THE PLACE OF THE AFRICAN CHURCH IN THE 21ST CENTURY By Prof Emmanuel Bellon
It is difficult to plan for next 50 years because of the speed of change in the world and in the Africa. We are in the time of change! What should we be thinking about in the next 50 years? 50 years is too much to think about because of the rapid change in Africa? A book is old before you publish it. We are in a time of change and so much is happening. Salvation is not for sale, human beings are not for sale; creation is not for sale. All of these issues and more need to be addressed 500 years after the Reformation. The Christian faith is stronger today than it was then. We are challenged by the call of Reformation. We have no choice but to address these challenges diligently, particularly what Transformation means in the Africa context and in the church. The African Church needs to focus fundamentally on the renewing of our minds. We need to engage.
Africa is at the threshold of Christianity and this call to transformation we must answer diligently. Romans 12:1-2 requires that we strive for biblical transformation. The African church has had its fair share of conforming to all manner of things, but and now we must focus on transformation. To do this we must engage:
- The African Church and Education: Education in Africa was pioneered by missionaries wherever the missionaries went. Education introduced at different levels has always been a powerful force in missions. It contributed significantly to the growth of Africa. It enabled African believers to read scripture and apply the knowledge in their lives and communities. The initial curriculum developed attempted to integrated faith and learning. Graduates then lead countries and they contributed significantly to growth of countries. Today graduates of Christian education do not have a significant impact on nations and thus the need for transformation. The curricula of Christian tertiary education institutions and secular institutions have no difference. Today there is little integration of faith and learning. The renewal of minds has not been one of the goals of these Christians institutions. The challenge we face is to not only to provide education that informs the mind, but also to provide education that transforms the heart. This will bring sustainable change. Further, the environment in Christian higher education institutions is steeped in certain practices and behaviours. How will these student change society if they cannot change their own environment? As we move in to the future we need to find creative ways to make change in these institutions. It is not enough to have an engineering degree and work in a place where the lights do not work. The challenge is integration of faith in higher education with the life around us. We have to engage regional and continental bodies and the voice of the church in making this happen. If we look at theological institutions, we have challenges. The numbers of people in theological education programs are dwindling. There is no passion to pursue theological education. This has huge implications for the church. Theological colleges are so geared to making pulpit preachers that they do not know how to meet the need of providing theological education for professional people. If more people are not going to engage in advanced studies, will there be sustainable funding for theological education? More people in medical, insurance, banking, business, and engineering are seeking theological education. Instead of integrating faith in just social sciences, we need to integrate theological education in all disciplines. It needs to permeate every nook and cranny of our society. The African church must embrace the changes that are coming. Is this something we will support? Leading Financial Sustainability in Africa by Bellon. These issues are addressed in Dr. Bellon’s book, Leading Financial Stability in Theological Institutions: The African Perspective. He concluded his address by saying that “We need to find ways to enable people to live out their faith in their work.”
- African Church and Technology: Africa is open for all kinds of technology and innovation. Some expect technology to grow faster in Africa than in the United States. In fact, our lives are controlled by technology. Technology has grown tremendously and is getting more sophisticated. It has changed the way we live, interact and do business. It has already impacted the church and will continue to do so. For example, virtual evangelism and discipleship initiatives and virtual church impacts the way we do theology and church. Many are coming to faith using social media. When we go to church on Sunday, you give by supplying your Mpesa number. Africa is open for all kinds of technology and is so engaged. Technology will go far in Africa and Europe. The church must embrace technology. The faster we do that the better.
- African Church and Leadership Governance: Church leaders are taking other church leaders to court and battling each other viciously for higher leadership positions. Churches should not be built around the charisma of individuals, but around structures of accountability and integrity. Only with these structures of accountability and integrity in place can we successfully challenge the government and political elite and hold them responsible for their decisions. We first must put our house in order. Governance is also about stewardship of people. How do we move forward and build the people God has given us. The church will have to engage in this stewardship process. The days of big man syndrome are over. How do we empower people and manage and maximize the resources that God has given to the church. We need structures engagement and accountability.
- African Church and Leadership Development: Leadership is a need for intentional leadership engagement that informs our challenges. Vision is passed through the leaders. Leaders have to be identified, mentored, coached and given resources at their disposal. Degrees will not necessarily raise leaders but the church has to raise and equip leaders. The church must engage society so they can facilitate the development of leaders and foster the intentional development of youth.
Youth– The potential of the youth in our churches must be considered. The youth programs and initiatives in our churches leave much to be desired. More resources and attention must go to the development of youth .
Succession – We need to break away from cultural issues that inhibit succession of leaders. In Africa we still think about one being a chief until they die. Succession planning is therefore a topic that is avoided. When the leader moves from the scene we need to move away from cultural issues, which inhibit succession planning.
Leader care – Our church leaders work themselves to destruction. Leader care has not been practiced in Africa. We praise them and drive them to destruction. We need to engage in leader care and engage fathers and grandfathers who are or have been in leadership in mentoring the younger generation with their insight and knowledge.
- African Church and Research: Data on church issues is minimal. We always say that the African church is growing like crazy, but who is collecting the data? There is no established group that collects credible data on the church continent wide. When we do not know what is going on, how will we address the issues confronting the church and society? How will we know the challenges? Response to societal problems must be engaged with strong data. Partnerships with para-church organisations must be considered for keeping up to date with global and emerging issues that the church must address such as the Genome, identity issues surrounding the transgender and homosexuality topics, and scientific innovations. Is there anything that we can learn from the history of HIV/AIDS in Africa? The church in Africa did not engage the crisis sufficiently. If Christians cannot be faithful to their partner, how can HIV/AIDS be successfully addressed in the church?
- African Church and Missions: Intercultural missions and engagement are happening in Africa, but when the African church moves out of Africa they minister to their fellow Africans. They do not engage the needs of the host culture. It is an issue that the church has to address. Further, the African churches are known for prayer and vibrant worship, but we need to reach the whole person. The Africa church must engage and put its money where its heart belongs. There is need for continent wide conversations and engagement to address these issues and plan a way forward, strategizing on how to achieve this through the evangelical associations. The church must use their resources to find men and women who will champion this cause. We need to support talk with action.