All posts by Chief Editor

Christ-follower, Pastor, Theologian, Educator, and Researcher.

Have You Forsaken Your First Love?

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In Revelation 2 and 3, the risen and exalted Jesus speaks to the seven churches of Asia. In 2:1–7, the focus is on the church at Ephesus. 

Ephesus: At the time of Apostle John, Ephesus was a major city of Asia Minor with about a quarter of a million residents. It was a commercial and export center for Asia, with three trade routes passing through it. Politically, the city was led by a governor and had massive theatres, stadiums, and marketplace infrastructure. This city also had a rich religious history. In this city was the magnificent temple of the goddess Artemis/Diana (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world). The city also had a shrine and a great altar built for the imperial worship of the emperor Caesar Augustus. 

Apostle Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila first brought the gospel to this city (Acts 18:19-20). Paul also spent two years establishing the church in this city so that “all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Act 19:10). Also, Paul sent Timothy to reign on false teachers in this church (1 Tim 1:3). Apostle John is credited as the one who strengthened the church in this region.

For clarity, in 1:20, the seven stars are the angels (= messengers=, ministers of the gospel) of the seven churches, while the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

In 2:1, Jesus is portrayed as the one who HOLDS the seven stars in his right hand. He controls, preserves, and protects the churches, including Ephesus, and is watchfully present among them (Lev 26:12). Jesus also WALKS  among the seven golden lampstands. He walks amidst the churches. He is near his people and watches over them.

Jesus expresses an understanding of the strengths and the weaknesses of the church in Ephesus. What Jesus KNEW about this church:

  • Their deeds– Faith is demonstrated by action (Eph 2:8-10; Jas 2:18-26). In the next letter to the church in Smyrna, the Lord understands their affliction and poverty. Jesus knew all men (Jn 2:24). Also see 2 Chronicles 16:9
  • Their hard work/love– “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you helped his people and continue to help them” Hebrews 6:10
  • Their perseverance/hope

Commendations:

1) They were intolerant of evil-doers (false apostles)- Because of their love for truth, they did not tolerate those who were counterfeit apostles. They closed their ears to harmful teaching. In verse 6, they hated the practices of the Nicolaitans. This was a group known for its false teachings and erroneous behavior like immorality and idolatry. They hated what God hated (Isa 61:8; Zech 8:17).

2) They tested those who claimed to be apostles– They examined those who self-proclaimed themselves as apostles and found them false (they did not have the behavior of the Lord). Jesus had warned his disciples of false prophets in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves (Matt 7:15); Paul warned the church at Ephesus to keep watch over themselves and the flock of God, and added, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock” Acts 28-31). We are exhorted to test spirits to see whether they are from God (1 John  4:1-6; 1Thess 5:21; 1 Cor 14:29).

In a world full of false teachers and prophets, the necessity of testing spirits cannot be underestimated. We should be able to discern/identify (like the church in Berea, Acts 17:11) these false messengers and have nothing to do with them.

3) They persevered and endured hardships (v3)- They endured hardship in Christ’s name and considered it blessedness (Matt 5:10). In their hardships, they did not grow weary. To Romans (5:3-5), several years before, Paul had these to say, “…but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us….” They persevered in the correct doctrine and were willing to endure difficulty (under hostile environments and teachings).

Despite the commendations, Christ offered some rebukes:

Disapprovals v4:

The Loss of the First Love– The church at Ephesus had forsaken (‘given up’) their initial love- This is a church that Paul, about 35 years earlier, had praised for their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love for their saints (Eph 1:15-23). Love is a great ingredient in the Christian life (it is one of the fruit of the Spirit), and it is vital for the church should be known for its love. It should have been nurtured to grow and mature. But now, their love had diminished! Now the church was no longer known for the things they were praised for!

Jeremiah had proclaimed to Israel, “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me…” (Jer 2:2).

The greatest tragedy in Christian life is when your best days of devotion, service, and intimacy with the Lord are all in the past.

The greatest tragedy in Christian life is when your best days of devotion, service, and intimacy with the Lord are all in the past.

The loss of their first love entailed the loss of their identity, purpose, and destiny.

What really happened to this church? This was more than a loss of focus. What exactly happened?

Three Realities:

1) The Devil– Satan had stolen their love. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). That’s his identity.

Can be likened to the seed that fell along the path, “as soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them” Mk 4:15

They had fallen into the enemy’s deceptive schemes.

2) The World– They must have fallen into the trap of the patterns of the world.

Can be liked to the seed sown among the thorns, they hear the word “but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mk 4:19). Other loves displaced the love of God. The love of the world, the allure of the world, and everything in it make our love grow cold.

