Fighting the Prosperity Gospel in Africa through Bible Training

Fighting the Prosperity Gospel in Africa through Bible Training

“…the biggest problem with prosperity theology is not that it promises too much, but that it promises far too little. The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers salvation from sin, not a platform for earthly prosperity.” —Albert Mohler

One of the great deceptions in the world today is prosperity theology. Thankfully, the best antidote to false teaching is the sound teaching of the Bible, and there is great work being done to equip pastors to rightly handle God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15).

I recently conversed with Leadership Resources’ Doug Dunton (Regional Director of Africa) and Joe Paglia (Director of Operations) about how our ministry equipping African pastors in biblical exposition fights against prosperity theology.


How prevalent is prosperity theology in Africa? What are some of the devastating effects you have seen?

Joe Paglia

Joe: Unfortunately, it is very prevalent. Sadly, it’s one of the US’s largest exports. It is a false gospel and not even worthy of the term ‘gospel’—because it is not good news and only draws people away from the one true gospel. Prosperity theology also manipulates a great many who are already struggling with severe poverty. To them, it is an alluring trap that makes their poverty even worse because many send in their last few pennies to a TV preacher and then can’t feed their kids the next day. Prosperity theology wreaks holistic devastation, impacting the spiritual and material lives of victims.

Doug Dunton

Doug: The devastation is hard to measure, and in some way, all are influenced. Everyone has some level of attraction to the prosperity gospel. MacArthur wrote a book many years ago called Reckless Faith that talked about the inability or unwillingness to discern the difference between right and wrong doctrine. This is the issue that we are dealing with. When things come from the west or things blossom from within the continent of Africa, many uneducated pastors have no ability to discern the difference between right and wrong, or good, better, and best.

This is the impact our Training National Trainers program has. Trainees can look at the core principle we teach about Staying on the Line of God’s Word and it becomes very simple for them to discern that most of the time prosperity preachers preach ‘above the line’ [that is, they add to God’s Word]. Pastors are able to discern very quickly and share with us how their mentalities are changing.

Joe: One way we try to help guys discern is by understanding if something is biblical versus biblically true. Prosperity preachers preach verses from the Bible and other passages they choose, but they are not preaching those passages in a biblically true way.

Can you share how Training National Trainers (TNT) is impacting individual pastors?

Doug: A Congolese guy came to a large prosperity church in Kampala, Uganda to investigate how it worked. Immediately following this church, he came to a Jonah session of TNT and was confronted with the difference in ministries between prosperity gospel church and a biblical ministry model as we were teaching in TNT and the book of Jonah. He told us he was going to change his philosophy and reject the prosperity gospel. So, he went back and shared with leaders in his church the emphasis on building a church on expository preaching. They rejected him, and shortly he rejected expository preaching. Now he is trying to duplicate the prosperity ministries he deems as successful.

Pastor John preaching

A story with a happier ending is that of John, a pastor from Nairobi, Kenya. When we studied 2 Timothy and the command to ‘preach the word in season and out of season’, John repented before our eyes and said that he never was concerned about Staying on the Line [that is, faithfully preaching the message of the Bible]. He called himself a “rhema” preacher—and he said he was a good one at that. He said every Sunday morning God would give him a word. He would say his “hallelujahs” and preach whatever came to his head at the moment, and people said they were refreshed by that special word he was receiving. Then he repented and went back to his church. He started preaching Jonah (after studying Jonah in TNT). People looked at him with heads cocked to the side. “Is pastor John OK today?”

“It’s not the same kind of growth, it is growth of transformation and regeneration in people’s lives.”

After a few weeks, people began to realize he didn’t do his rhema preaching anymore. Before you knew it, people started leaving—a lot of people. He came and told us the story and said that even though people were leaving, he was not going back to be the rhema preacher.

Many months passed until my next interaction with John and I wondered, “Was John continuing in preaching the word?” When we talked to him, he shared that he is still preaching the Word. And his church is experiencing growth that he has never experienced in his life before because he is staying on the line. So I asked John where the church growth was coming from, and I love this, he said, “Through new converts.” He’s now measuring growth through professions of faith and baptisms. “It’s not the same kind of growth,” he said, “but it is growth of transformation and regeneration in people’s lives.”

John has now become the coordinator for the group of pastors who are partnering with us from Go Ye Africa. He has become an influential leader due to the strength of his conviction.

TNT is addressing the prosperity gospel and helping strengthen churches by fostering convictions rooted in the Word of God.

TNT is addressing the prosperity gospel and helping strengthen churches by fostering convictions rooted in the Word of God.

What other aspects of TNT fight against prosperity theology?

Joe: The whole training program fights prosperity theology as we develop biblically literate pastors, but the principle Text and Framework has a special power in helping pastors see what may be negatively influencing their interpretation of the Bible.

