Mission-Shaped Church in a Multicultural World

Mission-Shaped Church in a Multicultural World

Well, my contribution to the Grove Booklet Series entitled “Mission-Shaped Church in a Multicultural World” is out now. It joins many other resources that are available on the market exploring how we as sons and daughters of God can live together in the kingdom. Often, we tend to hang out with people that are just like us — especially in worship. We can easily mix on Saturday when we go to watch football but when it comes to Sunday morning, we tend to worship with our own kind. While there are many social factors that make this seem normal and acceptable and sometimes preferred, it is against the nature of Christianity to choose homogeneity where different races and ethnicities live together. Andrew Walls has often reminded us that Christianity became Christianity because of the multicultural nature of the disciples in Antioch. I suggest in this book that we are privileged in the West to live in close proximity with brothers and sisters from around the world as our fellowship, worship and mission are potentially enriched by the different expressions and flavours of how we all seek to love God and neighbour. We see God better when we look at him through our collective multicultural eyes.

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The booklet is available at the Grove Books store, and yes, you can purchase a digital copy (PDF).

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Mission-Shaped Church in a Multicultural World

Why Child Theology?

Children and Theology

Statistically speaking, over one-third of the world’s population are under the age of fifteen, and a staggering 85% of these children live in the majority world.[1] Dan Brewster argues that in today’s world, these children are an overlooked “people group” who warrant greater missiological attention. [2]

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Not only is the vast size of the population of children in the majority world a reason to investigate our ‘Child Theology’ further, but it is also true that these children are some of the most at socially marginalised, unheard and vulnerable people on our planet today: “Most children at the turn of the century are ‘children at risk’… They are hungry, homeless and hurting.”[3] These children lack the ability to act on their own behalf to ensure their own safety, as one author explains; “Children suffer from a double disadvantage precisely because they are children… the child lacks the ability…

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Why Child Theology?

Anger and Injustice: Some personal reflections after a few months teaching here (Part 2)

Chris and Suzie Wilson’s here … part 2.

Shade like night at the height of noon

In the last post, I shared that reading the Bible with the students here can be uncomfortable. In this post, I’d like to talk about one specific example of how reading here has exposed my own shallowness. It has not been an easy one to work through, and it won’t make a light read but hopefully it illustrates that—without listening to their brothers and sisters in the majority world—Western Christians are incredibly vulnerable to self-deception.

By the Rivers of Babylon (Psalm 137) was an obvious choice for our session. It is a song from people lamenting being displaced from their land; many of the students here are displaced, and singing is a big part of their traditional cultures. I thought I had a fair idea of what might come out of the session. But I had overlooked the psalm’s harrowing ending:

O daughter of Babylon doomed to be destroyed,

blessed…

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Anger and Injustice: Some personal reflections after a few months teaching here (Part 2)

Anger and Injustice: Some personal reflections after a few months teaching here (Part 1)

Conversations like these give me hope … waiting to hear more, Chris and Suzie.

Shade like night at the height of noon

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-16-14-44One of the great privileges of teaching here is the opportunity to pray, think, and read the Bible together with people who have had a very different experience of life. Some of the insights which have emerged from this have been really interesting: reading with the first-year class—half of whom are refugees from South Sudan—opened my eyes to quite how much of the Bible concerns displacement. It turns out that pretty much anyone who is anyone in the Bible (Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and more) spent time as a refugee at some point in their lives.

Whilst the opportunity to read texts with the students has been eye-opening, it’s not always a comfortable experience. Over the last month, we’ve been looking at the theme of suffering in the Writings (Job, Lamentations, the Psalms, etc.) and thinking about the way these texts speak to communities here. As we’ve been doing so…

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Anger and Injustice: Some personal reflections after a few months teaching here (Part 1)

Of Colonialism and Mission

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I continue here to reflect on Andrew Walls’ presentation at Missio Africanus. Somewhere in his first session, he made a bold suggestion that the process secularisation (possibly that of the West and/or that of the West’s relationship with Africa) was initiated or, at least initially, enhanced by colonialism. When asked to clarify this point, Prof Walls said that Europeans had a choice, either to continue with mission among Africans or to colonise African peoples. Sadly, according to Prof Walls, they chose the latter. Colonialism made more sense — governments, running from Europe would help civilise the Africans while converting them to Christianity and teaching them a better form of trade. Thus the doctrine of the Three C’s — Civilisation, Christianity, and Commerce, generally speaking, justified the colonising of Africa. The trade would, almost always, benefit Europe. To those who had some misgivings, a reminder was often repeated that “there is a lot of money to be made in colonialism.” Unfortunately, the decades between 1890 and 1970 are known for colonialism in Africa, mission is only a backstory. Belgium’s King Leopold’s insatiable quest for colony opened the gates wide for the Scramble for Africa, fulfilling the desires of some who, like David Livingstone, had only wished for Christian colonies overseas as a means to evangelise Africans and to stop slave trade. Of course, Leopold would go on to take the entire Congo to himself as a personal property.