3) The Flesh– It took over and produced its fruit. Galatians 5:16-18: “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other….” Also, the cravings of sinful man, lusting of the eyes, the boasting of what one has (1 Jn 2:16).

The loss of their first love entailed the loss of their identity, purpose, and destiny.

The exalted Christ gives three antidotes in imperative forms. First, love can be restored if we pay attention to the three imperatives:

1) Remember (v5): They were to remember the height from which they had fallen. They were to trace the path of decline and failure. They were now instructed on the things they were praised for in the past! “

All religion commences in serious thought” (the good, and the Gen 3 moment… and redemption). They were to remember their experience and conduct before the devil came and stole, killed, and destroyed their passion, before the world and its pressures got hold of them before the cravings of the sinful man.…

This is not something alien to us today.

Remember when you used to heed God’s voice, passionate about winning souls for Christ; you had an intimate relationship with God; you used your voice to praise God; you had the joy and assurance of salvation. But it is now all gone!

In these past times, you accomplished so much and transformed lives. During these times, you saw miracles and God at work… So how do you know that you’ve lost your first love?

You had time for God, but now you are busy and unavailable (haushikiki, haupatikani). You used to pray and fast; nowadays, you rarely even thank God for food or when retiring to bed is a problem. You used to read the Bible in a few months, but now you can’t complete a chapter even in half a year! This is serious! You used to go to church; nowadays, even the Christmas service that comes once a year, you don’t attend. You used to speak so boldly (even with little knowledge) but now? You used to lead churches, ministries, and Christian movements…You used to cross rivers and mountains to take the gospel, but now you can’t even go to the next-door neighbor. If Zaccheus was here, we would have asked him, where did you throw your confidence that you had to climb a tree without minding about your status/ what will people say…. Where did the hunger and thirst to meet Jesus go? Where did that heaven-mindedness go?

Little by little, this love waned, and the flame went off because of the devil, the world, and the flesh.

How is our love for God today?

Consider the state of grace in which you once stood but have fallen from. Recollection can positively lead us to know our true identity and know our enemy. It can lead to healing in relationships (the prodigal son, Lk15:17-18).

As we commit ourselves to remembering, I pray that God renews the old golden days and that he reignites your passion for him and his work.

2) Repent: Remembrance must lead to sorrow (mourning) for sin and the desire to change one’s heart and mind. It should cause us to think again. Repent for going astray; repent for losing what you shouldn’t have lost, for not loving the things God loves, and hating the things God hates.

3) Reproduce: Do the things you did at first; resume your former zeal, diligence, watchfulness, prayer, and hatred for sin. Recover all the lost ground. Go back to the cross of Christ…gaze at it and be renewed. The Ephesian church needed to return to the first love and do what they used to do for God. True repentance should lead to a changed life.

Warning: If you do not repent… or heed what the Spirit says,

JudgmentI will come and remove your lampstand (church)” v5d. This verb, “I am coming,” emphasizes immediacy, “I am coming quickly.’

In Genesis 4: 7, the Lord told Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have you but you must master it.”

If you do not repent and thus do not shine your light, God will remove his lampstand on which you are anchored.

We mostly know God as a Giver and not a taker. It is dreadful when God removes anything from us. Moses feared the thought of moving forward without God’s glory and presence. The case of Saul when God removed his Spirit (1 Sam 16:14-23) when God removed his Spirit from Samson (Jdg 16:20), and the fear David had when he sinned (Ps 51:11,12). As a Vinedresser, God prunes the plant for cleanliness and fruitfulness, but he cuts off the unfruitful/useless branches.

The letter closes with a promise:To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God,” (v7b). “The one who is conquering., or continually overcomes.”

Eternal life is promised to the one who is steadfast and overcomes doctrinal errors, schemes of the enemy, and the allures of the world. Assurance is given to the one who remains faithful to the end.

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God,” (v7b).

Perfecting our Love for One Another By Dealing with Bitterness

In Genesis 4:1-9, we are introduced to the lives of the two sons of Adam (4:1-2a): Cain and Abel.

These two sons had parallel interests:  Abel kept the flock, and Cain worked the soil (4:2b).

Two nature of offering they offered (vv.3-4a): On one occasion, they brought offerings before the Lord. Cain brought some of the fruit of the soil, while Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flocks.

Two Responses (vv.4a)-: The Lord looked with favor on Abel his offering; he did not look with favor on Cain and his offering.

Why? Is it because of the offering or the offerer? Certainly, this has to do with the heart condition of the worshipper.

We are later told that Abel was a righteous man (Heb. 11:4), and his heart was right with God therefore, his offering was readily accepted.

However, Cain’s heart wasn’t right with God. And this was something that could not be substituted with sacrifices or plenty of sacrifices.

