Bishop Tshalo Katshunga
How the Journey began
Bishop Tshala was born in a huge family. They were known in the neighbourhood as the largest family. He is the second born in 17 siblings. God is good because the last born is now 39. All of them are married and studied pretty much well. When their mother passed on a couple of years ago, they were working out those she left behind and realized that she had 78 grandchildren. He studied Electrical Engineering in Congo. He then worked for the railways. He has been in fulltime ministry for 29 years.
How he pivoted into fulltime ministry
When he got born again something strange happened. He fell so in love with God beyond explanation. He wanted to be around church all the time. He was working at the railways and he knocked off at 4 o’clock. If the service starts at 5, he would literally run just to get to church. He got there before anybody except there pastor was there. He would desire that the two of them would start and the people will catch them along the way.
There was too much zeal and he never recovered from it. He started donating all his vacations to the Lord. He would use his vacations to go to villages to preach the Gospel. When his son, Oliver, was born he wasn’t around. He was out in the villages preaching. His wife nearly died during that delivery, it was just a chaotic situation. In the course of time, he started losing traction for the Engineering World. He just wanted to do church. He shared this to his wife and she thought it didn’t make sense. She thought there was no need to go into ministry fulltime because he was already always at church, serving.
Why fulltime? The pressure was so heavy for two years, so he decided to fast for 21 days. On day 19, there was a strike at work, which he didn’t know about. Somebody made him aware that the CEO of the company was looking for him. He was convinced that he instigated the strike and felt betrayed by him. But that was not the case, he was not around for 19 days. He never gave him a chance to explain, he just fired him. He went back to finish his fasting, since he was left with two days. The strange thing was that during the time when he was jobless, the very same CEO would call him to his office and literally give him money way more than he earned and say “go feed your wife and kids”.
That went on for a few months. Eventually he prayed to God saying if this is the sign he has been waiting for, it was not good timing to go fulltime into ministry because it would look like his motivation was the fact that he was jobless. So he asked that if it was God who was behind all that was happening he would be reinstated to work. The very next day, the company called him and said he can start work. So he went to work at half past seven, and at eight o’clock, he resigned. Just to make sure that he didn’t go into ministry because he was fired, he went because he left his job for ministry.
The early days in ministry
It was financially challenging. There was no money to take care of the family. His wife was working for a big hospital but besides their own children, they had extended family to look after. So what she earned was really not enough. They would sometimes literally go three days without food. Many times there would be nothing. He never felt the edge to go back because God prepared him. One of the qualities He gave him way back was the ability to stick to his commitment regardless of the price to pay.
Once he is in, he is in. so he never thought, even for a second, of turning back and doing other things for money. He just told himself this is a challenge they would get through, not a reason to quit. He was not leading a church, he was part of the church, serving in the leadership. He never thought about being the top guy. He just saw God using him in evangelism and crusades. He was already doing this, engaging students in all campuses of universities. So he thought he would do that evangelism and still serve in the church. Then in 1986, God spoke to him about being able to preach in both French and English because of his calling.
At that time, he was totally clueless about speaking English. He went and bought his first English Bible, and it nearly broke his marriage because they were so broke and his wife could not understand why they should spend money on a Bible with a language they don’t speak. He told her that this is the vision God has given him. A couple of years later, he went to Zambia. Rhema was doing a crusade and there was Peter Pretorius, Ron Steel, and many prominent speakers.
Somehow, through an interpreter, he explained to them as they were eating in the same table about the vision God has given him. Ron Steele said the only way he can learn the language is to be where the language is spoken. He offered that they bring him to South Africa as a missionary.
The Rhema people wrote all the letters and he came to South Africa as a missionary and has been here ever since. When he came to South Africa, they felt that staying in Johannesburg at Rhema would be a waste of time. So they sent him to a branch in Durban because it is new. They offered that he studies theology while helping the church since he had ministry experience. So he moved to Durban, did a lot of evangelism and intercession. The school was very good to him because they gave him all the English material – Cassettes, back in the day – to listen to.
Down the line, he was obliged by the school to give an exhortation of 5 minutes every morning. They said even if you speak 2 word, we want you to speak English, and that helped a lot in him learning the language. He did it, and slowly gained confidence in the language.
The Gospel Ramah Journey
When he was doing his final year in Bible School, he knew that they had to move to Cape Town to plant something. He had travelled all over South Africa with his Evangelism Team but had never set foot on Cape Town. He spoke to his wife about it, and they started fasting and praying about it. When he felt the time was right, with a thousand rand in the pocket, they went to plant a church in Cape Town with his wife and three kids. The irony is that he didn’t know anybody, he just went. He took 3 days to fast and pray and they went to the flee market to start inviting people to their services. 14 people showed up. He explained the vision to them. Apart from a few that travel, many guys who were there when they started are still in church. They started little, and then built little by little.
