Discipleship is rightly being addressed as Africa’s greatest challenge. The growth of Christianity has been sensational, but the follow-up has traditionally been lacking. Non-Christian customs and worldviews permeate the Church. Syncretism is a major problem in many areas. Thorough repentance and renunciation of sin and the works of darkness are often lacking, and many Christians are not free from the influence of witchcraft and evil spirits. Growing numbers of churches and ministries throughout Africa now place a high priority on discipleship. This will shape more Christ-like character and promote a biblical worldview among church-goers. None of these challenges are unique to Africa, but pray nevertheless that God might purify His Church in this continent.
Africa's role in the global Church is more important than ever. Its contribution to revitalizing the flagging churches in Europe is crucial. Even more crucial is its role in defending biblical faith and traditional reading of the Scriptures against the creeping relativism and liberalism that besets much of the Church in the West. This is of particular import as Africa sits on the frontline of the work of evangelizing the Muslim world; the flagging vigour and insipid moral stance of many Western denominations will have little impact - or even counterproductive impact - on the Islamic world.
Pray for unity in such great diversity. There are over 15,000 denominations, church clusters and networks in Africa. Countless independent congregations exist with no overarching accountability or relationships. Pray:
- That leaders might place their agendas at the foot of the cross. The desire for influence and power, the ethnocentric bias that lies behind many splits, the personal pride and carnality behind many divisions in churches and ministries - all must be crucified with Christ.
- For pan-African bodies such as the AEA (Association of Evangelicals of Africa). The role of the AEA is strategic in linking national evangelical denominations in fellowship, in stimulating vision and in promoting leadership training, culturally relevant biblical theology and social action. The AEA is present in 33 countries, with 34 parachurch associate members. It represents over 70 million African evangelicals.
Leadership training is recognized as the critical bottleneck. Leaders are in short supply at every level - for village congregations, for the urban educated, for theological training, for missionary endeavour and for national-level leadership. Pray for:
- The serious consideration of what kind of training is most appropriate for Africans. This includes teaching and communication methods, curriculum and content, length of courses and modules. Too much foreign structure and content has been imposed; Africans must develop training that works for Africans and deals with the Afrocentric issues facing the Church.
- Theological institutions. These have multiplied for students at primary, secondary and post-secondary levels. ACTEA, Africa's primary accreditation body, lists in its directory over 150 theological colleges and programmes. There are only two post-graduate level institutions, both in Nairobi. Countries with the most accredited programmes: Nigeria (24), Kenya (21), Ethiopia (14) and South Africa (11). The high incidence of such institutions in Anglophone Africa is offset by the paucity of the same in Francophone and Portuguese-speaking Africa.
- Selection of students. Discernment is needed to know those anointed by the Spirit for future leadership and those applying out of a baser motive for prestige, potential employment, desire for education or others.
- Funds. The poverty of the Church and lack of understanding among potential donors hamper the development of Bible training institutions. The financial needs are endless. Generosity from the African and the global Church is required for such vital ministry to continue.
- TEE programmes, modular training and training-in-service are all key for training both lay leadership and the many overworked and bivocational pastors. Several hundred TEE programmes now operate in Africa, accounting for over 100,000 students. Despite past obstacles, TEE is establishing itself as an effective alternative for theological training.
- African theologians, who are now emerging as global theological leaders. A truly indigenous evangelical African theology was slow to develop but is now making great strides. A clear stand by African theologians to expound the universal and unchangeable truths of Scripture in the African context is needed, which will also counteract error, African misconceptions of the gospel and the very real powers of darkness. One such example is the African Bible Commentary, a one-volume commentary on the whole Bible written exclusively by Africans.
The development of a missions vision in the Church is an essential step to African Christianity reaching its full stature as a global leader. Africa is on the way to becoming a formidable missionary-sending region, but much more progress is still necessary. Praise God for the rapid growth and spread of African missions, essential for finishing the task in Africa itself. Pray for:
- The poverty mentality to be overcome. Western colonial influence, and then some patronizing attitudes by foreign missions, have subverted the continent and created a mindset of dependence. Too many Africans immediately look to Western (or increasingly Asian) sponsorship to meet every need.
- Funds to be made available to train and send out missionaries. The wherewithal to send workers exists in Africa, but only if churches see missionary sending and support as non-negotiable and then give sacrificially.
- Congregations to see missions as fundamental to the gospel itself and the task of every believer. Participation in the Great Commission beyond the immediate context has largely been ignored in most African churches.
- Effective cross-cultural training for missions. There is still a shortfall of innovative training mechanisms to produce the necessary results. Some have been set up and are growing in different parts of Africa - such as in West Africa through the Nigerian CAPRO and CMF, in East Africa through the Africa Inland Church, in South Africa through OM, Inserv, and others.
- Christian research – it has come a great distance, but more needs to be done. Beyond identifying and enumerating unevangelized peoples, strategy and methodology must be developed in mobilizing workers and effectively reaching the unreached.
Cross-cultural missions. The missionary force is increasingly African and multi-continental, and less Western. Much sensitivity and humility is required for effective ministry that reaches the unevangelized and defers to the maturity and vision of the growing African Church. The need for missionaries continues to be greater than the supply of those with the gifting and vision for:
- Partnership. Honour must be given to the huge impact of dedicated missionaries in the past, who achieved so much despite the frequent neglect or even opposition of colonial rulers. But today's realities mean that ministry in Africa can largely be led by Africans, supported by expatriates. Pray for unity and fellowship that transcend all social and cultural barriers within mission agencies, among agencies themselves and between the indigenous churches and agencies.
- Pioneer areas. These still abound. . A high degree of commitment and sacrifice will be required to reach present pioneer areas where conditions are sometimes very hard. In some cases missionaries will need to learn two to four languages before they can reach the least-reached.
- Church support personnel for teaching, youth work and other areas are needed as never before - all areas in which African workers could do better, were enough willing and able. For expatriates to minister under African leadership and as part of the Church in Africa is essential.
- Specialists for Bible translation, theological education and media ministries (audio materials, radio, television, the Internet and Bible-storying).
- Holistic ministry, which is in ever-growing demand. Needs in areas such as counseling, working with children at risk, education, health care, agriculture, business development and many others neglected by governments can be met by Christian organizations, providing a beautiful testimony to the transforming power of the gospel. Pray for a balance where all the needs of the whole person - spiritual, physical and relational - can be met.
- Mission sending from Africa is ready for the next phase. The 2011 and 2016 MANI Consultations helped to assess the state of the African Church, build the long-term sustainability of mission sending and begin a resource mobilization process. This is essential for a continent with many willing to work but lacking the training and material resources to do mission the way Westerners and East Asians have traditionally done.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.