How do we know this?

Bible records, in Samuel 15:22, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” God wants us to obey Him rather than perform superficial religious rituals.

Also, God does not delight in the multitude of offerings (Cain may have been tempted to think this way); rather, he wants us to be righteous, shun evil, seek justice, and defend the cause of the vulnerable in society (Isa. 1). Prophet Micah (6:8) instructs, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Therefore, the rejection of Cain’s offering was due to a lack of faith and obedience. He was only fulfilling a religious duty, honoring God with his lips but not with a contrite heart (Ps. 51:17).

The nature of his heart was laid bare when God accepted Abel’s sacrifice. Cain was BURDENED WITH ANGER, and this became a source of conflict.

Manifestation of a Destructive Emotion (v.6): Cain became angry, jealous, and downcast; why? Simply because his brother’s offering was accepted and he was not. He basically had a problem with the declaration of his brother as righteous. His heart was full of hatred, resentment, jealousy, and covetousness.

This is not something utterly new; this is the true reflection of the human heart. Bible teaches that the heart of man is hostile and deceitful above all things and is beyond cure (Jer. 17:9); “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and makes a man ‘unclean’” (Mark 7:21-23; see also Rom. 3:10,13-18). This informs us why Cain was angry and bitter over his brother.

These attitudes of the heart are not strange today. There are people who, like Cain, silently in their hearts, cannot stand seeing their friends/colleagues get promoted, move to a new house, get a life partner, get married, or get a scholarship; when these good things happen, they wish that the world of their favored colleagues would collapse or shutdown. These destructive emotions (anger, resentment, jealousy, bitterness, envy) motivate people to pull others down, call people names and ensure by all means everyone is on ground zero (like them)

Realize that in this case, it wasn’t even a friend; it was a BROTHER (repeated three times for emphasis); having an ill motive against a brother. Cain burned with anger against his own brother. I see a similarity between Cain and the prodigal son’s brother, who felt so bad when his lost brother returned home. He was so angry, yet he was not footing the homecoming party bill!

If you have a problem with people becoming better, you will always have a problematic life because there are always people who can do things better and are smarter than you in one way or the other. Yes, you are a unique and special person, but that does not eclipse the fact that God has gifted others differently. In fact, God favors those who walk humbly before him.

God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes, just like in the case of Cain and Abel, the older is rejected in favor of the younger, turning the normative ancient Near East societal custom around. Cain was special, but because of his sin, Seth took over his place (4:25); Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn, but God bypassed him and chose Isaac. Esau was Isaac’s firstborn son but was rejected, and Jacob was picked. Jacob’s firstborn son Reuben was replaced by Joseph’s sons (49:3-4; 1 Chron. 5:1-2). In fact, God even “rearranged” the birth order of Joseph’s sons (Gen. 48:8-22). God exercises his sovereignty in his choices of those who receive his blessing, for all we receive is because of God’s grace.

Envy is such a disastrous sin in any kind of relationship. Envy or covetousness is simply wanting right things or wrong things at a wrong amount, at the wrong time, and in a wrong manner.

What was God’s response? Two Action Points for Cain (v.7):

Do what is Right– If Cain does what is right, the Lord will graciously accept him because the Lord does not show favoritism. The Lord was telling Cain to get his heart right with him. Does the Lord reject a person who serves him wholeheartedly? Has the Lord ever rejected a repentant sinner? If Cain had humbled himself and listened to God’s voice, he would certainly have been accepted unconditionally. 

However, Cain needed to get things right and do them right. The Lord is more interested in the worshipper than the offering; the Lord is not interested in the multitude of offerings.

In other words, Cain was told to go back and redo the assignment, and the retake will be accepted. Go back and do what is right, and your anger and envy will GO AWAY. This was a great opportunity for repentance.

As believers, we need to ask God to examine our hearts and minds to rid us of any of these destructive emotions. We need to learn what is right from God’s word and do it in God’s way.

Here’s the warning Cain was given: If he does not do what is right, then sin was crouching at his door like an animal waiting to destroy him. Cain’s destructive anger, envy, and bitterness could potentially lead to more sin. Thus,

He Must Master His Sin– (Rule over it/subdue it)- Since sin was crouching at his door, Cain needed to rule over/ master it.  Otherwise, it would master him. God had seen a (pre) meditated crime in his anger.

Sin is not a powerless thing to wish away. No. It is a POWER; it is a MASTER. It has the capacity to control us. It is a power that must be subdued.

