International Leadership Conference Held in St. Paul

Gathering Impacts Leaders from Several Nations

Report from Bethel Christian Fellowship (St. Paul, MN)

“I have never before been able to be in a classroom to be taught myself.”

It’s a remarkable statement—made more remarkable because it was given by an influential pastor of an African church with 10,000 weekly attenders. Though his ministry of 35 years has obviously been anointed by the Spirit, he still longed for the opportunity to be personally refreshed, to be taught, and to study.

Conference participants were welcomed and introduced during a Sunday morning service at Bethel Christian Fellowship, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Ministers and leaders from several nations attended the leadership conference held in late July. Most were from African nations—Gabon, South Sudan, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (including several from the DRC now residing in Canada or the U.S.).

The conference organizer, Pastor Justin Byakweli has conducted leadership conferences every two or three years since 2008. “My goal,” he said, “is to help leaders who are ministering on the frontlines.” For several years Bethel Christian Fellowship has partnered with Byakweli to conduct the conferences, providing teachers, facilities, and housing for those who attend.

Byakweli noted that many of those attending are the “walking wounded,” needing healing even while they continue to fight on the frontlines. “They are ministering to suffering people while they themselves are suffering,” Byakweli said. “I want to pull them aside and put them in the ‘clinic’ to receive healing so they can go back out on the frontlines.”

Dr. Justin Byakweli (L), pastor of International Christian Fellowship in St. Paul, greets conference participants alongside Associate Pastor Mike Birindwa, who did much of the translation work for the conference.

Most of the conference participants were church leaders, though some were also national leaders. One was a leader in the Catholic Charismatic movement in the Congo. They came hoping to learn practical leadership skills to increase their influence, not only in their churches but also in their communities and countries.

The conference theme, “Christian Ethics and Advocacy,” emphasized the need to provide influence for those who have none. Byakweli recalled how the prophet Jeremiah ministered during a time when religious leaders were silent, though the nation of Israel was in decline and under attack.

The circumstances then parallel today’s challenges. “Many people adapt to the difficult circumstances of our day and fail to stand for what is right,” he said. “We need leaders who will be a voice for the voiceless. Being quiet is not an option.”

Richard Cunningham, provided the conference attenders with foundational leadership training. Other presenters included Dr. James Olson, former pastor of Bethel Christian Fellowship and now president of the Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation. He offered conference participants a picture of the “goal” of the kingdom of God—Shalom in all its dimensions—with a clear process of the change agency necessary to move towards that goal.

Dr. James Olson spoke on the Shalom aspect of the kingdom of God.

“The challenges addressed in the conference are universal,” Olson noted, “but the African context, and perhaps especially the DRC, present some unique challenges to Christian leaders, both those in public and secular positions and those in the church.”

Another presenter was Dr. Steven Rasmussen, missionary and current pastor of Bethel Christian Fellowship. He was impressed with caliber of leadership among delegates from the DRC and the fact that they paid their own way to attend.

Rasmussen was also impressed with stories from the participants themselves. Two have worked for the 22 years toward reconciliation following the Rwandan genocide. Some have had to deal with corruption in business and government in the DRC. One, once a “lost boy” from South Sudan, is now working with theological education in Nairobi.

Prayer, renewal, and spiritual encouragement were key components of the conference.

Rasmussen, who spent more than 20 years in Africa, addressed the problem of witchcraft in African culture. “I was impressed with the how some of these leaders have fought for those falsely accused of being witches,” he said.

Byakweli is planning the next conference for 2020, and many pastors have already been sending requests to be invited to it. Nonetheless, Byakweli has kept the size of the conferences manageable, limiting attendance to match available resources.

Byakweli has also held similar leadership conferences in Africa—in Ivory Coast, Kenya, and Congo.

Being Culturally Relevant by Raising Leaders

by Philip Jangam

We are glad to be living in some of the most exciting and amazing times. At the same time,  however, we are facing some of the most challenging disappointments in history.

One of the biggest challenges that our generation is facing is the decay of kingdom culture and a decrease in the standards of the quality of life. We and our children and our congregations are bombarded every day with disgusting choices and failed role models.

