ACR JournalInternational

Evangelism in South Africa

An interview with Kenny Lloyd, Pastor of Word of Life Church, Port Elizabeth

Kenny, can you give us a short introduction to the Word of Life ministry?

Ten years ago we started some Bible studies on campus trying to make sure students here were being taught the true gospel. We wanted to have the Bible opened for and with them, so we started a Bible study on campus at lunchtime and got two Bible studies going in the evenings so we could reach students in the university residences. We used Tony Payne’s Just for Startersin the beginning. It was nice and easy – not too much exegesis involved for them, just manageable bite-sized pieces of crucial Scripture to get them used to the gospel. We found that was a hit, so we followed up with Discipleship for Starters, also by Tony Payne, and enjoyed that material. After one year went by we decided to start Sunday morning and evening services. This meant we could not only have Bible studies, but also services with gospel preaching and prayers. In some ways, we see our church as a bridging church. Given that students are not here for long (3, 4, or 5 years – sometimes we only meet them in their final year), we hope that this will be a bridging experience; a black evangelical church on campus so when students leave Port Elizabeth they will go and find an evangelical church whereever they end up.

Who are the men and women that come to Word of Life, and what are some of the challenges they face in South Africa?

There are young black men and women from all over South Africa, and some as well from Southern Africa (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana, Namibia, Cameroon, Nigeria – though not all nations represented at the same time). The things that they face in South Africa, primarily in the Eastern Cape, is the legacy of apartheid. Many families are broken. It is the exception to the rule that they come from a family where Mum and Dad have had a stable and faithful marriage, and are still together – at least two thirds of students come from broken families. Most of them do not know their father, and their father has played no role in their life. For many of them where that is the case, it’s Granny and Mum who have raised the children. Some of them haven’t had a fantastic education. They have been in rural schools where they haven’t had access to technology nor well-resourced schooling. They come from communities where tuberculosis, HIV, crime, drunkenness, and African traditional religions are rife, and many have been raised with an animistic worldview. It’s a great challenge for them to trust in Christ when things become difficult in their lives. We sometimes say for many of our people, that during the day they might be Christians, but at night they turn to African traditional religions, and so we are constantly discipling people to put their trust in Christ when serious things happen to them. 

How has the way you have evangelised changed over the time you have ministered at Word of Life?

We’ve had to take on board real shifts in society as a result of Rhodes must Fall, Fees must Fall, and the reaction against colonialism and western colonial education. This has brought with it an increased resistance to what is perceived as a white western European and colonial, and thus an irrelevant and unwanted gospel. That is the reality for many people, and so I think partially explains why we no longer have students streaming into evangelical churches where the gospel is preached. I suppose the way evangelism has changed, is that it is more difficult now. It is a slower process to gain trust. Before that trust is built up, it is difficult for people to listen. So, we need to get people into our homes, need to get people to camps, and we need our own converted young people to be the key inviters because they already trust us, and so those they invite will be more trusting. I suppose apologetically, we have had to be more awake to deal with their questions. The question of suffering is huge for our young people. In addition to the enormous suffering their parents experienced under apartheid, many students have suffered greatly through their complex family situations. To pretend that that isn’t real for them, that it isn’t a stumbling block for them, as far as coming to Christ as concerned, is to be irrelevant and outdated and unsympathetic towards the young people.

How has the way you evangelised remained the same while at Word of Life?

I think it’s remained the same, in that the content of the gospel is untouchable and received from the apostles. So we have not changed the content, and nor would we want to, and nor Lord willing ever will we. We endeavour to call people to repent of their sins and trust in Christ as the only saviour. We still find that Bible studies are the best places for evangelism because students can ask questions there. And they feel safer there than they might in a church service because there they can ask questions of their peers who have very good answers for them. We also find that having short camps throughout the year, for example we have already had a newcomers camp where we dealt with the theme of family, given that many of the students come from broken families. That gave us a great opportunity to express the gospel clearly for people, some of them for the first time. 

While the content of the gospel remains unchanged, we are trying harder to understand their lives better. There’s a lot of mental illness and mental agony for South African young people in particular.  So we try hard to sympathise with their world and their experiences, and yet at the same time bring the gospel to bear on what they are going through.

What lessons have you personally learned about evangelism through your ministry at Word of Life?

I once read in a book by John Stott on preaching, the quote: ‘truly souls are hardly won’. For us that seems to be our experience – this is our 11th year. And by God’s grace there have been people converted to Christ. But to my knowledge there are not many people who have been converted in 11 years. So that’s lesson number one I have learned – that souls are not easily won.

For example, souls are not easily converted to a life of faithfully following Jesus and embracing him as their only hope and putting aside their legalistic framework – perhaps even their desire to synchronise Christianity with African traditional religions. Those ways are not easily put aside.

The other thing we’ve learned is that evangelism and prayer are surely married. We have endeavoured to pray earnestly every week; Thursday afternoon and Friday afternoon are our two prayer meetings in the week. Not always hugely attended, but we stick to praying twice a week for all the needs of our church and ministry, including the lost and those who do not know Christ.

I think to quote Chappo, the first 50 years are the hardest. I do think we are finding that as well – it has been hard to remain clear and faithful to the gospel handed down to us in the Scriptures, and it’s at times been hard to persevere. And every now and again, in the past 11 years, we have slacked off in our evangelism. It has not been easy to maintain it and keep the fires burning for evangelism.  

Having ministered previously in Sydney, and having visited frequently since, what have you appreciated about evangelism in Sydney, and what regarding evangelism, do you think we can improve on?

The main churches we have visited have been Church by the Bridge Kirribilli, St. Mark’s Northbridge, and St. Thomas’ North Sydney, and well as Holy Trinity in Wentworth Falls. We have found these to be praying churches, and churches that were taking the initiatives. We have often been there over Christmas time, and we have been reminded of how the Sydney churches that we have visited are trying hard to make good contacts with their local community through whatever means. And that’s been a challenge and encouragement for us to see those efforts – to link up with people who live near the churches.

We have also been encouraged by the preaching in Sydney, which has often been evangelistic in its intent. I am not in a position to make any suggestions regarding evangelism in Sydney but rather to keep encouraging the brothers and sisters to pray, as we have even seen them doing, that God would do his great work of saving people.

Perhaps I would end with Ephesians 6:19-20: ‘Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.’

This article was originally published in theACR’s Journal for Winter 2019.