Further, sin has the capacity to grow and even multiply. Therefore, it was necessary to master/subdue sin at its early stages. It is easy to master our tendencies before it grows and masters us. Sin, in the beginning, might look harmless, but with it is the capacity to bring massive destruction. Like the Trojan Horse- The ancient Greek city of Troy was given a gift-a huge wooden horse. It looked harmless, but hidden inside were soldiers ready to destroy the city. Deal with your sin; deal with your destructive emotions against others at their early stages before it grows (Heb. 12:1).

A bitter, jealous and envious heart that is not controlled can soon wreak havoc in relationships. The unforgiving spirit that is not mastered is like a time bomb. The greatest excuse is “I got angry.” Anger is a cover-up for some other areas of disobedience in our lives. Sin is not a weakness but a power that should be defeated.

Lack of self-control is not a family problem; it is a personal heart problem that should be decisively mastered.

A foothold given to the devil soon becomes a stronghold. Let not sin find a lodging place in your heart. Deal with sin radically and quickly. Otherwise, if it moves in and takes over, it will make you its slave.

Thus, we need to master our thoughts, language, and tongues, for it can be disastrous when it gets out of control (like fire).

If one refuses to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at their door, eager to control them, but one must subdue it and be its master. Master it so you can be a good steward of the body, influence, resources, and talents God has given you. Bible reminds us that we are no longer slaves but free. We are not to be controlled by flesh desires.

We can truly celebrate the win of others when God has renewed our hearts; we can only be pacesetters for others when we have conquered the self; we can only hold the ladders for others to climb when we have mastered our self-centeredness.

Unrestrained Emotions (v.8):

In verse 8, we see Cain luring his ‘brother’ to his death. Realize that the seeds of murder were nurtured when he never mastered selfishness, anger, hatred, envy, and resentment. Sin matured and gave birth to death (physical, social, spiritual). What began in the heart and mind was now executed using the hands. Sin begins at heart… and, if not checked, moves into wrong emotions and actions.

Conflicts are matters of the heart; they can better be managed at the heart level. It can get out of hand if not managed at the heart level. One can kill not just with a weapon but also with words (killing other people’s dreams, reputations, etc.). That is why people can easily use a weapon, or words, to address a conflict.

Anger is a powerful emotion that can lead to violence and even murder. Jesus taught that anger in the heart is the moral equivalence of murder with the hands (Matt. 5:21-26. Angry drivers cause accidents; angry people hurt others. Had Cain heeded God’s warning and accepted His gracious invitation, he would never have become a murderer.

It begins with wrong thoughts, then wrong feelings, then wrong feelings translate to wrong words, wrong words to wrong actions, and wrong actions to wrong habits. God is saying, ‘Deal with your sin now. If you let it go on, it will grow and destroy you (not just others).

So how can we deal with our hearts? Two Ways:

The way of Cain: “The way of Cain” (Jude 11); which is a way of self-belief and unbelief. Out of a heart ruled by human nature come pride, murder, unwholesome talk, and falsehood. When we hate others, it is a sign that we are not walking in the light and don’t have God’s love in our hearts (1 John 2:9-11).

The Way of Jesus (1 Jn 3:11-20- of loving one another)– Follow the way of Jesus, the life-giver. If we love God, then we should be able to love. God commands a blessing when we love and are united. The heart that says, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ or ‘I don’t care needs transformation. Jesus is able to fill our hearts with love and life. Jesus teaches us to love truly and to celebrate the success of others. Christ gives us the power to rule over sin.

We equally have a responsibility to guard our hearts against becoming sinful (no longer desiring to please God), unbelieving hearts (loss of faith and trust in God), turning away and being hardened. This is a daily work, asking God to search us try us, and consume our darkness.

Deal with temptation in the first instance. Temptations start small. At first, it may seem inconsequential, but once we yield to it, sin gains strength in our lives, and thereby our ability to subdue it diminishes.

In conclusion, we need to perfect our love for one another by conquering the self and dealing with destructive emotions.

God pictures sin as a wild animal ready to attack. It has a desire for you, it thirsts for your blood, it is your enemy… but you must master it. Deal with your sin. Don’t assume that it will go away, don’t underrate it, or else you will soon find yourself in the grip of a monster you can’t control. Samson fooled himself that God was always with him, and never realized that the Spirit of the Lord had long left him (Judg. 16:20).

Has your sin overtaken you, mastered you, or has become a  deep-rooted habit? You need God’s grace and Jesus to transform you and give you a contrite heart.

You need Jesus the chain breaker to break these negative emotions and strongholds of the enemy.

“KENYA KWANZA”: ARE YOU WHAT KENYA HAS BEEN WAITING FOR, OR SHOULD THE WAIT CONTINUE…

As the news of Jesus’ teachings and works spread far and wide, John the Baptist in prison received these reports and decided to send his disciples to ask him: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:2-6).

