From the archives: picture of the day: undated profile picture of Joe M Simfukwe, arguably the finest expository preacher in my estimation, to have graced the Zambian landscape. Every mention of or sight of JM evokes much delight to my heart (and I am sure of many others) & thankfulness. The piece I present below was written for my MBA studies back in 2000. I present it as is though with a few modifications. These are my personal sentiments of this saintly giant as I saw/interacted with or heard about him (for 2.5 years I sat under his effective ministry @ LBC: 1987-1990). Enjoy the relatively long read!:
The Lusaka Baptist Church Scenario 1979-1989
From about 1979 a mini religious awakening swept across Zambia (circa 1975 to approximately1990). The said revival, among many things, occasioned the radical conversion of thousands to Christ, people suddenly had a lively desire to know Christ and to do His work. Everywhere people were conscious of the presence of God and attended every prayer meeting as well as evangelized when the opportunity availed itself. Among the key revivalists at the time was a man called Joe Simfukwe, who was a fervent and fine expositor of the word. He adopted a systematic approach to expounding the Holy Scriptures to the end that many people might be built up as leaders. Every Sunday, he exercised a powerful and affecting ministry. He guarded his pulpit jealously and scarcely moved out or roved around the world, given his international reputation. This was rare discipline and dedication to the local assembly. For years, God blessed the work abundantly to the extent that LBC became a powerful magnet around Lusaka. It was primarily known for the gospel, the pure unadulterated and uncompromised gospel. This activity went on for nearly ten years when Simfukwe suddenly announced his resignation and eventually smoothly transitioned from the Lusaka Baptist Church to pursue further studies abroad. An interesting phenomenon occurred because there was a latent leadership crisis that surfaced. Having been such a fine sound leader, people assumed Pastor Simfukwe would be there always and thus never made plans to prepare to take over his (oversized?) shoes following his departure.
As a result, no one was found equal to the task for over 3 years, yet his powerful influence still lingered many years afterward. In the fourth year, the Church felt they needed another Pastor and thus called another to take over but the new person (appears as an end note in the original post: Gevara Nyirenda. Nyirenda’s style was different from JM but equally effective. I still enjoy his sermons on tape to this day!) lasted only a few years. Reasons vary but one subjective suspicion was probably JM’s ‘Ghost’ still lingered powerfully in people’s minds. A piece of his mettle lived in a critical mass of them. The question that still begs to answer in peoples’ minds today is why a vacuum was created and how that crisis could have been really avoided. Could that problem have been avoided?
Observations and thoughts
After much careful thought and research we observe that though Pastor Simfukwe (JM) was a great leader, he probably did not successfully pass on the “Body of Divinity” to a wider body of faithful men (appears as an endnote: Or critical mass; another reason could be he was extraordinarily gifted which the rest did not realize until after his departure.) He seems to have been a great crowd puller. He probably did not focus much on one to one mentorship, though heart-warming testimonies to the contra effect exist. Being Charismatic and magnetic, he dealt with crowds rather than individuals and as such did not pick many understudies except those who had a high IQ and could follow him through. The following were my findings:
1. The Church had grown in knowledge but people were not given opportunity to exercise their leadership qualities. They were mesmerized and spell bound by the powerful preaching and never got to ‘get the ropes’ to strengthen their gifts. Dependence often spoils many of us.
2. It appears the preacher appealed more to the intellect rather than causing people to apply those truths in real life. Although the pastor tried to address that much too late. Given that the majority were students, it is only logical that he took the approach that he did, very appropriate for the times.
3. The said clergy, although a leader, was one of a kind genius who had all the attributes in built. Others could not imitate or replicate. Sacred anointing that Tony Sargent says of DM Lloyd-Jones could have been his portion.
4. The Church members were so influenced (positively of course) that they forgot that they needed to stand on their own feet!
5. The intellectuals in the Church caught up with his teaching and begun to question him on many things.
6. The said Pastor could have invested more in upcoming leaders (though some argue that he held preaching classes to whoever was interested) in the church and as such, not an adequate or strong claim/argument.
We must however hasten to say that he produced one world class preacher in the person of Conrad Mbewe who has ascended to higher orbs of leadership and pulpit powers. Conrad is an international roving preacher, quoted often everywhere he goes. Many do not know that the venerable J M Simfukwe nurtured this man. In my view, the world needs to honour ‘JM’ far much more than hitherto has been the case. His pulpit powers are clearly unequalled among Zambian preachers to this day. Oh for more of such humble, godly, Spirit filled effective preachers! Well, the six reasons advanced above are not exhaustive but they shed some light on what happened leading to the leadership vacuum for Churches now and into the future.
Lessons Gleaned from the LBC Scenario
We learn the following:
(1) Never let anyone be a “boss,” solo super star operator no matter how gifted – team work is critical as no one person can succeed to do an activity, institutions must function as an organism, with all players functioning and over lapping freely. We call that team work. Parity should be jealously guarded.
(2) Always build capacity in people by challenging them to take up roles once in a while. This avoids a situation where people content themselves in merely sitting rather than exercising their gifts.
(3) leaders must be servants and always learning, team players and willing to hear or respond to what is happening on the ground (i.e. in the Church).
(4) Leaders must aim to stimulate, not only the emotions but the mind as well towards action.
My recommendations emanate from the afore mentioned lessons:
(1) Future leaders in all churches must be visionary, good team players and easily approachable. Simfukwe was exceptionally approachable but, in my view, way above people in his intellect. He had a remarkable memory. I remember only once telling him my name (as a teenager just coming out of the woodwork of sin) and he never forgot it! You can imagine the incredible effect it had on me and others! He was most sincere and personable, no airs of self-importance. Humility was his necklace.
(2) Future pastors must be ones that are flexible, listening and able to look at problems as opportunities.
(3) Pastors must be well taken care of while other Church officers must equally be active to ensure they “learn the ropes”. Eldership parity & plurality (where possible) is a must for genuine Baptists.
(4) Where possible, the Church must have more than one full time Pastor though both must be equally good team players.
(5) Though the Church must not be directly involved in social issues/projects, it ought for facilitate for such so that the members can have a way to express themselves.
(6) Preaching, although central in a Church, is not the only avenue leaders can be identified. Leadership is influence not a formal position as many wrongly suppose.
Written by Dr. Billy Sichone: Note that I wrote this as part of my MBA school work on Leadership in 2000. With a few minor changes, the substance remains essentially the same.