Back in Malawi, in my home village at Magomero, the Livingstone family held (and may still hold) some colonial property — a large coffee and tung oil estate. The project started with the coming of the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) to Magomero in 1861 — David Livingstone himself brought them there even though the UMCA’s leader, Bishop Charles McKenzie, was not too keen. As a result, the UMCA stayed at Magomero for two years before retreating to Zanzibar in 1863. The Livingstone family stayed on, acquiring large pieces of land. Soon, Alexander Livingstone Bruce (grandson to David) was in charge of the Magomero Estates. (Until today, locals refer to the remaining parts of the estate as Bruce’s Estate (in vernacular, kwa Bruce). He appointed as the estate manager his cousin, William Jervis Livingstone. Unlike David who spoke of a colony where Christianity was taught, William had no regard for Christianity. He burned churches and schools anywhere near the estate, preventing his servants from going to church or sending their children to school. He forced locals to work on his estate for free — a form of colonial slavery called thangata in Malawi.[1] Even today, one hundred years after he dominated Magomero, William Jervis Livingstone is feared as one of the most ruthless colonial masters that ever existed in Malawi. No wonder, in 1915 when people could not stand him anymore, they had an uprising in which only William and his assistant, one Duncan McCormick, were killed at Magomero.

Going back to Prof Walls’ talk, European Christians of the nineteenth century chose colonialism believing that they could actually do both simultaneously — to colonise and evangelise Africa at the same time. For some, of course, colonialism was best form of mission. By the 1890s, (thirty years after Livingstone came to Malawi and a few years after the Berlin Conference of 1884-85), the colonial project was in full swing, and with it, the volunteer missionary movement was at its peak. Colonialism and mission seemed to be two sides of one coin. Often, missionaries served as advisors to colonial governments and the colonial governments returned the favour by offering security to the missionaries. They both legitimatised one another. (Reading Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost, I recently learned of one of CMS leaders being involved in the conversations at one time). In such a context, to convert to Christianity was also to let one be colonised (or civilised, as was generally said). Good Christians were not supposed to resist colonialism. Good missionaries were also expected not to resist colonialism.[2]

While that connection between mission and colonialism has been effectively criticised in our postcolonial world, I cannot help but think that we still live with its implications. It has played a significant role in the spread of Christianity around the world for centuries. In North America, it created a Christian civilisation after imposing Christianity on native Americans and the enslaved African population. In Latin America, entire civilisations were destroyed in the name of Christianity. It is not going away easily. Mission strategies and practices that depend on colonialism still thrive today. For many of my African friends, that is all they know. Of course, many of them still reserve the title of missionary for the azungu who have come from far. For the people in my home area, missionaries can only be Roman Catholic Fathers. Africans can be evangelists and catechists, but not missionaries. This is, in part, because in their minds, mission needs imperial force in order to be effective. Without that kind of backing, one can only be an evangelist, or anything else that is less than a missionary. This reveals a fault in our theology. Most Africans understand evangelism — to save souls from eternal damnation of hell. Few of them think of mission in holistic ways that include but exceed the saving of souls. Consequently, we have evangelised the continent but have failed to disciple our nations.

For my Western friends trying to evangelise in their own Western cities, mission has been for centuries something you do somewhere far away to peoples of other races. For many, the badge of being a Westerner was enough to gain an audience overseas. When that turned around, and Europe becomes the mission field, the question becomes then, “how do we become missionaries to our own race in our own neighbourhoods?” Making matters worse, Europe begins to be understood as a mission field at the time when the church loses its place of influence in Western culture. In such circumstances, colonialism does not help. Actually, it does not work. Yet still, they find it difficult to think of mission apart from colonising ways. Shall the churches find their ways back to mission as it was intended to be — without colonialism?