John the Baptist had heard reports about the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, the sick getting healed, the deaf hearing, the dead are raised, demons cast, and the good news being preached to the poor. All these indicators pointed to the prophetic description of the identity and work of the coming Messiah. However, he needed confirmation.

He wanted to find out whether this was the long-awaited kairos/divine moment and whether this was the person to bring good news to the world. He must have pondered, is this the Christ who will usher in a new period, a kingdom of justice and righteousness? Is he the light that is come to shine on all living in darkness? Is he the merciful one who brings true peace and salvation to God’s people? Is he the one sent by God to heal the broken-hearted, bring redemption, release the oppressed and proclaim true freedom?

For John to make his informed conclusion, Jesus’ response pointed to the prophetic utterances and signs characterizing his ministry.

More relevantly, since 1963 independence, Kenya has struggled through four regimes. Admittedly, although there have been some gains here and there in the last 59 years, Kenya still struggles with injustices, brutalities, corruption, mismanagement of resources, abject poverty, politics of exclusion, tribalism, and nepotism, among other threats.

In 2013, the Jubilee government came in with great promises. Their coming in after fifty years of independence and their use of the biblical analogy of “Jubilee” brought some renewed optimism among the populace. Biblically, the word “Jubilee” (Lev. 25) signifies a year of freedom, abundance, redemption, and rest. It is a year of restitution and releasing people from debts and slavery. It is a year that presented an opportunity to start off anew. But, strictly speaking, the Jubilee government has fallen short of this expectation.

John’s question remains critical as the new government is announced and inaugurated. Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Kenyans are full of expectations. Do the newly elected leaders comprise a breed of servant leaders who will revive the economy, ensure food security, fight corruption, provide (affordable) healthcare and housing, alleviate the suffering of the Wananchi, increase opportunities for young people, and build a cohesive nation through good governance and the rule of law? Will they be the ones we’ve been waiting for to fix the nation socially, politically, and economically? Or are they the kawaida greedy leaders we’ve known who can’t wait to first adjust their pay and allowances upwards…

Will the new 2022 government be what Kenya has been waiting for since independence?

Kenya Kwanza government, are you the ones we’ve been waiting for, or should the wait continue? We desperately HOPE so. But TIME will tell.

SHAHIDIHUB RESEARCH POLL: “CHURCH & POLITICS IN KENYA, 2022”

We are glad to release the poll results of the recent research titled, The Church & Politics in Kenya 2022.

The survey sought to determine the attitudes of Christians in Kenya across church denominations on politics, elections, and the extent of their involvement in the political process. It also looked into other matters touching on pulpit ministry.

The online poll was open to Christians from all church denominations in Kenya. It reveals opinions and practices on the specific areas covered by the survey. We hope these findings will create and inform conversations on how the Church in Kenya can better play its crucial role during the General Election period.

We are grateful to all the participants for sharing their views, thus enabling ShahidiHub Research to produce these findings.

SHAHIDIHUB RESEARCH POLL RELEASE ON “THE STATE OF THE CHURCH IN KENYA AFTER PHASED REOPENING”

We are glad to release to you the poll results of the recent research titled, “The State of the Church in Kenya after the Phased Reopening of Churches.” The survey is a follow-up study of what had been done in May/June 2020.

We are most grateful for the invaluable feedback from those who participated. We are also grateful to those who willingly circulated the survey link to church leaders within their circles.

It is hoped that the data will in a big way contribute to the understanding of the body of Christ in Kenya. We hope that you will find this summary report below helpful.

[If you would like to write something based on the polls or want to share your experience on the Church and Covid-19, you are welcome to submit a 500-word article for consideration by our editorial team. We will be glad to feature your article on this platform (as a Guest Contributor) 

Find the download below.

A Checklist for the Phased Reopening of Churches in Kenya

On 6th July 2020, the president announced a phased reopening of worship places in Kenya. This comes about 100 days since a ban on religious meetings was first issued as a containment measure against the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is worth noting that reopening of places of worship is coming at a time the infections curve is on a steady upward trajectory, with no signs of flattening.

As a follow-up to the presidential directive, the Interfaith Council formed to come up with procedures for reopening places of worship announced that churches can now put in place requisite measures and resume in-person Worship Services, from 14th July 2020. How prepared are churches to meet the recommended health guidelines? (Refer to Qn. 14 of the recent polls by ShahidiHub Research & Consulting).

For now, here is a checklist of basic measures that church leaders should put in before they reopen their worship areas:

Where to Begin:

  • Constitute a COVID-19 response team (Health committee), that will monitor/oversee the adherence to the health procedures.
  • Train your Ushers/Volunteer teams on these health measures and recommendations.

