Africa and Nigeria’s greatest spiritual challenge is discipleship, not Islam, not corruption, and not even the need for missions. The Church grew so fast that many new believers have little chance to be discipled. Much division and false teaching enters into churches. Prosperity teaching distorts the gospel. A form of Christianity mixed with African tribal religious practices is common. The Church needs a balanced and biblical approach to spiritual warfare, to healing and miracles, and to outreach towards other religions. Many Christians seem to live by other values than what the Bible clearly teaches. Pray that humility, simplicity, and holiness might become the motto of the Nigerian Church.
Specific religious communities needing prayer and attention are many; Nigeria's religious context is highly complex and varied beyond the obvious domination of the Christian-Muslim dynamic. The major blocs are:
- Muslims. Many are more open to the gospel despite - or even because of - Nigeria's religious tensions. Tens, and possibly hundreds, of thousands have come to Christ. But many face death threats, discrimination and ostracism. Powerful Christian literature for Muslims and effective outreach methods are increasingly available. One important ministry is caring for converts from Islam; beyond discipleship, they often need shelter and employment in an area away from their home due to threats against their lives. There are many expressions of Islam in Nigeria, including the majority Sunni and Shi'ite, Sufi and militant, and the hostility between some of these groups is evident.
- Practitioners of African traditional religion. While they number officially only around 3%, they more likely number around 8%; even beyond this, their practices and beliefs penetrate deeply into some forms of both Islam and Christianity. Paganism has not so much disappeared as gone underground, often seething beneath the surface of Christian nominalism. Many of Nigeria's remaining smaller unreached-people groups are animist; they are responsive to the good news, yet are being rapidly Islamized. Pray for urgent Christian outreach to them while the door remains open.
- African indigenous "spiritual" churches have multiplied - especially those related to the Aladura, Cherubim and Seraphim Church and Christ Apostolic Church. Some are highly syncretistic; others maintain varying degrees of biblical orthodoxy. Pray that their leadership may be rightly helped by other Christians, with biblical theology and practices adopted.
Missions vision. Nigeria is one of the leading missionary-sending countries of the developing world. Pray for:
- Nationwide mission networks. The Movement for African National Initiatives (MANI), Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association (NEMA) and Agape Missions and Evangelical Network (AMEN) all play huge roles in pushing forward the mission impetus started at the 1974 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization and at the Nigeria Congress on Evangelization in 1975. This impetus is encapsulated with the Back to Jerusalem movement along with Vision 50:15, which has the goal of mobilizing 50,000 Nigerians for missions in the next 15 years. Currently, 5,300 long-term Nigerian missionaries are under the NEMA umbrella, representing 115 agencies. Around half serve cross-culturally within Nigeria; the other half serve outside the country.
- Denominational agencies with a strong missions programme. The Evangelical Missionary Society of ECWA has by far the largest number of cross-cultural missionaries (1,600 in 2009). Deeper Life Bible Church and Living Faith Ministries have sent missionaries to over 40 nations. The former has planted over 3,000 churches outside of Nigeria. AoG, Baptists, Churches of Christ in Nigeria (TEKAN) and others also have strong missionary-sending programmes. Pray that other denominations may catch the vision.
- Interdenominational agencies have multiplied - CAPRO, Christian Missionary Foundation (CMF), Missionary Crusaders Ministries (MCM), Evangelical Missionary Society (EMS), Great Commission Movement (GCM), Soul Harvesters, Full Stature Mission and growing numbers of others. Pray for their increase and for the Nigerian Church - usually so centered on congregational life - to support their ministries.
- Missionary training and support. There are now 50 missions-training institutions in Nigeria, an answer to prayer. Congregations still need to understand the vital roles they play in supporting and sending Nigerian missionaries into the field. Pray for Nigerian support agencies that seek to address this problem and to act as a bridge between churches and missionaries on the field. About 2,000 Nigerian missionaries serve in other lands, mainly in West Africa; they face difficulties in receiving funds to provide for their material needs and educate their children.
- Research on the unreached - by ECWA, CAPRO, AoG and the Nigerian Baptist Convention - focuses the attention of churches and agencies. All of Nigeria's 168 least-reached peoples have been adopted for prayer and outreach. The Searchlight Project, run by the National Research Working Group, is undertaking vital research on the Nigerian harvest force and on the least reached and is developing strategies, training and collaborative ministry.
Literature is vital for the maturation of the Church, especially in the areas of discipleship, Bible studies and theology. These are avidly sought after, but in short supply. The number of bookstores is very few, given the number of Christians. Pray for:
- Nigerian authors. Many megachurch pastors write copiously, but the topics are the same - prosperity, success and overcoming. Pray for those who are interested in writing on a wide range of issues, and in a culturally and contextually relevant way, but lack the means and publishing resources. Pray for the new publisher, Africa Christian Textbooks (ACTS), working in partnership with other African publishers and Langham Literature to help African authors. ACTS has a growing list of titles designed for Nigerian leaders wrestling with Africa's issues.
- Publishing. Due to mismanagement, several older Christian publishers are no longer functioning. Some new organizations such as Evangel have grown but tend to concentrate on reprinting foreign books. Denominational publishing is also low. But Oasis International, the Joint Sunday School Project and ACTS produce new materials useful for pastoral training and spiritual growth.
- Distribution. Although there are well over 300 Christian bookstores in Nigeria, the range of books in stock is severely limited in the search for profitability. Denominational bookshops such as Challenge Bookshops have been declining for some time. Most growing bookshops are in the hands of private entrepreneurs. Christian Booksellers Association of Nigeria is a force for good. Major distribution agencies are Oasis, ACTS, Edysyl and others.
Christian radio. Nigeria has one of the world's highest proportions and numbers of shortwave radio listeners. Even more have access to FM. Christians use both local and international radio broadcasts. With Nigeria's low rural literacy level and strong oral storytelling culture, radio is vital for evangelism and discipleship. Pray for all unreasonable restrictions to be lifted for local radio. Many unevangelized groups can receive Christian radio broadcasts in their own language. The Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria (BON) is known to play a restrictive role on Christian broadcasts on national stations as well as in setting up Christian radio stations. This calls for prayer.
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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.