The African Pastors’ Conference 2023: Lessons Learnt
By: Deji Yesufu
I am a graduate of the Institute of Pastoral and Theological Training (IPTT), Egbe, Kogi State, where I obtained a masters degree in theology and pastoral studies. My training was intense, and every opportunity I have to say it, I tell people that my training at the IPTT is the best education I have received in all my life. The school structured our lessons around a Kindle device, where we had our lectures and books pre-installed. Our examinations came in the form of essay writing that covered a specific topic under the course we had studied (we also had live classes). By the time my training was drawing to an end, I approached my teachers and explained that it would be a good idea to have refresher courses on our training. There was the grave danger of forgetting things learnt if one were not using some aspects of our learning actively in pastoral ministry. One of my teachers explained to me that the school was not at that point yet. What I suggested to my teachers, to offer pastors refreshers courses on fundamental subjects in theological learning, is what the African Pastors’ Conference (APC) pursues to do with the various conferences that hold all around the continent of Africa.
Africanpastorsconferences.org, the website of the ministry, explains that these conferences were started by Pastors Errol Hulse and Irving Steggles (both late) in 2008 with the intention of training pastors in Africa by pastors from African churches on the gospel of Jesus Christ. The founders of the conference recognize the deep theological lack of the African continent – a continent that is deeply religious but at the same time over wash with the gospel of prosperity. The conference seeks to inculcate in the pastors attending a commitment to the Holy Scriptures and to help them to appreciate the fact that the life and ministry of the man of God, along with the Church he leads, can derive from the pages of scriptures alone. The website reads: “African Pastors’ Conferences was borne out of a great desire to see churches in Africa undergo reformation, to become more Biblical in their teaching and practice…” In this guise, the African Pastors’ Conference is unapologetically reformed in its theological outlook. Most of its teachers and trustees are Reformed Baptist in confession, and they seek to impart this theological perspective on their listeners. My observation of the conference at Portharcourt, Nigeria, reveal to me that though the organizers are reformed Baptist, their main concern is to get their listeners to come to love and appreciate the Bible and to learn to be biblical in their doctrines and practices.
The conference at Portharcourt held at The Reformed Tabernacle, Rumuodara, Portharcourt, Nigeria. This church is led by Pastor Aniekan Ekpo – a foremost reformed Baptist pastor in Nigeria. Monday and Tuesday, 1st and 2nd of May, 2023, were the days committed to instructing pastors from the South-south region of Nigeria. The conference covered topics on ecclesiology – the doctrine of the church. Pastors Oliver Allmand-Smith, Nico Van Zyl, and Osagie Azeta, took the various sessions that covered topics on defining the church; importance of the church; task of the church; church leadership; worship services; how the church shall raise money; church discipline; and church growth – spiritually and numerically. The conference ended with a question-and-answer session. It is safe to say that the conference achieved two purposes: it successfully reminded seminary trained pastors of the core issues around ecclesiology. The second thing the conference succeeded at doing is that it challenged the many invited ministers, who have very little background in reformed theology, to re-examine what they have believed and to constrain them towards biblical church practices.
While the learning was very beneficial, the high point of the African Pastors’ Conference was not necessarily the teaching but the fellowship among ministers. The nature of ministry in Nigeria is that too many times, especially for those of us with reformed persuasions, one is alone in the mission field – preaching the gospel to others. Conferences like this one allow for the pastors to himself be instructed. Besides this, it allows occasion of meeting new people and sharing comradeship. The last time I was in Portharcourt was when I was a child. Returning to the city was a whole new experience for me. Then meeting brothers from different states in the south-east and south-south parts of Nigeria who are serving the Lord in Christian ministry is so encouraging. After this conference, I am thoroughly convinced that I can no longer entertain the idea that I am alone in the reformed Christian work in Nigeria. There are hundreds of others serving Christ in a similar manner and the APC conference has only help strengthened this commitment to ministry.
The African Pastors’ Conference had only one setback though: it is the fact that participants needed to buy the books that the organizers brought to the conference. Prior to this time, most of the reformed conferences that I go to have book given to participants free of charge. The organizers explained that because it cost a lot of money to print and transport these books to the venue of the conference, participants were required to pay at most twenty percent of the cost of the books. This led to pastors, who are already very indigent, having to cough out thousands of naira to purchase books. I made my observation known to the facilitators and they explained that they will look into the matter. The fact is that there is a deep hunger for sound doctrine in Nigeria and any money expended in planting truth in the soil of the country, after years of being raped by the false gospel of health and wealth, will not be a waste. The positive side of buying the book, on a flip side, though, is that the books that were made available were very rich – and not one of those cheap books that we get at other conferences. “9 Marks of a Healthy Church” by Mark Dever was the book I read for Biblical Ecclesiology at seminary. The book was available at the APC conference and I quickly bought one to replace the kindle version I no longer have since my kindle was damaged after my seminary training.
The APC is a breadth of fresh air. It is a far-cry from the stale gospel of prosperity that pervade the Nigerian landscape. We were reminded of what genuine Church life consist of; what worship is; what true Church discipline is; and how to properly raise money in church. The facilitators appealed to the thinking of the pastors they were reaching out to; they showed us that doctrine must be implanted in the minds of God’s people if we will have healthy churches in Nigeria. The days of false gospel is numbered in Nigeria. In the days to come, the landscape of this country will be filled with people committed to biblical Christianity as well as biblical church life and worship.