Ensure:

  • The physical distance of 1.5metres is observed throughout the Worship Service (You may want to encourage families to sit together). A visible label on seating arrangements.
  • Social distance during singing.
  • The maximum number of congregants does not exceed 100.
  • Children under 13 years of age, and persons above 58 years of age are not allowed to attend the in person-worship services (For now, use other strategies to reach out to them).
  • The duration for every worship service must not exceed 1 hour. (You may want to enlist lay leaders to help in various church ministries including preaching in the multiple worship services).
  • All congregants to properly wear masks throughout the worship service.
  • Have a local Covid-19 hotline number, to report any case of emergency.

Invest: Guidelines with Financial Implications

  • Thermo-guns for body temperature checks (those with 38 degree Celsius are not to be allowed in).
  • Protective gears (PPE’s) for those checking temperatures at entry points.
  • Provide alcohol-based sanitizers/ disinfectant at the entry points.
  • Increased handwashing stations, with soap and running water.
  • Regular cleaning and disinfection (or fumigation) of the church building and hallways
  • Invest in additional microphones- or ensure that all shared microphones are sanitized before being handed over to another person.
  • Face masks to donate (to some members who may not afford…)

Reconsiderations:

  • How Offering is collected- think of other options like Mpesa
  • Rethink how Baptism/ Holy Communion are done (disinfect hands…)
  • Introduce more worship services (but first find out if members will be comfortable with the suggested schedules)

Things to Discourage/Avoid

  • Handshaking. Giving high five… or customary ‘greet your neighbor…’
  • Socialization in church premises after a worship service.

Now that churches have been given the green light to self-regulate and resume in-person gathering from 19th July, church leaders should approach this matter with seriousness and with a sense of accountability. The church a life-giving community, hence leaders should strictly adhere to these measures for the church to continue to be a source of life, faith, love, and grace to God’s people.

Magnanimous Generosity: The Kenyan Church Loving its Neighbor!

PhotoCredits: QuoteMaster

It is now over a year after the first case of COVID 19 was reported in Kenya. Since then, today’s official government reports indicate that over 6000 people have tested positive for the virus.

To curb the spread of this pandemic, the government of Kenya instituted physical (not social) distancing, the mandatory use of masks in public, the washing of hands, the establishment of quarantine facilities for those traveling from high-risk contact areas, the restriction of passenger travels from abroad, the suspension of all forms of social gathering including religious gathering, the implementation of a dusk to dawn curfew and the cessation of travels to and from Nairobi, among other measures. The net result of these measures has been the paralyzing of all non-essential services and travels.

While the government’s daily briefings focus on those infected with COVID 19, it does not reveal the number of Kenyans whose lives have been affected due to the pandemic by means other than direct infection. Reports indicate that in Nairobi alone, 84% of its 5 million residents have had their daily lives greatly impacted by COVID 19. More particularly, the 54% rate of unemployment is largely attributed to the pandemic. A report released on the 30th of June by TIFA Research shows that “among those who had been earning prior to the crisis, almost all (96%) report that they are now earning either ‘very little’ or ‘nothing’ relative to what they had been earning before”. This report also reveals that the economic interventions by the government to buffer Kenyans against financial hardship have not been felt by the ordinary citizen. With no direct and concrete social aid from the government, life has become more arduous for the poor majority.

In the midst of this, the church in Kenya has stood with their communities and continued to shine the love of Jesus Christ through various activities aimed at alleviating the pain of its neighbors. In a recent report by Shahidihub Africa, 56.67% of the churches across the 33 counties surveyed were involved in helping the poor with food; 42.86% had a targeted support of basic needs to the most vulnerable including the elderly and the people living with disabilities; 21.08% extended help with basic needs to those affected by natural calamities, while 17.56% offered similar support to Children Homes within their neighborhood.

The material support highlighted above is significant as the church itself has been financially hit by the crisis (For more on this, see Shahidihub Africa). Their own financial vulnerability has not, however, deterred them from generously tending to the vulnerability that surrounds them. The survey found that 11.71% paid rent for those who had lost their jobs. Of note is the fact that the survey does not show whether the beneficiaries were Christians or not. These churches have given materially, not because they are financially rich but because they love giving. Like the Macedonian churches in the midst of severe suffering and trials, their extreme poverty catalyzed rich generosity (2 Cor.8:1-5).

More importantly, it is precisely this love and generosity that validates their commitment to the gospel. Beside material support, churches have also enhanced spiritual services to foster spiritual growth, comfort, compassion, and reconciliation. Some of the noted activities include prayer support [82.20%], counseling (personal problems, conflicts, job losses) [64.40%] and the sharing of the gospel [57.61%]. The heightening of spiritual services and engagement during this pandemic indicates the Church’s hunger for God and its deep-rooted hope. Through prayer, support, counselling and sharing the gospel, individuals and families have had their lives considerably ameliorated in the face of what is proving to be a difficult time.

