Being Church in 21st Century Africa

"What the church urgently needs are men and women capable of leading others toward missional transformation for a future church which has not yet been imagined." - Alan Roxburgh


The Challenge

The last couple of decades have brought new gains in influence and respectability to Africa as a center of remarkable Christian engagement. It is hard to imagine that just a few decades ago, not many gave the Christian faith much chance of survival beyond the West. Today, the new reality is a forward momentum that is as remarkable as the missionary optimism of the First Century Church. In Nigeria, as in most of Africa, the pattern of church expansion is out of the ordinary: the exploding numbers, the scope of the phenomenon, the cross-cultural patterns of encounter, the variety and diversity of styles and forms, the wide spectrum of theological views and ecclesiastical traditions represented, the ideas of authority and styles of leadership that have been developed, the process of contextualization that fosters liturgical renewal, and the production of new religious art, music, hymns, songs, and prayers. All of these are featured on Christianity’s breathtakingly African face today.

These unprecedented developments are, however, not without unique challenges. For example, the questions and answers about new converts, discipleship training, leadership development and the missionary nature of the church will have enormous influence in the years to come. Of course, theological seminaries and Bible colleges across the continent, like their Western counterparts, have responded by developing academic programs they hope will act as compass to guide the church into the future. Appropriately, training fits, and is perceived to fit, into that specialized cadre of church leadership that hopefully would mitigate these challenges. But this is merely masking the problems because it presupposes an elitist view of church training with little or no recourse to a host of God-loving laity who together form the band of Apostle Paul’s teaching on the priesthood of all believers.

This hegemonic view perhaps explains why pastors are inundated with so much responsibilities ranging from sermon preparation to strategic planning, church committees, counselling, visiting the sick and shut-ins, evangelism and church outreach to the extent that the time is simply not there even for the most theologically passionate to train their own local church leaders. The challenges facing the African church today calls for a deep commitment to a new kind of leadership training that would wrestle seriously with harmonizing the incredible gifts God has deposited in His people for the future of the local church. That is, a hope for a more open and accessible kind of training that would transcend the barriers that had been erected by a separatistic mentality of our present approach, and a profound desire to take leadership training to the local church in spite of its perceived complexity and inconvenience.

The Solution

What will be most effective today is an innovative, visionary, and church-based approach rooted firmly in Biblical concepts of in-service and non-formal ministry training. An approach that believes that leaders are best trained in the context of mentoring relationships in the life and ministry of the local church. In this way, theological growth in community and God’s mission are reunited in a dynamic way that is helpful to both. 

S. ’Jide Komolafe, Executive Director
Author, The Transformation of African Christianity:
Development and Change in the Nigerian Church



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