For the first time, TLRwanda organized a seminar on Biblical Preaching for pastors and preachers in Musanze. The seminar was led by Pastor Todd Hilkemann and was attended by twenty-one pastors and preachers from various denominations in Musanze. Pastor Todd Hilkemann, a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church in North America, is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in preaching at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he occasionally teaches preaching. The training was conducted from August 7th to 11th.

Pastor Todd opened his lecture by citing Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:1-2. In this passage, Paul urges Timothy to preach the gospel, to reprove, rebuke, and exhort. Todd reminded the pastors and preachers that this is their divine calling, and they should carry out this work with utmost faithfulness. The participants and the facilitator pledged to learn together, sharpen one another, and strive for personal growth as they rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

During the five-day training, the facilitator addressed a variety of topics. However, only a few key points will be highlighted. Firstly, preaching is a divine gift that God gives to individuals in different measures.  However, preaching is also a skill that even gifted preachers must learn. Secondly, it was emphasized that the Bible is the sole source of authority for preachers. Thirdly, a good sermon exposes the message in the passage rather than imposing the preacher’s own ideas on the passage. This is commonly referred to as expository preaching. As Rev. Dr. Bill Hogan stated, “The alternative to exposition is imposition, and it is a sin for a preacher to impose upon the Word of God some idea which is alien to the text. Scripture, after all, is not a piece of [clay] to be molded into whatever shape the preacher desires.”

Furthermore, a good sermon must take into consideration three audiences: the world of the Bible, the modern world, and a particular congregation. Contextualizing a message so that it can be relevant to the lives of the hearers and make a difference is the essence of good preaching. Lastly, the training covered how to formulate an exegetical idea of a studied text and how to formulate a homiletical idea to preach on.

The facilitator concluded his lecture by addressing sermon delivery. He stressed that effective preaching necessitates both quality content and quality delivery. He expounded on the purpose of the incarnation, which was to allow God to communicate with humanity through a human vessel. He asserted that preaching is “a whole-body event therefore we cannot separate our bodies from the sermon,” therefore, preachers should be mindful of how they use their bodies during preaching. The facilitator proceeded to discuss the verbal aspects of preaching, such as projection, phrasing, pitch, and pace, as well as the non-verbal elements, including eye contact, gestures, posture, movements, and attire.

An essential component of the training program involved practicing what was learned. Each participant selected a passage from the Bible and engaged in three distinct exercises with the chosen passage. Firstly, they read it aloud in a dynamic and engaging manner in front of their peers. Secondly, they identified the exegetical idea of the passage. Lastly, they crafted a homiletical idea to preach on and delivered a fifteen-minute sermon to their fellow ministers. This was a challenging exercise that demanded significant effort, but the pastors approached it with dedication and enthusiasm, appreciating the new knowledge they acquired. Theoneste Manirakoze expressed that this was his first experience preaching before an audience, and he thanked TLAfrica and the facilitator.

On the third day of the seminar, which was the 9th of the month, a worship service was held for all attendees, TLAfrica staff, translators, and the instructor. The service was marked by hymns, scripture reading, a sermon, and the administration of Holy Communion. Pastor Todd delivered a sermon on the theme of “Jesus, the true Son of God, and true son of Adam,” in which he explained that the Son of God became the son of man so that we could become the sons of God. Following the sermon, all those present partook of the cup and broke the bread, commemorating Jesus’ work on the cross.

One of the participants, Damien Nyangenzi, expressed that “the gathering deeply moved me to the point of tears. The unity we experienced, despite our diverse backgrounds, languages, and religious affiliations, through our shared devotion to the word of God and partaking in holy communion, is truly remarkable. It is a practice that should be adopted by all churches.” Juvenal, among others, also acknowledged the significance of this seminar as a unifying force within the church. According to him, it is a good thing that the pastors and preachers were gathered to learn how to study and teach the word of God, not their denominational convictions.

The training session culminated in the issuance of certificates to the participants, followed by speeches from the leaders. The Deputy Director of TLAfrica expressed gratitude to the trainees for their unwavering commitment and patience throughout the training. He also extended his appreciation to the TLAfrica staff, translators, and facilitator. The CEO conveyed a message of felicitations and urged the trainees to utilize the skills they have attained to further the kingdom of God.

Pastor Todd said that it was a positive experience for him to teach the pastors who are eager to learn and demonstrate their diligence as shepherds of God’s flock. He considers it a privilege to contribute in a small way to the work God is doing in Rwanda. During his stay in Musanze, Todd had the opportunity to tour the construction site of Thousand Hills International University, and he is enthusiastic about the prospect of training the upcoming generation of pastors and leaders.

The attendees conveyed their appreciation for the chance to acquire knowledge and provided recommendations on how the seminar can be more effective. Francoise Mukankusi shared that she not only acquired head knowledge, but the teachings transformed her heart. She comprehended that in her preaching, she ought to permit the Bible to speak instead of imposing her personal ideas on the text. Francoise affirmed that her preaching style will be transformed after undergoing this training.

Jean Marie Vianney recommended that TLAfrica should organize a follow-up seminar to cover the topics that were not covered due to time constraints. Charlotte Mushimiyimana, another participant, suggested that top leaders in her denominations should be invited to future training sessions.

Fred Muhizi and Desiré Mubangura are committed to imparting their acquired skills to individuals within their respective churches. When asked about how TLAfrica can support this initiative of training more individuals within their churches, Fred proposed that TLAfrica appoint ambassadors within these churches to assist in spreading the teachings. This approach would be a multiplication strategy and would be more effective since there is a limit to the number of individuals that TLAfrica can reach. As for Desiré, these teachings should inform how pastors plan their worship services. The question that arises is: if God speaks to his people through Scriptures, how can we ensure that Scriptures remain central to our worship services?

The provision of theological training is of paramount importance for the church in Rwanda. Regrettably, many pastors and preachers begin their preaching ministry without any formal theological education or instruction on how to effectively handle the Bible in the pulpit. This has resulted in the propagation of deceptive teachings and prophecies, which have had harmful effects on the church, society, and the preachers themselves. To address this issue, the government has implemented various measures, including mandating that pastors and preachers undergo training to ensure that they are equipped to deliver accurate messages. While the government has taken the lead in this regard, it is incumbent upon the church and Christian organizations such as TLAfrica to step up and assume this responsibility. It is in this regard that TLAfrica provides such seminars and is developing a university that will offer professional training for pastors/preachers, and church leaders. TLAfrica and the church of Rwanda are indebted to sponsors, prayer partners, and facilitators who contribute to this noble cause.

By Solange Balikunde