I believe the problem is due to a lack of good role models and godly leaders in every area. I attended a leadership training at the beginning of this year that changed my approach in addressing these issues. I became convinced that the problem is because of the failure to reproduce leaders.

Let us consider the example of Moses and Joshua. Moses trained Joshua, passing the baton to Joshua, who led the people into the Promised Land.

Now, the problem was—Joshua didn’t have a “Joshua.” As far as we can tell from the reading of the Pentateuch and other contemporary writings, Joshua never duplicated the gift Moses had given him. He never took a young leader under his wing and prepared him to lead. Sadly, when Joshua died, Israel entered the worst period of her history—the period of the Judges—where they experienced chaos. We read these words twice in the Book of Judges:

“And there was no king in Israel in those days and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

As we ponder today about changing the culture we live in, our first consideration must be in developing next generation leaders.

Our mandate is to make disciples. Jesus commanded us to make disciples. Leaders are carriers of the culture. I believe we must be biased towards leader development. Unless we are, we’ll take the easy route and focus on our tasks at hand. The “urgent” will replace the “ultimate.” Dwight Moody once said, “It’s better to train a hundred men than to do the work of a hundred men.” The training is harder.

Making an influence on the next generation leadership is strongly correlated with a personal investment of time.

Jesus modeled it through the stories we learn from the Samaritan woman, Zacchaeus, the man at the pool, and his disciples. Paul invested time in raising up Timothy.

The next generation glances our way in hope and expectation, hands outstretched, poised to burst into the sprint of life. How will we pass the baton with so much at stake?

Intentionally passing the baton to the next generation is the single most important thing we must do now. If we get this right, everything else will take care of itself. In a relay race, the responsibility for passing the baton falls to the one who is carrying it. This is our day! An entire generation is looking to us.

Philip Jangam is pastor of Acts World Outreach Church in Toronto, Canada and the FCA Regional Coordinator of GTA Central, Toronto, Canada.

Soul Aches: What makes your soul ache?

by Michael McCartney

My soul is aching today. It has been wounded, leaving me feeling isolated and alone. I should be “happy,” but I am not. I feel trapped and betrayed.

Have you ever been there? Can you relate to what I am experiencing today?

I have been a pastor now for over 32 years, and I still experience an aching soul from time to time. It’s a hurtful, lonely, and painful experience—one you want to deny and push under the business of life. People have told me to just get over it, to try speaking positively, to look at the good. It will go away, they say.

But it seldom works that way. I wish it did. I wish I could say a magical “A-bra Ka-da-bra” prayer to wipe away the hurt! But I want to be honest with myself and with you. And the truth is, the hurt still lingers under the surface of my life and ministry.

Psalm 6:3 “My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?”

What makes your soul ache? Do you even know? Here are situations I have experienced that cause my soul to ache.

1. A broken relationship.

I went to the spring concert for our Christian School last night—and ran into all kinds of people who had left our church for various reasons. I smiled at them, they smiled at me, and we even hugged (well, most of them did), but I felt an ache in my soul knowing everything was not okay with them. A nice façade masked the reality that all was not well.

I recall when I broke up with my first fiancé. A flood of ache and pain broke out in my soul; I felt stung. The break-up grieved my spirit, and I turned to a pastoral couple for help. I could not push in the pain down any longer.

Job 7:11 “Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”

Is it healthy to let it out? To vent your anguish verbally? To let out the ache, hoping it will fade? Some don’t think so! But I know it helped me in these hurtful moments of my life.

2. The experience of today’s church life.

As a pastor I know I should not say what I am about to say. I have always said when I retire I am going to write a book entitled, Things I Could Not Say as a Pastor, but here is one of them.

My soul aches over the condition of today’s church in America. It’s so diluted, deceived, self-centered, consumer-driven, cruel, judgmental, lacking empathy, hypocritical, spiritually barren, socially isolated, biblically illiterate, and weak. So many people jump from church to church, uncommitted to one local church. They get offended easily. They don’t admit their mistakes, and they have critical spirits—often directed criticisms toward their pastor.

Wow that felt good! I needed to get it out of my soul!

So, how are you doing with my complaining? Detoxifying my soul about the current condition of the church? Do you think I am just a cry baby? Maybe I am being too negative. Some would say so.

