Reinhard Bonnke: Example of successful ministry
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith…” (2 Timothy 4:7)
When on December 7, 2019, news broke that Reinhard Bonnke, the German-born evangelist, whose gospel crusades in many African cities drew multitudes and led many people to make definite decisions to give their lives to Jesus Christ, had died in Florida, the world saw another example of what could rightly be described, by Biblical standards, as a successful ministry. He was 79.
The most important item in his life’s history is that, although he was the son of a gospel minister, Bonnke had a definite testimony of regeneration, that is, being born again – something every genuine child of God should and must have, but which, sadly, many church people do not have today, including even several preachers! His mother had preached to him when he was nine and he had repented of his sins and given his life to Jesus Christ after which he committed himself to serve God and become a genuine follower of Jesus. From then, his interest in preaching the Word of God was born and grew. One day, he took a guitar and went into a street in Glückstadt and began to sing. Soon, a small crowd gathered and he brought out his Bible and preached to them. Bonnke was so excited when one man who was convicted by “his preaching knelt down, confessed his sins and gave him to Christ.”
Filled with happiness, he rushed home excitedly and exclaimed as he reported what happened to his father: “Father, it works! A man came to hear me preach and accepted Jesus. The Holy Spirit really gives us the power to preach!” He could not contain his joy.
From a very early age, Bonnke began to tell everyone around him of his clear persuasion that he had a very definite calling from God to preach the gospel in Africa. He attended a Bible College in Wales and when he returned to Germany after his education, he met his wife, Anni, and they were married in 1964.
In 1967, at the age of 27, Bonnke left his home in Hamburg to Africa and settled in Lesotho as a missionary. It was not easy to work for him but his focus and diligence helped him to toil on and persevere. Sometimes he would travel long distances to hold meetings only for just a few people to gather to hear him. But he was not discouraged. He continued to toil in the land until his audiences began to grow.
It is important to note that although there were spectacular testimonies of healings in Bonnke’s meetings, his main focus was always the salvation of souls. At each of his meeting, he presented the gospel of salvation in a very simple and interesting way, after which he would invite people wishing to give their lives to Christ to come out and do so. That was his main target – soul-winning.
In 1974, Bonnke founded Christ for All Nations (CFAN), the platform under which his gospel crusades were launched out for several decades. He held meetings across Africa, drawing thousands of people, with many of them making decisions to follow Christ. In an interview with the New York Times in 1984, Bonnke said: “I am interested in bringing Africa to the foot of the Cross. I believe that the preaching of the living Word of God is something that Africa hungers for.”
Driven by a heart burning with compassion for souls, Bonnke’s yearly schedule of crusades in Africa, and later, Asia and other parts of the world were daunting. But he carried on with such exceptional zeal, passion, energy, dedication and focus. When he appeared on CBN’s 700 Club on December 9, 1986, he told the programme host, Rev Pat Robertson, “Jesus did not call us to deliver sermons, he called us to deliver people and I believe this is what happens in our crusades. I am not decorating prisons cells; I’m setting the captives free.”
In the over four decades he traversed Africa with the gospel, and later Asia, Europe and North America, the Christ for All Nations have a record of over 79 million people who responded to altar calls and gave their lives to Christ at his various meetings and equally signed the New Converts Decision Papers. It is possible that not all these people retained their convictions as genuine believers in Christ Jesus afterwards, but there is no doubt that a substantial number of them still have intact the testimony of their personal encounter with Christ which led to their salvation. And these they can still testify occurred at either one of the Bonnke meetings across the world or after reading the diverse pieces of literature, millions of which his organisation had printed in several languages and mass-distributed to countless people. Also, many Christian workers and church ministers and leaders would forever remain grateful to the invaluable enrichment they received from his “Fire Conferences” which he organises to disciple people for Christ for the work of soul-winning anywhere he is holding a crusade. His rallying crying was always: “From Cape to Cairo for Jesus!” He was widely described by the media as “the Billy Graham of Africa.”