Lastly, through reaching out to those affected, the Kenyan Church has demonstrated the integrity of the gospel. It has embodied the idea that the gospel does not concern solely of the sharing of the word or meeting the needs of the people but dynamically is comprised of both. They have shown that their presence in a community is not simply to target individuals with a religious agenda but to extend love having fully considered the personhood of the individual. The depersonalization of a human being is irreconcilable with the revelatory and transformative encounter with the person of Jesus. Therefore, though church buildings remain closed and gathering for worship services remain suspended, the church according to this survey, is as active as it has ever been. As Deon K. Johnson, Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Missouri, so succinctly concludes:

“The work of the church is essential. The work of caring for the lonely, the marginalized, and the oppressed is essential. The work of speaking truth to power and seeking justice is essential. The work of being a loving, liberating, and life-giving presence in the world is essential. The work of welcoming the stranger, the refugee and the undocumented is essential. The work of reconciliation and healing and caring is essential. The church does not need to “open” because the church never “closed”. We who make up the Body of Christ, the church, love God and our neighbors and ourselves so much that we will stay away from our buildings until it is safe. We are the church.” (Bishop-elect. D. K. Johnson, June 2020).

Guest Contributor: Birgen K. M. Araap Cheruiyot;

Ph.D (Religious Studies) Student; McGill University, Montreal, QC.

Research Interests: Hebrew Bible; Old Testament Ethics; Immigration & Public Policy

 

Birgen K. M. Araap Cheruiyot

Equipping and Empowering the Laity for Ministry Support

PhotoCredits: Lay RenewalMinistries

The recently released poll report by the ShahidiHub Research & Consulting (under ShahidiHub Africa Ltd) shows various ways in which the church has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It reveals how pastors have continued their connectedness with their members after the ban on religious gathering, as a health measure against the spread of Covid-19.

The report shows pastors/church leaders who did not transition to online platforms, followed up on their members through WhatsApp (69.29%); Phone Calls (58.05%), and SMS (50.56%). However, 13.11% expressed that it has been hard to follow up on their church members during this period.

Other ways in which pastors and other church leaders have reached out to their members include cautious home visits; provision of hard copies of Bible study/ family devotional materials to members; follow-up through the leaders of life/Cell-group (home churches), and availing to members the preaching/sermon texts with guided questions.

The survey further found out that the church has continued to spread of the good news during this period. The outstanding activities to the society during this extraordinary period include: Prayer Support [82.20%]; Counseling (personal problems, conflicts, job losses)- [64.40%]; Reaching out with the Good News [57.61%]; Helping the poor with food stuff [56.67%]; Pastoral presence during bereavement process and burials [55.50%]; Supporting the vulnerable (Elderly, persons living with disabilities) with basic needs [42.86%]; Helping deal with matters of domestic violence [34.19%]; Helping those affected by natural calamities with basic needs [21.08%]; Supporting Children Homes with basic needs [17.56%]; and, Paying Rent for those who’ve lost jobs [11.71%].

Having these statistics in mind, it is evident that pastoral care has been a necessary and urgent need during this Covid-19 season. The closure of churches did not result in the lessening of pastoral activities. In fact, it has emerged that pastors and ministry leaders have become busier during this partial lockdown period. The question then is, with the current overwhelming pastoral ministry needs, how can the church effectively dispense its pastoral duties to its members? My proposition is that laity training/equipping, and empowerment are necessary for effective pastoral ministry and discipleship.

The church needs to cultivate the laity’s ability to theologize in order to mitigate some of the pastoral challenges currently being experienced. Equipped and empowered laity will be beneficial for several reasons. First, empowered laity will compensate for the strained pastor-congregation ratio. Many churches in Kenya (especially in rural areas) experience this ratio mismatch of pastors and congregations. These churches do not have enough pastors to provide leadership and shepherding to every group in the church. In this widespread scenario, the few available pastors are already strained and overstretched.

Therefore, there is a need to empower the laity to lead, teach, and support other church roles and responsibilities. It is lamentable that some churches are not utilizing some of the resource persons in their congregation. If Apostle Paul’s analogy of the body is correctly applied, various gifts in a congregation will be fanned into flame and have a vibrant body of Christ. Overreliance on the clergy overburdens them thereby making them ineffective in the ministry. Such ministry ineffectiveness produces milk-dependent and spiritually immature Christians.