1 Chronicles 22: 19 “Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God. Begin to build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the sacred articles belonging to God into the temple that will be built for the Name of the LORD.”

My soul aches for the Church because most attenders, it seems, do “church” for themselves and not for God. If we want the ache to leave our souls, we need to get back to doing church for God—not for ourselves.

3. A sin-filled society.

My soul also aches over sin—the sin all around me and even my own sin.

Does your soul ache over sin? Sin is so destructive—so cruel, so abusive, so shameful, so evil. Yet our world is following sin deeper and deeper into an abyss of pain and suffering. Many choose sin over right living. Some are even proud of their sins (which, according to Scripture, gives them the name “fools”).

I don’t want to be a fool. I want to be wise and stay away from sin, because it rips my soul apart. Sin makes my soul bleed and ache.

Proverbs 13:19-21 19 “A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul, but fools detest turning from evil. 20 He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. 21 Misfortune pursues the sinner, but prosperity is the reward of the righteous.”

4. The pain of rejection.

It’s the big “R” word: “Rejection.”

I have dealt with rejection many times since I was a boy, none more so than when my father told me, “You are not my son.” Even recalling that horrible moment right now at age 58 brings up a soul ache. He said it after a fight we had when I was 11. I was trying to stop him from beating up my mom.

The physical wounds have healed, but the wounded soul still surfaces from time to time. It did the other day when my wife and I went to see the movie, I Can Only Imagine. As I watched the troubles between that father and son, it really hit me dead center in my soul. My heart ached increasingly with each beat .

Proverbs 24:14 Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul; if you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.

How is your soul?

I have heard a lot of emphasis over the last few years on “Soul Care.” I have been to seminars that focused on the topic. I have read several books on it. I have even preached on it. I have listened to sermons about it. It’s a relevant topic that seems to be coming out more into the open, simply asking: How is your soul?

Jesus said in Matthew 16:26: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

Jesus said in Matthew 22:37: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Jesus emphasized the importance of your soul’s health—not just for eternity but in the here-and-now! Your spiritual success in life depends on the condition of your soul!

So, how is your soul?

John Orberg states this about our souls: “If your soul is healthy, no external circumstance can destroy your life. If your soul is unhealthy, no external circumstance can redeem your life [Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You (p. 40). Zondervan (2014-04-22). Kindle Edition.]

Our souls ache because they crave God. They want his presence dwelling within. Our soul has a longing for God’s presence because he designed us that way.

Ortberg says that while reading through the Bible, you get the sense that the soul was designed to search for God. The Hebrew Scriptures—which might be thought of as the Great Soul-Book of human literature—are almost obsessed with this thought. Listen to these few verses from the Bible:

  1. The soul thirsts for the Mighty One (Ps. 63:1).
  2. It thirsts for him like parched land thirsts for water (Ps. 143:6).
  3. Like a laser it focuses the full intensity of its desire on him (Ps. 33:20).
  4. It lifts itself up to him (Ps. 25:1)
  5. It blesses him (Ps. 103:1–2, 22)
  6. It clings to him (Ps. 63:8)
  7. It waits for him in silence (Ps. 62:1).

Ortberg notes: “Indeed, the soul lives in God. The soul seeks God with its whole being. Because it is desperate to be whole, the soul is God-smitten and God-crazy and God-obsessed. My mind may be obsessed with idols; my will may be enslaved to habits; my body may be consumed with appetites. But my soul will never find rest until it rests in God.” [Soul Keeping (p. 116).]

Our souls need to be connected to God’s presence, What changed and transformed the disciples in Acts 2? A connection of their souls with the Spirit of God. It was an internal connection, not an external one. It changed their perceptions. It drove out their fears of the future. God wants to make every moment of our lives glorious with his presence. Ortberg states, “Every day is a collection of moments, 86,400 seconds in a day. How many of them can you live with God? Start where you are and grow from there. God wants to be with you every moment.”

As I sit today in my favorite place for spaghetti, I look around and see a lot of aching souls—people in desperate need of soul care. They are dealing with hurts using the wrong medicine. A few are at the bar using drinks for their aching souls. One lady is all alone, talking to no one, looking sad. She stares blankly at a baseball game on the bar TV.