 

[1]: The word itself means “to help.” But in colonial times, it was a way for colonial farmers to force locals to provide free labour to their estates. Failure to participate in thangata would result in the farmers burning up their villages. Often, the colonial governments intervened by levying new taxes on villages that resisted thangata.

[2]: A classic example of this conflict between mission and colonialism is explored in Mongo Beti’s The Poor Christ of Bomba. Many others including Jomo Kenyatta, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Chinua Achebe commented on this in their works as well.

Of Colonialism and Mission

Come Over and Help Us

Walls Speaking

 

Prof Andrew Walls spoke at our recent Missio Africanus conference on the subject of “Migration, Mission, and African Christians in Britain.” As those who know him have come to expect, his speech was excellent and powerful. He spoke in a way that only Prof Andrew Walls can speak. In a 2007 Christianity Today article entitled “Historian Ahead of His Time”, Tim Stafford boldly suggested that “Andrew Walls maybe the most important person you don’t know.” He has worked with African Christianity for almost sixty years, having first began his mission service teaching the famous Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone in 1957.1 Walls moved from Sierra Leone to Nigeria in 1962 where he taught at the University of Nigeria (Nsukka) until 1965. He returned to Scotland to teach at the University of Aberdeen in 1966 — a year before the Biafra War broke out in Nigeria. Since then, he has continued to spend a great deal of time in Africa. Even in his old age, he is still involved in teaching at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute in Akropong, Ghana, and at the Africa International University’s Centre for World Christianity in Nairobi, Kenya.

If there is anyone who can give a commentary on the development of African Christianity going back to the 1950s, very few people can match Andrew Walls. He does not think of himself as a prophet — something he said in his lecture — but he foretold of the rising influence of African Christianity and the subsequent shifting of Christianity’s centre of gravity to Africa many years ago, long before many could see it coming. Of course, he is not just an expert on African Christianity — he has supervised many doctoral theses from around the continent. His field is world Christianity. His library at the Andrew Walls Centre for the Study of Asian and African Christianity stands alone in its own class.

In his lecture at Missio Africanus, Walls touched on many topics, but migration was a central theme. He reiterated that migration is a prevalent theme in the Bible story — and that means the Bible can speak to us today on issues such as the refugee crisis in Europe and the anti-emigration politics in the United States. The relevance of this theme was quite straight forward … more than half the audience were migrants, most of them African Christians currently living in Britain. Indeed, Walls did state once again that he believes that the missionary movement of this century will be greatly influenced by the events taking place in African Christianity today. It has been predicted that between 40 and 45 percent of Christians in the world will live in Africa by 2050. This fact alone means that the African Church will have to somewhat shoulder a great part of the responsibility to share the gospel with the world.

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Towards the end of his first session — he had two sessions — Walls spoke about the Macedonian Call (Acts 16:9) where Paul and his team had arrived at Troas after being first “kept by the Hoy Spirit from preaching the word in Asia” (Acts 16:6) and then “prevented by the Spirit from heading north to Bythinia” (Acts 16:7). While at Troas, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia inviting him to “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Luke (who seems to have joined Paul in his second missionary journey here) records that “After Paul had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelise them.” Macedonia was on the other side of the Aegean Sea, in the continent of Europe. And thus, many scholars have argued, Christianity came to Europe.

At this point, Andrew Walls reiterated the words of Paul’s vision, come over and help us. This time, of courses, Prof Walls was speaking mainly to African Christians in Europe, inviting them to engage in mission in the continent. This Macedonian Call became the highlight and the central focus of the day. It was the climax of his talk, and became the foundation for anything else that happened on the day. To hear the Macedonian call for help from Andrew Walls says a lot. As far as I know, it takes a lot for a Westerner to ask for (and receive) help. And when it has to be done, asking for help from an African is usually the last option, even when the African has the answer. An American friend once advised me to cut the word “help” off my vocabulary when it comes to partaking in mission in the West because, in his words, “Americans do not like to think of themselves as needing help.” I am not sure how true this is, but I know that most of my European and American friends are good at giving help — but they find it difficult to ask for and receive help.

