How Unbiblical Practices in African Churches Are Changing for the Better

This update is related to the God’s Design for the Church in Africa campaign.

The Danger of Straying from the Word

The church in Kenya has recently caught the attention of the news, as a local church was found to be reaching new levels of spiritual “devotion.” A pastor in the small, coastal town of Malindi has called his congregation to fast to the point of death. The pastor claimed that this would guarantee them a place in heaven. At least 65 individuals—men, women, and children—have died from this pastor’s directive.

In the aftermath of this tragic discovery, Kenya’s National Council of Churches “called on citizens to avoid churches that do not have a proper governance structure, refuse to meet in the open, or rely on a pastor to pray for members instead of being encouraged to pray to God themselves.”1 This raises the question: what is at the core of this tragedy, and how did this church come to believe these things in the first place? This situation provides one example of a pervasive issue in many parts of the world: oftentimes pastors lack proper theological training. Which then raises another question: what is being done about this problem?

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Preaching the Gospel + Transformative Biblical Resources = Healthy Church

Steven Wachira, pastor of a small church just outside Nairobi, Kenya, received a copy of God's Design for the Church by Conrad Mbewe, a fellow African pastor. He received this book through Crossway's initiative to fund the distribution of thousands of copies of this book to pastors in Africa.

Written in an effort to “[deal] with some of the major issues that are hindering the church in Africa from being what God designed it to be,” this book points to the issue facing many of these pastors.2 Growing up, Steven experienced the root of the problem seen all over Kenya, and Africa at large. “I came from a background of going to church without a Bible. In that context, we were told only what the Bible said, we never read it for ourselves.” Without a Bible in his hands, he and the other congregants aren’t able to test the words of the pastor for truth. Because of this, circumstances like those in Malindi can result in severe consequences.

When he was older, Steven was able to attend the Bible College of East Africa where he received a degree in theology. Through this he learned the importance of teaching from the Word of God and correctly understanding it so he can preach it with faithful accuracy to his congregation. After spending time with a different, non-ministry related company, he felt the Lord calling him to plant a church in a city outside of Nairobi. From the very beginning, he “insisted on everyone having a Bible that he can read, and in the language he can understand.”

Sixteen years later, his church has grown from six to over 100, but he has been transformed by his reading of God's Design for the Church. He is convinced that there is more that God is calling the church to—and other practices he is not calling the church to. As a result of reading this book, Steven has made changes in his church related to both leadership roles and church membership.

1. Leadership Roles

The pastor who directed his church to fast to the point of death illustrates a common belief in Africa that the pastor is the leader, or the “chief,” of the church. Whatever the leader says goes. Steven explained that before he read God’s Design for the Church he was under the assumption that

I am the “pioneer,” or the one who planted the church, so I feel like I own it. I feel like I need to make every decision, and I don’t need to listen to others. But when you read [Conrad’s] book and it explains the model of leadership in the New Testament churches, I feel that surely we are lacking.

For many years, Steven was viewed as the one to give the last word on any decision in the church. But now, he recognizes that the Lord has designed the church to be led by a group of equipped elders that adhere to the qualifications of eldership in the New Testament: “This way, we will train [the church] that it is not just the pastor’s ‘business.’ It is our business. And ultimately this is God’s business that we get to be involved with together.”

When he first implemented this model of leadership, it was met with some pushback and concern from his congregation. Some asked him if he was tired of preaching, or if he no longer wanted the responsibility of a pastor. Even though he loves these things, he recognized the importance of adopting Paul’s model to Timothy: “. . . what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). He explained to his congregation that due to his love for the Lord and his love for his church, “I’m doing this because I want to train others like me and others better than me to do it too.”

2. Church Membership

In another part of his book, Mbewe emphasizes that the Bible is quite clear in saying that “only those who repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ should be allowed to come into the church’s membership, because repentance from sin and faith in Christ are the evidence that a person has been born of the Spirit of God.”3

In Africa, it is quite common for churches to accept anyone who attends the church on a semi-regular basis to be considered a member. This was a new concept for Steven’s church, who describes that from his experience in church, “it doesn’t matter whether the person is born again, it doesn’t matter his intention for attending the church. So long as he regularly attends church, we assume that he is a member of the church.”

Following What the Bible Says Is Best

God’s Design for the Church has provided Steven with a new perspective from which to view the church as he shepherds his congregation. He has been able to learn and apply what is laid out in the book and is now sharing it with others throughout the country: “From reading the book, it has equipped me as we train other church leaders. With access to train them, I know that just as the book has impacted me it will make an impact on them.”

Crossway rejoices in the ways the Lord provided for this initiative to raise funds for the distribution of Conrad Mbewe’s book throughout Africa, which has now resulted in the distribution of over 87,000 copies. There are still 63,000 copies to be printed and distributed over the coming months. Please pray for the safe and effective distribution of each of these books, and that the Lord would continue to use them to transform churches for his glory. This way, as Steven exhorts, churches “should not follow what we think is best, but what the Bible says is best.”


  1. Kate Shellnutt, “After Fasting Deaths, Kenyan Police Find Dozens Buried on Preacher’s Property,” Christianity Today, April 24, 2023,
  2. Conrad Mbewe, God’s Design for the Church in Africa (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 15.
  3. Ibid., 73.
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