Others ease their pain using other TV sports as medication. Many are using food. Still others stand outside on a cold, wet day, sucking on cigarettes to try to calm their inner needs.

I see a man with his mother at a table. She is in a wheel chair and appears to be very sick. I see her aching soul in her blackened eyes, and I see his ache as he looks at her with sorrowful eyes.

I am also one of those in this place with an aching soul. I have chosen spaghetti to ease my hurt and pain. I am not really hungry, but today I am trying to soothe my aching soul with food (not a good idea when you want to lose weight).

So, I empathize with those around me. I know this soul problem is for real. I wonder right now what others may be using to ease the pain of their soul? Shopping, spending money, movies, fantasy games, porn, sex, anger, pot, parties (which my neighbors really like and feel is a great solution to soul aches). I am sure many other ways of dealing with soul aches are in play as well as I sit here and ponder “Soul Care.”

Psalm 31: 7 I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul.

I must admit after eating my spaghetti that I feel a little better in spite of how much it cost. ($18.00 for spaghetti? Really?) But maybe it’s not the spaghetti that has helped so much as the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Sitting and writing about my soul ache has made a way for the Spirit to help.

Many deny their soul aches. Have you ever done that? Many in this place are denying that their soul aches. Many Christians deny their aching souls as well.

But I think you get my point—soul aches are all around us if we will admit it and look for them. (They show up even now in the conversations I overhear in this place. No, really! “Quiet, I don’t want people to know I am listening to them as they sit next to me.” But they are so loud and vocal about their life soul aches, I hear every word they are saying.)

Soul aches are nothing new to God or his people. Just read Psalms, Lamentations, Job, Jeremiah—and the list could go on.

David, “a man after God’s own heart,” experienced soul aches and its isolation. He had to deal with people trying to kill him, with the betrayal of a fatherly figure he had served faithfully, even with sin itself. These all created unwanted aches and pains for our hero of the faith. That’s why he cries out in Psalm 6:3 the big God question: “How long Lord?”

I too am saying the same thing today, “How long Lord?” Just give me a time frame. Is it two days? Two weeks? But I hear no answer to my question, to my soul ache.

So, what is a man or woman after God’s own heart going to do?

Deuteronomy 10:12-21. 12 And now, O Israel, [add in your name] what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? 14 To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff–necked any longer. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. 20 Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.

Maybe, I could not have come up with a better answer to my question than this passage of Scripture. It speaks to me. So, read it again and again and let his Word sink into your aching soul. Let him bring healing to it like only he can! He knows how long it will be for you! He knows what you are going through. So let him speak to your aching soul!

Michael McCartney is pastor of Christian Hills Church in Orland Hills, Illinois.

How Have Pentecostals Changed?

If you’ve ever watched a car rust away, you know it’s a painfully slow process—so slow that the change is imperceptible to the naked eye. Time-lapse photography helps, but otherwise you notice it only over months or even years when you return to the spot, recall what used to be, and finally notice the differences.

Shifts in attitudes or practices are like that. They often come gradually, imperceptibly.

Which is why some may not recognize subtle changes in Pentecostal churches in recent years. Few are able to return to the beginning and recall what used to be. Under those conditions, seeing the differences can be difficult, if not impossible.

But there are some who can provide us with a long-range perspective. In a recent interview with The Pneuma Review*, author Dean Merrill observes, “Despite my decades of work in the wider Christian publishing field, I’m as Pentecostal today as I’ve always been.”

Merrill tells of his Quaker parents encountering the Pentecostal experience about the time he was born. The result was that he grew up taking Scripture, including Acts and the Epistles, at face value. “This was ‘normal Christianity’ as far as I was concerned,” he says.

His early experiences formed a reference point for Merrill—a place to which he could return to measure what has changed. And while there have been changes, it is reassuring to hear Merrill say that the gifts of the Spirit are still operating in today’s Pentecostal churches—and not just in distant, primitive locations overseas. God is still at work in today’s North American churches.

Read the full interview here.

*The Pneuma Review: Journal of Ministry Resources and Theology for Pentecostal and Charismatic Ministries & Leaders

It’s Not 1994 Anymore

by John D. Sprecher

It was my 46th birthday, July 5, 1994—into middle age, but feeling young and energetic and looking forward to many more years of ministry.