The help that the Macedonian needed was to evangelise Europe. And Europe needs a new evangelisation today. Many who can help are already in Europe, having come from Latin America, Africa, Asia and other parts of the world. However, many of them lack the know-how and the confidence to engage the West in mission. They gather among themselves in their churches every Sunday and continue to wonder if they will ever be able to reach a Westerner. Many have given up saying “Europe is the hardest mission field in the world.” To make possible a missional engagement of world Christians in Europe, European Christians have to “enable” their ministries among Europeans. The fact that Europe is a mission field is beyond question now. And I believe the fact that the re-evangelisation of Europe will only be possible if it involves global Christians resident in Europe should also be beyond question as well. What will be critical is, I believe, the asking and the receiving of help as European and foreign Christians get to work together in mission in Europe.

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  1. To put this into perspective, in 1957, Ghana gained her independence from Britain. Malawi would gain her independence seven years later, in 1964. ↩︎
Come Over and Help Us

African Church Planting in Europe: State of the Conversation

For four times in the past two years, I have taught a term-long Church Planting module at two colleges in England. The students taking this module have been exclusively African — from many countries, denominations, networks, and movements across the continent. The question that shapes the module — and the conversations thereof — has always been “how can Africans Christians plant culturally relevant churches in Europe?” I am pleasantly surprised to hear African pastors in Europe are asking this question. I believe that this is the right question for them to be asking … it is the question that will lead them to a place where it is possible to talk about God’s mission in Europe. Overall, the state of African church planting in Europe is both exciting and alarming — probably more alarming than exciting.

It is exciting because African churches in Europe have continued to mushroom for the third decade straight by their thousands. African Christian presence is growing in Europe. For instance, the Redeemed Christian Church of God has around 700 congregations in Britain. The Church of Pentecost has 130 congregations in Britain. Both these denominations planted their first churches in Britain in the 80’s. There are many other smaller networks and denominations that are also multiplying their churches. Generally, the figures look impressive on paper. Of course, the average African congregation in Europe will be fairly small — with 20 members. And there is a handful of them with a few thousand members. Very few will grow beyond 150 members.

Sour because over ninety percent of those churches are not contextually relevant in their locations. And that is because we are planting African churches for Africans in Europe — nothing more. We can boast thousands of churches in Europe, but if we are not connecting with the continent in mission, our churches have a gloomy future, (immigrant churches generally do not last more than two generations). And the nationalism that informs our ecclesiology means that Nigerian pastors are planting churches for Nigerians in Europe. Ghanaian churches are planting new congregations for Ghanaians, Congolese pastors are planting for people, etc. Of course, whatever “evangelism” we do is tailored to seek out Africans (from our countries of origin) so we can invite them to our (nation-specific) churches. People say, “but we give tracts to everyone!” I agree, but if you think twice about it, you will notice that we do that while looking our for “our people.” Even when we discern where to plant churches, usually the first question is “are there any Malawians in that city?” if it is a Malawian pastor preparing to plant a church. If there are no Malawians, God will not call you to that city.

We are planting chaplaincy churches. I have come to appreciate to an extent the existence of such churches. I suspect that the religious life of African Christians often needs a worldview (or even a theology) that is foreign to many Westerners and can thus be nurtured best among other Africans. But then once we get to that conclusion, we will struggle to engage in mission among Westerners. And worse, we will not be able to share the faith with our children who are growing up with a western worldview.

On the other hand, there is a serious lack of tools and resources needed to help Africans deal with the challenges of planting multicultural churches in Britain. My required reading list has one or two African books (and none of them focus on the issue of African church planting in the diaspora). Going through 20 MA theses on African church planting and church growth in Europe yielded no better results. Their bibliographies generally comprised of resources suggesting various permutations of the homogenous unit principle which, in effect, encourages whatever is already happening. But unfortunately for them, building homogenous churches limits them to a flooded, saturated, and  fast shrinking market.

Two surprising finds for me in teaching this module for four times in two years. First, most African churches are planted at the instruction of a denominational leadership based in Africa. For most of these, having branches in Europe is a badge of honour. For some, it is a means to access the Pound and the Euro to better finances their budgets in Africa. This means that there is little interest in actually planting churches that can evangelise Europe. [Many will only seek to find the quickest and easiest way to the money, and that generally is finding homogenous groups of their members from African living in Europe].  Second, there is a great need (and some desire) for a theological and missiological paradigm shift. Africans cannot — and should not — continue to plant churches in Europe as if they are planting in Africa. This will need them to start thinking theologically and missiologically about what it is they are doing in Europe.

African Church Planting in Europe: State of the Conversation