Recently I spent a week ministering in the Gauteng province of South Africa (Johannesberg/Pretoria). In this post I offer five reflections on my time there to help American Christians pray and give more diligently to further the work God in Africa.
It’s not my intent to make sweeping generalizations about an entire continent; yet I can’t avoid some element of generality in what I write. The observations below are based on conversations with Christian leaders who are well-networked throughout sub-Saharan Africa and who keep a keen and prayerful eye on God’s work throughout the continent.
Africa is profoundly complex. Last week, I stood in a church office in Pretoria gazing at a large wall map of the African continent with my friend Tobie. “Just think about the complexity of this place,” he reasoned. “Over 50 countries. Over 2000 languages. Everything from Dutch-Reformed Christianity here in South Africa, to Muslim influence across the north, to Eastern Christianity in places like Ethiopia. The complexity of church-planting in Africa is almost overwhelming.” On one hand, everyone on the continent considers themselves an African; yet the differences between a Libyan, a Moroccan Berber, an Ethiopian, and an Afrikaner in Johannesburg are vast. Gospel work in Africa will require the willingness to enter into complexity.
(Southern) Africa is overwhelmingly warm to Christianity. “Christianity is the largest religion in sub-Saharan Africa,” observes the TGC-Africa website. But it’s not generally a healthy, gospel-rich Christianity. “The worst thing to happen to Africa… was TBN,” laments Pastor Tobie. In every town and village in Africa, satellite dishes lie perched on rooftops, streaming anemic teaching (and outright heresy) into almost every home. The work of evangelism in Africa is not converting the unchurched, but gospeling the ungospeled. People in general are warm toward God, Jesus, and the church… but apart from clear gospel teaching, they remain stuck in theologically insipid strains of “Christianity.”
Theological training is critical. Tobie asserts that much of the work in Africa comes down to equipping pastors with sound, gospel-rich resources. Many pastors have little training, and sources like TBN are all they know. Once they encounter good biblical theology and clear gospel teaching, they come alive with renewed vigor, and their churches experience revival. Pastors are longing for good training; they simply need access to it. Both residential forms of training (seminary, Bible college, church planting residencies) and non-residential forms of learning (books, websites, apps) will be vital to the work of gospel renewal in Africa.
Africa is graced with amazing leaders. During my time in Gauteng, I met dozens of young pastors-in-training from radically diverse backgrounds. Every one of them is hungry to be used by God. Both City to City Africa and TGC-Africa are examples of fruitful collaboration among theologically sound, Christ-loving pastors. Reformed, evangelical Christianity is on the rise. God is raising up gifted leaders across the continent to shape the future of the African church. If American Christians can help to encourage and resource these leaders, the prospects for gospel revival in Africa are incredibly bright.
Resources are key. The question American Christians must ask is: “How can we better resource the work of the gospel in Africa?” Church planters need funding – and often for prolonged seasons of time, as they work to build self-sustaining congregations. Church leaders need training materials. Network leaders need travel budgets to facilitate face-to-face collaboration. Average Christians need podcasts and websites to help them grow in their faith and deepen their theological understanding. We’ve already exported to Africa the worst theological virus to grow in the American petri dish: the prosperity gospel. Now, we who fear God and love the gospel have the chance to overcome that virus and strengthen the immune system of the global church for long-term health and viability. Let’s not miss the moment.