The things I have mentioned in previous posts related to what we miss about the American church (see here) are the very things that we are actively seeking to instill in the churches we labor among here in Zimbabwe. What we miss is not just the cultural familiarity and comfort, but chiefly those things that should be biblical and universal for all Christians (though contextualized from place to place).
So far we’ve considered the ordinances, the “one another” aspect of the Christian life, worship in our heart language, and a missionary mindset. These things can only arise from a context of maturity that the churches here have simply not yet achieved. The question that immediately comes to my mind, though, is actually the same question that drove my family to uproot our lives from suburban, U.S., and move to the bush of Africa. And that question is: Why has the African church not reached the level of maturity of the American Church?
While the answer to this question is complex, in many ways it is also simple. Paul says the means Jesus has given for building up the church to maturity is “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11).
What this passage shows us is that the means to a more healthy and mature church here in Africa is not going to be more money from outside, nor will it be a larger and more gifted force of foreign missionaries laboring on the continent. In fact, the means to maturity will not come from outside Africa at all! The key to a more healthy and mature African church will be qualified, gifted, called, and equipped leaders who are raised up and deployed into the cities and suburbs, villages and valleys of the African continent with the goal of making disciples, baptizing them, and forming healthy churches in which they can be biblically trained and then deployed with a missional mindset to begin the same process of making disciples who make other disciples (2 Tim 2:2).
I believe the guiding force behind the next major movement of Global Christianity (which, as I have written elsewhere, will be rooted in Sub-Saharan Africa) will not come from outside Africa, but will come from within as African believers are raised up, trained, and strengthened in the Word––and then deployed by God for the advance of His kingdom. Yet even as I type those words, I recognize that such training and deployment are much more easily said than done.
The seminaries, bible colleges, ministerial schools, etc., on this continent lag far behind (both in quantity and quality) those in more developed nations like the U.S. The number and the credentials of individuals living in Africa giving their lives to the task of theological education pales in comparison to the number of Americans who have had access to such training. And, unfortunately, it seems that many Africans who are trained do not pay it forward by training others.
Even as I type this, I am reminded by the background windows on my laptop screen of the embarrassment of riches available to me as an American with Bible software apps, language resources, encyclopedias, lexicons, dictionaries, commentaries, and just name whatever else—all at the click of a touchpad. My guess is that all the theological libraries on this continent put together could not match what the average American pastor or professor has available at their fingertips any given moment. This is neither a boast nor a criticism, but merely a reality. And one for which I am simultaneously grateful and burdened. Grateful for having been blessed with the opportunity to study under some of the greatest theological minds and leaders the American church has ever produced, but also burdened by the reality that this level of discipleship and training is still a long way off for the church here in Africa.