Gospel Ramah did not have that massive jump as the likes of Benny Hinn who start a church with 1200 people. Unfortunately they had a steady grow, but it was incremental. He has to admit though that there was a huge mess at the beginning. Because of his past – he had done church leadership and had a lot of ministry experience – he was too confident that he can grow a church very fast. So in October they were about 14 but he was already projecting that they would be 140 by December; then the following December they would be 1500. When December came, they were 40 and he went into depression for a long time. The following year, they barely moved, membership was still around 40 or 50. They got in touch with Bishop Mosa Sono and journeyed literally with him from inception till now. He would come once or twice a year and they would do some programs. The work grew gradually and they are now overseeing 43 branches and have thousands of members.
There are two things that Bishop Tshalo has to acknowledge:
- He was raised by a father who had a sense of discipline from tender age. They were taught to never arrive late for anything because it is disrespectful to the other person. Those are lessons he learnt at 6. He was still finishing primary school when his father woke him at about four o’clock to get ready for school that starts at eight. So he would be in his school uniform and ready with his bag hours before it was time for school. When his peers were struggling with discipline, for him it was just second nature. He would just naturally wake up very early; when he commits he sticks to it without struggle; and he naturally keeps his word. How he was raised helped a lot because these things that people need to learn are part of his nature. It is who he is, he cannot do otherwise, doing things half way is just not in him. Even before he was a Christian, this was his way of life.
- He just fell so much in love with Christ. Before he became a Christian, he was not struggling. He was doing well, was a gang leader, and was famous. But when he came to know Christ, he came with one prayer, “Lord, if nobody will give the best to you, You can count on me”. This has been his covenant from day one. His attitude was “Lord, if there is nobody, I am here”. He has lived that way and it serves him well.
Bishop takes time to fast before taking big decisions, but the question is how he goes about actually processing a big decision.
He wrote an article and he taught a lot on the ceilings. There is a course he teaches on ceilings. It is basically a journey in his leadership and particularly ties to Ramah Family of Churches. He wanted to look specifically at what are the times when they reached a ceiling and could not go through. What are the reason and how did they come through.
Ceiling No. 1
The first thing you learn as a leader leading an organization is, don’t assume that people understand your vision. The biggest ceiling that a leader faces is the buy in your vision. You are excited about your vision, you see it and say it and think they have got it, but it is not true. If people don’t become partners in your vision, then you might have a crowd but are all by yourself. That for him was the biggest painful lesson of his life. He still remembers vividly that the first time those pioneers who started with him in the church could quote the vision and explain it as he himself would explain it was after ten years. So he realized that it takes ten years for people to internalize the vision, appropriate it, and make it their own.
That even if the visionary dies, you are sure that the people have caught up with this thing and it has become theirs. This was because most of the guys were students at university. They came to study, they do not care about you planting a church. They just want a place to go pray. So for you to just give them a burden of understanding vision will not work. Many leaders fool themselves, that simply because they gave the vision talk and wrote it down, there is a buy-in. but that is not true. The biggest thing is communication after communication. You have to skilfully explain until your vision becomes their vision. Then you have a church.
Ceiling No. 2
The second thing, which was the biggest ceiling, is the selection of the right people around you, because your team makes you or brakes you. The danger and a curse of younger ministries and small churches is that you are so desperate to have people that you even bring the wrong people closer. That was very costly for him. Reason being, once you have the wrong guy around you, you are in big trouble. We need to rather have nobody than the wrong person. Bishop was shocked, a friend of his is a minister in national government, and they were talking over lunch and he said pray for me because it is so hard to get the right people. He was surprised thinking we have seven million people in the country and he says they are struggling to get the right people. To get the right person is hard. You can be surrounded by masses of people but to get the person to bring into the inner circle is extremely hard. In large churches, the danger is you can have someone on your staff simply because they have a pay cheque. Not because they are the right person. So you need to work on this.
Ceiling No. 3
The third ceiling, which is the toughest one, is personal change. Bishop Tshalo has learnt that if he doesn’t change, nothing changes. Many of us think that organizations have to change, but every change in your organization starts with you. In whatever area you change, you create space for change to take place. In a context of church, put it this way, churches are grouped in different categories. There are family churches, start-up churches, small churches, medium size, big churches, and mega churches. A behaviour of a family church pastor, is totally different from a mega church pastor. The pastor of a family church is the dad, the mom, the counsellor, the one who buries, the one who conducts weddings, etc. Without knowing, that pastor develops the need to be needed.
