I hate traveling on the roads in West Africa!
(OK, to be clear, I’ve only travelled on the roads in Liberia and Ghana—and in particular I really dislike the roads OUTSIDE of Monrovia and the roads IN Greater Accra.) I’d need to dedicate an entire blog entry to say more but for now I’ll just give God thanks for safe travel!
Day 3 of my journey back to West Africa has been a special blessing. I had the privilege to spend a few hours introducing many new pastors and ministers to the On The Mark International Pastoral Fellowship (OHMIPF or just OHM) and providing both existing and future members with what turned out to be a riveting training on what it means to be a minister. During our time together, a really helpful demonstration involving group interaction shed light on two realities that may be universal: 1) As ministers, we may not know as much as we should about what’s affecting our “sheep” and 2) When we do know what’s affecting them (especially en masse), we often do little more than talk about the matter (rather than praying for God’s intervention and His guidance regarding how we should address the issue). I stressed that, as ministers, our reaction to the news (national, regional, local, “on the street”) should be to pray about it, teach about it and/or preach about it.
Question (from one of the participants): How do we pray about it and how do we teach about it? (Wow, I was struck by the simplicity of the question but noted to myself that so often we really do want—need?—practical guidance regarding how to execute the best practices that we’d like to embrace.) To answer the prayer question, I asked the audience of ministry leaders how many of them knew beforehand that I was coming to Ghana. Several of them did so I asked them if they’d prayed at all about my visit. Immediate responses were affirmative. “What did you pray?”, I asked. Several answered, “For your safe journey.” (Another “wow” moment for me. Dr. Celeste Owens, the Lord has wonderfully demonstrated the confirmation of the word you ministered to me the day before I commenced my travels. You shared that God had “assigned” people to me. From the ministers at Faith To Face who have been bathing this trip in prayer for weeks now, to the pastor who has been my driver and has opened his doors to OHM Ghana for the service last night and the training today, those who have been assigned to me are evident. I don’t believe that word to be limited to just this trip but He’s surely using this trip to bring about confirmation already! More on that later, too.) I asked why they’d prayed for my safe journey. One reply was, “Because we knew that your coming would bless us” (my internal finish to that thought: So if you don’t arrive safely, we’ll miss the blessing! Made me chuckle to myself!). Whatever the motivation, I stated to the group, I submit that the prompt was the same: the Holy Ghost. With that I returned my focus to the questioner and answered that, “How we pray about ‘it’ is really by the leading of the Spirit of the Lord.”
To respond to the part of the question about teaching I asked if there were any teachers in the room. No one raised their hands at first so I reminded the group that, even if teaching isn’t your profession, as a minister you are more than likely teaching in one way or another. What does teaching require? What must I have in order to teach someone something? “Information!”, was one enthusiastic response. I piled on to that by noting that before we can teach about a thing we must first be a student of that thing. As ministers we too often use our “preaching talents” as a substitute for actual study and preparation. Remember Paul’s instruction to Timothy, though: “Study to show thyself approved unto God”!
In the debrief before I ended the training (and even after we were done) the most oft mentioned take-away from the session was in regards to what I’d taught about remembering the call. At the end of the day, no matter how many titles we have or how many hats we wear or how many acknowledgments and rounds of applause we receive, we are called to serve. If your first name isn’t “Servant”, I declared, you’re missing your calling. Pastors in particular were stirred by this because I’d gone on to share that our #1 assignment is to attend to the sheep, watching out for enemies trying to attack the sheep, defending the sheep from attackers, healing the wounded and sick sheep, finding and saving lost or trapped sheep, loving them, and sharing their lives and earning their trust. Being a shepherd is all about the sheep but too often we make the shepherd the focus. (This is when one of my obligatory, “Look at your neighbor and say…” directives was warranted. Look at your neighbor and remind them, “It’s not about you, it’s about the sheep!”)
Question (from the audience): What if the sheep continually resist the shepherd’s care? My response: You have a rod and a staff and need to use both. The rod is for correcting (in love) and the staff is for directing and (if necessary) rescuing. Sometimes the sheep do run off; that doesn’t absolve you of your responsibilities as their shepherd. You do whatever is in your power to return them to the flock.
Oh, by the way, I’ve had three more little kid moments. Remember the little girl I mentioned on the plane? Well last night I got Hi 5s from Desmond and Dennis, Apostle Paul’s sons (age 3 and 2, respectively) and today I was sitting in the pastor’s office by myself when the daughter of another pastor came in (she can’t be any more than 5), walked over to me and struck up a conversation. “Is that your phone?” she asked. Yes, I replied. As sweet as you please she reached over me and began playing with my phone. She’s pressing icons and dialing real phone numbers! (I had put it in Ultra Power Save AND Airplane mode when I was en route to the church, though—see, God knew!) “No games?” No, no games. “No calling?” No, no calling. She was done with me and I was alone again in the office! Kids are the same all over the world—only, when I was 5 I’m sure I was not as adept with a rotary phone as this little lady was with my S5!
Preaching tomorrow at Voice of Victory (was originally invited to another church but the pastors decided that we should just stay with the move that God has ushered in at Voice of Victory). I’ve even been invited to attend a special concert in the afternoon. I mentioned that I really enjoyed a song that was ministered last night before I delivered the sermon and so the praise team made a video recording of it for me so that I can sing it when I return to the states. Now they’ve declared that “our grandfather (yes, grandfather—I’ll need a separate blog for that one, too!) loves music so much he must grace us with his presence at the concert if he is available”. Now, understand that after 13 years traveling to Liberia, I still don’t understand half the songs that are song there—and they’re mostly in English! Here in Ghana they sing in so many dialects that 90% of the time all I can do is sway and clap—and sometimes that doesn’t even work out too well! Still, I may go.
I am grandpa after all.