaching. The second is the teaching aspect, the didache, that which builds up those who have already believed – the edification of the saints”  (© 1971 by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Zondervan Publishers, p. 62).

But this is a small detail compared to the rich gold that my fellow African preachers would mine from the book. I can’t agree more with John  MacArthur who observes that  the book embodies all the qualities of the preaching ministry of Mbewe, which are clarity, accuracy, thoroughness, courage, insight, and uncompromising faithfulness to the text of Scripture. That is undeniably true of Pastoral Preaching: Building a People for God.

 

 

 

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