It feels good, but your church will never grow until you change your attitude from a father to an entrepreneur. You keep changing until you reach a level of literally a CEO. You get the T D Jakes of this world, the Mosa Sono’s of this world, the Ray McCauleys, etc. For you to think that, in that level, you have to get in touch with all the members and know all of them is impossible. But yet there is that feeling of guilt that you do not know everybody, but you need to deal with it.
You have to be prepared to make certain changes before change happens. Let go of certain things and attend certain meetings. One of the crisis Ramah had as they had to transition from a small church to a middle size church was that his behaviour had to change in certain ways – people had to see him by appointment, regardless of their position in the church. It was a crisis that lasted many years, leaders did not understand why they had to make an appointment. He had to go through it and lose some important people because they left the church. He had to stick by his decision until people learnt that the church was not a flee-market but an organization and had to be run as such.
How to process a setback
It is always hard to process a setback. He thought the older he becomes he would not care, but it is impossible because the call itself to pastor, comes with God giving you a heart for people. Chairs and PA Systems do not hurt, people are the people who are hurting other people. So every time there is a betrayal or a departure that you did not see coming, you hurt. So you have to teach yourself to be a Christian. Pray through it, do what the Bible tells you, and open up to the grace of God to heal you. You see the person six months down the line, you just hug them and show them love. It’s hurts, it’s never easy.
Habits Bishop Tshala has embraced over the years that help him lead effectively
The primary work of a church leader, contrary to public opinion, is the pulpit. That is the main thing. Even the vision of Ezekiel, water was running from the alter. So the alter is the life of the church. When you stand to preach, you stand as a man/woman under the authority of God’s word. And you have to be very sure that He spoke, and that it is sound doctrine that you are preaching because people become what you preach. Therefore, Bishop Tshala’s biggest discipline is prayer. You pray and pray until heaven speaks. Another thing, for any one hour of preaching, you have to have a minimum of ten hours of prayer. Younger preachers do not think it is important, it is. Because life of the church is the pulpit. Even if a preacher has a day job, ten hours is the minimum prayer time before preaching. He has been preaching for years, even when he was still working, but he did it. 5am his car is already at church, year after year after year he has never changed because he understands that he is dealing with God’s people. If you arrive just thirty minutes before the service as a leader, you are doing disservice to the church. This is the bride of Christ, it needs to be taken care of very seriously.
He has the background of a sports person but as time goes, one loses track. One day they were in a classroom and the professor asked a simple question, “What is the most important tool for a preacher?” People gave obvious answers like the Bible and the like. Everyone got a chance to respond and he said “You are all dumb, it is your body, because even if you are anointed and you know all theology, without your body there is no ministry”. He has never forgotten that the anointing has to be sitting in a healthy body. Therefore he exercises five times a week without fail. Whether he travels or he is at home, he must make sure that minimum five times he does his exercises. Another thing is he eats healthy and observes healthy sleeping hours. He doesn’t sleep long, but he sleeps heavily. When he sleeps, he is gone. He sleeps four or five hours but he really sleeps. For him it’s not really about the quantity, but quality of his sleep.
Habits that makes one lead for decades
There could be many things but he gave 3:
- Never lead in isolation. You must have people who can call you by name. It is very important. Because if around you it’s the titles and reverence, then you are very vulnerable. Get people around you who do not care if you are Jesus junior but they can just call you by name. Then you know, I have got protection. If you do that, you will last long.
- Never be low on your communion with God because the flesh does not really die, you just suppress it as the spiritual life grows. But if you go down on your personal Bible Study and Prayer, it comes back. And when the flesh comes back, you can do things that you never thought you are able to do.
- Never go for competition. Many leaders are taken out by competition, because you remove your eyes from Almighty God to people who are not doing much. He has to give it to Pastor Ray, who helped them years ago as they were seating in a leaders meeting and he said “the only thing that that can keep you safe is to know that in this life there will always be people who have more than you have, and less than what you have, be happy”. Bishop Mosa Sono is literally his twin brother. The staff he is pushing, what he has achieved is massive. Bishop Tshala is not anywhere near where Mosa Sono is, but he is ok in his skin. He is his brother and has achieved and he is happy for him. But there are millions of people who look at him and say, but how did he get where he is, but he has made peace. His portion is his portion. He runs his race and he is in his lane. What the Lord allows him to achieve he does, what he doesn’t give to him he doesn’t, and he is happy.
Take a week to rethink your Christianity. That is big. He just finished teaching a series called My Christian Humanity. It came from a place of saying, I have been running for too many years, can I pause and think about “Why am I a Christian?” and “What makes me a human?” One should take a week to rethink “Why am I a Christian? What makes me a Christian?” You might discover a lot staff that needs to be re-corrected.
- Spiritual Leadership