The second workshop we do is 2 Timothy. Paul wrote to his beloved son, Timothy, who was fighting for the survival of the Ephesian church. Elders were departing, people were attacking him, and he was suffering and in despair. This book confronts the prosperity mentality because Timothy’s situation doesn’t match the promises of prosperity. This book’s message to persevere in gospel ministry and faithfully preach the Word amidst suffering is a game-changing book for many pastors. Other books we study bring up suffering (Mark, Habakkuk, Ephesians), helping expose wrong frameworks in regard to prosperity and showing God’s power to preserve us in difficulty.

What resources have helped your ministry in Africa?

Doug: The one thing we try to get in the hands of every TNTer is a Bible with a reference column. Sometimes giving them a study Bible too early in the training process will tempt them to preach the notes and take their attention off of seeing the text clearly—that’s why this Bible is so helpful for us.

We have also used a variety of resources from The Gospel Coalition’s Packing Hope program including:

  • The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper
  • A Sweet and Bitter Providence by John Piper
  • God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts

We have given the ESV Global Study Bible as a graduation gift to several of our groups and are thankful for TGC-International Outreach’s partnership and making it available. [The Gospel Coalition has also made the eBook available of Prosperity? Seeking the True Gospel.]

The Gospel Coalition - International Packing Hope Resources

What are some ways we can pray for Africa?

  • Pray for more African brothers and sisters to embrace the true gospel and reject the lies of the prosperity movement.
  • Pray for the spread of God’s life-giving Word through churches across the continent of Africa.
  • Pray for many more gospel workers to be equipped to rightly handle God’s Word and enter the harvest fields.
  • Pray for many prosperity preachers to repent and desire to minister the Word faithfully.
  • Pray for our 32 key trainers in Africa to expand our ministry of equipping pastors to teach God’s Word with God’s heart.

What our students are saying:

Francis, Church Planter in Togo

“The training helps to avoid heresies and helps focus on the word and avoid your framework. Most of the time in Africa, because of the background in Animism, we try to enforce our points of view on the text, instead of letting the text speak to us. We want to speak on behalf of the text.” Watch Francis tell his story.

Alex, Pastor in Ethiopia

“This training changed my perspective of seeing God’s Word, studying God’s word, and passing it on to others. This precious word. The change is very personal. The training is very personal. If it changed me, if it really convicted me that I’m loosely handling God’s Word for my life and for my ministry, there are also other people who are easily distracted by a lot of eloquent speakers. They can copy many different sources, but that doesn’t give life. That is the major thing I’ve experienced in my life. This training leads me to focus on the Bible text.” Watch Alex tell his story.


Related Links:

Tim Keesee calls TNT “Nation-Shaking” on Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front with Tim Keesee
A few years ago during a visit to South Sudan to equip pastors in the Training National Trainers program (in partnership with Christian Horizons), Doug Dunton and Pastor Allan Sherer were joined by Dr. Tim Keesee of Frontline Missions International.

Dr. Keesee documented his experience in Episode 5 of the popular missions DVD series Dispatches from the Front. Below is the transcript from the portion mentioning LRI with a few photos. Watch the clip below or see the transcript below.


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Just next door, Allan was rightly dividing the Word of truth. Christian Horizons is not only rescuing children but is also a force in strengthening the Church in the radical rescue work of the Gospel. Intensive Bible training was underway with men and women from all over the region—from elder statesmen like Pastor Ti-yay, who was tortured for his faith during the Communist time, to young men and women eager to learn and to share the Scriptures.

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Some of the pastors have said in the past their only models for preaching were the “health and wealth” types they saw on television—an embarrassing American export. These same men are now getting a taste for simple, solid biblical exposition, and they have publicly repented of how they handled God’s Word before. What is so effective about the teaching that Allan and his colleague Doug are doing is that learning is not for accumulation but for multiplication. Allan and Doug are just the initiators of a movement—for this school has legs! These pastors and evangelists are in turn teaching other pastors and evangelists in ever widening circles of Ethiopians training Ethiopians in Word-centered preaching.

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 8.45.59 PMI love to think of the fact that in Acts there’s an Ethiopian searching the Scripture, and the Lord sent along Philip to show him Christ, Whom he embraced in faith and joy. The Ethiopian eunuch surely brought the Gospel back to this very land. Now in our time, God is raising up a new generation of Philips and of Ethiopians hungry to know and preach Jesus—to shake every corner of their nation with the Gospel!


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Dr. Tim Keesee journals his experience with Doug Dunton and our Africa TNTers.

Sat by the Nile yesterday morning beneath a huge mango tree and listened in on Michael and Kebede, his right-hand man, talking ministry strategy with Doug. Kebede is Oromo, he is intense, encyclopedic, and his administrative skills are as sharp and varied as a Swiss Army knife. What is impressive to me is the caliber of leadership among these Ethiopians.