Another significant point in Bonnke’s history was that throughout his life as a Christian and preacher, and despite his fame and massive influence, he was not associated with any scandal. He lived the life of a morally sound Christian and devoted family man who despite his wide travels and encounters with all manner of men and women and living his life like an open book for the world to scrutinise, never linked to any form of scandal. He lived a Christian life that was exemplary and edifying.
About a decade ago, Bonnke recognized the need to commence the process of grooming a successor. Soon he made the strategic announcement: “The Lord specifically told me that He has appointed and anointed Daniel Kolenda as my successor.”
A brief descriptive note on Kolenda’s personal website introduces him as “a modern missionary evangelist who has led more than 21-million people to Christ face-to face through massive open-air evangelistic campaigns in some of the most dangerous, difficult and remote locations on earth. As the successor to world-renowned Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, Daniel is [now] the president and CEO of Christ for All Nations; a ministry which has conducted some of the largest evangelistic events in history, has published over 190 million books in 104 languages and has offices in 12 nations around the world. He also hosts an internationally syndicated television program.”
Although he is “is a graduate of Southeastern University on Lakeland, Florida and the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry in Pensacola, Florida,” his websites maintain that “his greatest education has come from the years of ministry side-by-side with his mentor and spiritual father Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke. Together they have circled the globe preaching the Gospel and continue to do so as a single-minded team with great effectiveness.”
From November 8 to 12, 2017, Bonnke held what he called his “Farewell Crusade” in Africa Sparklight Estate, Opposite OPIC, in Lagos, which he tagged, “Passing The Burning Torch,” with a very large, including several African church leaders.
Now, by successfully doing the work of God committed to his hand with all his heart and might and successfully mentoring and handing over to a successor and ensuring a smooth take-over by him to continue the work after he had gone, Evangelist Bonnke has undertaken what should be regarded by Biblical standards as a “successful ministry.”
He not only handed over to Daniel Kolenda, he worked with him for over ten years during which Mr. Kolenda was assessed and accepted by members of his organisation, the CFAN, and the people across the world. Thus, Bonnke can go home to his Maker and Master in peace because his labour in the world here will certainly not be wasted but will even be expanded and elongated. That is the meaning of a successful successfully executed ministry.
The earliest example in the Bible I can cite now of such a successful ministry was Moses who undertook the great God-ordained mission of bringing Israel out of their bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land. As they advanced in the famous Exodus, he began to groom Joshua as his successor. During those years, Joshua understudied him and gained acceptability before the people, and so, when it was time to hand over to Joshua, it went smoothly. But when you look at the case of Joshua who did not groom a successor, you can now understand the unspeakable spiritual and moral bankruptcy that afflicted Israel after Joshua. That vacuum had such a disastrous effect in the lives of the Israelites that at a point, in Judges 21: 25, it was reported that “in those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
Another ready example is Elijah who passed a “double portion” of anointing to his servant Elisha. But sadly, instead of following his master’s example and passing the baton being over to another person he had groomed at his demise, Elisha instead cursed his own servant with leprosy. Handed over to no one (despite receiving a double portion of his own master’s anointing) and that great ministry and anointing died with him.
Jesus was the perfect example. Instead of handing over to one person, he raised twelve successors who carried on with the work. And his apostles followed his example and raised successors here and there and the work spread. We saw people like Timothy, Titus and others raised by Paul. I read the very moving account of a preacher, leader and martyr called Polycarp who was delivered to the lions to tear him to pieces in Rome because of his refusal to renounce Christ. He claimed that he was direct convert of the Apostle John. He carried on with the mantle he had received from his master until he was martyred.
This has been the Biblical standard which some modern ministers of God have been very reluctant to adopt. The result has been that for many of them, their labours in ministry have been wasted after their death. The enemy has exploited that loophole to create a crisis that put the ministry in disarray. But with Reinhard Bonnke’s recent example, many ministers and church leaders should remind themselves once more that this time-tested, Biblical standard must be adopted if the labour of their hands must not be wasted. Bonnke announced his successor even before he turned 70. Some church leaders who are even nearing 80 appear not to have even started thinking about that. Adieu, Evangelist Bonnke, God’s General.
* Ejinkeonye is the author of the book, Nigeria: Why Looting May Not stop.