Second, empowering the laity is not only for their personal good but also for the good of their circle of friends. It should be appreciated that in Africa generally and Kenya in this case, most people get their social support from friends and family members. Seeking professional counselling has not yet found wide societal acceptance in our context. Since most counselling happens at the peer and family level, there is need to train and empower the laity in order to enhance effective social support. Their training should encompass basics of counselling.

Third, laity empowerment will strengthen believers’ spiritual growth. Emphatically, the Great Commission mandate is about making disciples. Biblical teaching is a necessity for effective discipleship making. The COVID-19 situation has pointed out the weakness of pulpit and clergy-centered ministry. Believers should be empowered to personally gain their spiritual muscles and growth from the mines of the scripture, and not over-rely on Sunday-to-Sunday spoon-feeding.  However, this does not undermine the place of the pulpit ministry. If properly utilized, the pulpit offers a strategic platform for empowering the laity and promoting the priesthood of all believers.

Fourth, by training/equipping and empowering the laity, the church will be implementing the biblical principle of delegation. It took Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, for Moses to make sense of the delegation principle. Moses kept doing ministry from morning till evening to the detriment of his self. Jethro advised, “…what you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone” (Exodus 18:17,18 NIV). Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy and Titus also reinforces the place of delegation in church administration (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-10, Titus 1:5). Therefore, equipping and empowering the laity will not only ease and make pastoral work effective but also delightful.

GUEST CONTRIBUTOR:

Name: Leonard Too

Education Qualification: Bachelor of Education (BED-UON)-2014; MDIV-BS (AIU)-2018; PhD Biblical Studies Student (Africa International University). 

Leonard K. Too

“…it is evident that pastoral care has been a necessary and urgent need during this Covid-19 season. The closure of churches did not result in the lessening of pastoral activities. In fact, it has emerged that pastors and ministry leaders have become busier during this partial lockdown period.”

“It is lamentable that some churches are not utilizing some of the resource persons in their congregation. If Apostle Paul’s analogy of the body is correctly applied, various gifts in a congregation will be fanned into flame and have a vibrant body of Christ.”

“The COVID-19 situation has pointed out the weakness of pulpit and clergy-centered ministry. Believers should be empowered to personally gain their spiritual muscles and growth from the mines of the scripture, and not over-rely on Sunday-to-Sunday spoon-feeding.”

Exploring the Use of Whatsapp Cast Model to Reach Out to Children in Your Church

The recent poll results by ShahidiHub Africa showed that 64% of pastors/church leaders think that children of ages 0-11 years have not been given adequate attention through online and offline platforms during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

As a Sunday school teacher, this is worrisome because during this age bracket (0-11) children are open to learn about God, Bible, faith, and about the gospel.

While this can be attributed to the fact that children have no access to online platforms, children ministries can respond by using inexpensive mediums of sending gospel messages to children, through their parents. I propose the use of the WhatsApp cast model and SMS. Teachers can prepare and share gospel messages to parents and children’s caregivers and share it with their children.

WhatsApp cast is a recorded audio, word and visual illustrated files shared to users on WhatsApp platform and short messenger service (SMS). These services are easily accessible and inexpensive to use. It further allows teachers to send a word or audio file directly to their contacts. Each contact receives a personal message.

How to Start Whatsapp Cast

Know your audience in this case children ages 0-11 years– Segment children according to age and determine the content of your message that is age appropriate. Prepare age appropriate scripture verse activities that are simple, practical and fun. You can consider theme lessons for teaching a series of Bible lessons e.g. lesson series on God’s attributes or ten Commandments etc.

Organize your content– Make a list of what your cast will be about. This is important to keep you on track and help you avoid duplicating your topics.

Record and share your content– You have two options: record directly on WhatsApp or record the audio separately and then upload to WhatsApp.

Build your audience– Send the WhatsApp Cast, first to those in your contacts and then encourage the recipients to share the message with individuals in their contacts. Invite feedback to help you improve your content.  

Pray for the outpouring of the Spirit to guide you to choose your topics and execute the plan.

Given the widespread use of the Whatsapp, this alternative can greatly help churches reach out to the children at their homes. The Whatsapp feature is easy-to-use, accessible, and affordable to many, even during this period.

“…children ministries can respond by using inexpensive mediums of sending gospel messages to children. I propose the use of the WhatsApp cast model and SMS. Teachers can prepare and share gospel messages to parents and children’s caregivers and share it with their children.”

GUEST CONTRIBUTOR:

Mercy K. Maina, M. A. Biblical Studies;

Part Time Lecturer: Kabarak University, Teaching Bible Courses. Service: Sunday School Teacher CITAM Karen;; Interest: Bridging Teaching Skill Gaps among  Sunday School Teachers