What they are doing here is nation-shaking. Training that moves from generation to generation takes work, focus, mentoring, translators, and logistics. Conferences are easy, but multiplying leaders and overcoming lots of geographic and linguistic barriers isn’t. Here in Sudan they are taking the first steps to equip 1500 church planters who are taking the Gospel across South Sudan and into the Arab North.


Images are from Dispatches from the Front: Father, Give Me Bread (episode 5). Used with permission from Frontline Missions International, Taylors, South Carolina.

More information about the Dispatches from the Front video series is available at www.dispatchesfromthefront.org.

Learn more about Frontline Missions International at www.frontlinemissions.info/


Learn more about Training National Trainers in Africa by exploring a refreshing approach to missions or by hearing how God is impacting pastors and churches.

Unlock the Potential of Your Missions Strategy

Learn how to harness a missions partnership with deep, lasting results.

At The Gospel Coalition National Conference, we’re hosting a powerful event—stories of impact from pastors who have harnessed key strategies that changed everything about how they approach missions. Come hear what they did, how they did it, and why a strategy that’s not laser-focused on the Word is destined to fall flat.


Where
The Gospel Coalition 2017 National Conference
Room 116


When
Tuesday, April 4, 2017 7:45 AM


Details
Coffee and bagels provided. Hosted by Colin Smith.

Every attendee will receive a copy of God of Word: The Word, the Spirit and how God speaks to us and can enter to win The Vine Project and Wisdom in Leadership.


Sign up to receive a reminder email about the event.


If you understand the importance of missions, you won’t want to miss this event. We look forward to seeing you there.

You have infected us…

You have infected us…

Have you ever been described as a virus?

If you have, was it meant to be a compliment?

But that is exactly how the words of one pastor from Central Asia* were meant when he declared: “You have infected us with TNT!” (TNT is the acronym for Training National Trainers, the name of LRI’s pastoral training ministry.)

This exclamation came while pastors were reporting to our staff on the spread of TNT in their country and even beyond that nation’s borders. What’s so amazing about this story is these pastors live in one country. They travel to a second country to be trained through TNT in handling and proclaiming God’s Word, which they then bring back home and pass along to their own countrymen. But then, they travel to a third country and multiply the training there as well! One group of pastors, three different countries, all being transformed by the Word of God through LRI’s TNT pastoral training… AMAZING!

While LRI is not planning to integrate this virus imagery into a rebranding and communications campaign any time soon, the analogy is a highly virulent one. When exposed to a virus, the human body is provoked to react, often in a way that is beyond its control. In a similar way, the Word of God provokes a response in the life and ministry of the pastor. But whereas a virus causes damage and maybe even death to its host, the Word brings life! Once these faithful brothers were “exposed” and became “infected” through TNT, there was a spiritual reaction that was beyond their control. No longer could they help themselves, for they had to reproduce this training in the lives of others. The “virus” had to spread!

It’s as if nothing can stop the spread of TNT, but only because it carries along the Word of God with its power to transform the hearts, lives, and ministries of these pastors. TNT is like a virus, but a life-giving strain that is spreading around the world.

Not to stretch this analogy too far, but may there be a pandemic of the Word through TNT, the likes of which the world has never before witnessed.


*For security purposes, the name of the pastor and country in this story have been withheld.

Author: Joe Paglia, Director of Operations at Leadership Resources

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Steadfast in the Face of Persecution

Dear Friends and Partners,

Pastor Timur* knew the police were watching him. He’s a Training National Trainers (TNT) student in Muslim-dominated Central Asia hungry for training and passionate to train other house church pastors like himself. He has also lived in the reality that his Christian activities may bring him trouble.

One day police interrogators knocked on his door to search for “drugs and weapons.” Timur knew what they really sought: evidence to halt his ministry work. Feigning innocence Timur told investigators, “I have no weapons or drugs. Feel free to search.”

Timur previously deleted sermons from his computer knowing this day might come. Even so, he soon remembered one sermon on his computer on how to be a missionary—surely a topic that would implicate him! To his dismay, the interrogators found the sermon and fined him $400. Timur currently awaits a trial that may lead to more fines or jail time.

Although exhausted and ‘shell-shocked’, he doesn’t think he’s doing anything extraordinary—just being faithful to God’s call. In the midst of this major trial and uncertainty, he remains strong, steadfast, and committed to the gospel at any cost.

What a privilege it is to know and partner with courageous pastors like Timur! Would you join us in praying for our persecuted brother?

Pray for Timur and other persecuted pastors that LRI is equipping and encouraging in the Muslim world.

Yours in Christ,

Craig Parro

PS: Would you also consider a gift to help further train pastors like Timur in Central Asia?

*His real name has been withheld for security purposes.

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    Launching Pastoral Training Movements Worldwide

     

    The mission of Leadership Resources is to launch pastoral training movements worldwide. This blog shares articles, resources, and updates from staff of God’s work around the world through our training. If you’re new to our blog, start here.

     


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