Just a month or two before, I had had a sobering conversation with a friend soon to retire from a company with a “30-year-and-out” pension. He told me he was going to take it. It was one of the first times I had thought seriously about retirement.

A Tsunami of Change

But while I was focused on my birthday and family, a marketing tsunami unknown to me was being unleashed on the west coast. That very day Jeff Bezos incorporated a company—a company named for a mighty river. It would soon become a household name and eventually change how we shop, read, and get our entertainment: Amazon was born!1

About the same time, the Internet was picking up steam. In less than a generation, it would become a powerful tool, leading the way to redefine our interactions and expectations. Today, cities across America are outdoing themselves trying to land the second headquarters for Bezos’s behemoth Internet company.

In 1994, words that have since become part of our daily language did not exist. You couldn’t “Google” something in 1994, because Google did not exist. Neither did Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Netflix, or Wikipedia.

Now familiar items were still unknown back then: DVDs, smartphones, blogging, texting, streaming, e-books, broadband, the “Cloud” (not for rain!) and many others have come and gone. New ways to communicate and connect continue to proliferate. Anybody still on Juno, AOL or MySpace? Or have you switched to Gmail, Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, or some other of a host of platforms?

Now a generation later, the power of the Internet is unquestioned. Nearly 90 percent of the U.S. population and about one half of the entire world are on the internet. In the U.S. three out of every four have a tablet or smartphone. Two-thirds have three or more connected devices.2 Over three billion people have a social media account, and most have more than one.3 U.S. adults spend over 200 minutes per day on mobile devices, 90 percent of that time on apps, and almost two-thirds of “searches” are done on smartphones.4

So what does all of this mean to pastors and churches?

First, the rush of information has, according to some, shortened the human attention span from 12 seconds in 2000 to just 8 seconds by 2013. By comparison, a goldfish has a 9-second attention span. At times you may wish you were preaching to an aquarium of attentive fish rather than a congregation reflecting the soft glow of their cell phones. You are never quite sure if they are using a Bible app to follow the text—or merely texting!

In a highly and easily distracted culture, do we seek ways for the most important message anyone will ever hear to penetrate the digital fog that surrounds our people? In reality, people are still hungry for genuine truth and authentic relationships—even if they are fact-checking the message you are preaching.

Second, consider this: “Are the people we want to reach able to find us digitally?” In 1994, if someone was looking for a church, the first place to go was the phone book and the yellow pages. A nice ad placed once a year—along with perhaps a newspaper ad or something on the local radio station (Christian or not)—and you were known in the community.

Very few look at yellow pages these days. Instead, they Google or Facebook “churches,” and when they see one they might want to check out, they probably watch a service online or at least listen to a sermon before they even make a first visit.

The challenge for smaller churches in this kind of world is a feeling of being overwhelmed by technology. Those of us born before 1994 just don’t experience technology as a second nature, as do those who were born since then.

So what can we do? Here are a couple of simple suggestions.

Keep it current!

Ask yourself if someone were to spend only eight seconds on your web page, would they see something happening this week? Or would they see your Easter schedule—weeks after the fact? Better a simple, up-to-date Facebook or web page than an out-of-date site with events from last week (or last month)!

If people see something current, those who are interested will dig deeper. Hopefully, they will then find what you want them to know about you. If you can’t handle the technology or find the time, find a millennial whom you can task with keeping your digital presence current.

Don’t be intimidated!

Rapidly changing technology and its challenges can be overwhelming, no doubt. But don’t let that get to you.

Remember that ultimately, the deepest needs of human beings are the emotional, physical, and spiritual connections available only when we are in community—and by that I mean being physically present, in the same room with people we love.

A thousand Facebook friends will never replace a warm hug! Avatars cannot substitute for a face-to-face conversation or the physical presence of a fellow believer in a time of need! There is no better community to be engaged in than the local church, so celebrate what you have to offer the world—not only eternal hope, but authentic in-person relationships.

That has not changed since 1994.

John D. Sprecher, lead elder for the U.S. FCA, pastored churches for 45 years, most of them at Rock Church in Rockford, Illinois.




1 Stone, Brad (2013). The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. New York: Little Brown and Co. ISBN9780316219266. OCLC 856249407.
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