"What is the African church's greatest need?" one would ask.
My answer to this question is more simpler than you can think: trained church planters or leaders.
There you have it.
I think our continent's greatest need is nothing either than robust investment into the lives of young men who will plant churches, pastor them and make disciples of all people groups on this beautiful continent's cities, townships and rural areas.
When one takes a cursory read through Paul's letters, it is clear that Paul's major concern for the churches emanate from the churches either not understanding the gospel and the doctrine thereof, or churches walking in blatant disobedience to God's commands. This disconnect there, as shown particularly in His letter to Titus is "leadership".
In Titus, Paul opens his letter immediately plunging into Titus' need to appoint elders who are qualified, and with each chapter ensuing, he makes it clear why: because there are some amongst the believers who are teaching contrary doctrines, and people's lives are therefore not showing off the good works worthy of the gospel.
For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach... They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. (Titus 1:10-11, 16)
This narrative continues in the rest of the short letter:
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1)
And we see how this link plays out: qualified elders - teach sound doctrine - and this leads to people showing good works in their day to day lives.
The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Titus 3:8)
So, here is my point: the Church in Africa is in need for trained and qualified leaders, before we can suddenly expect sound doctrine to be taught in pulpits, and before we can then expect the Church to be the beacon of truth it can be in our communities, evidenced by good works. And the very first part of this equation is missing greatly.
Not to take away from churches that have invested greatly in training and deploying young people for gospel work, the majority of churches in Africa seem to not have such a focus at all.
Back in 2013 I had an awakening. I read Dont Waste Your Life by John Piper and it changed my whole view of life and ministry. While I had been brought up being taught that God was going to do all these great things for me, bless me and prosper me - in reading Piper I quickly learnt that to the contrary, life was really not about me but about Him. And after putting that book down, I threw away my "humanistic" view of Christianity, and began a hard journey of trying to figure out what exactly my purpose was and how I could serve God with all I have. And the more I read the Scriptures, the more I prayed, and the more I read how God has historically worked amongst his people, one thing stood out - God's mission in the Word is done through the Church. And a passion for the church, its growth and its multiplication has since ensued.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
If making the disciples is the "what" of Christian ministry, planting churches is the "how" - because the Church is the agent by which God engages this world, it is the community in which he showcases His mercy, showcases His grace - and all this is communicated by the Church's communal dependence on God, communal obedience to His word, and communal service of one another. When outsiders see this, it should look strange, foreign but glorious.
But how do we have such communities if our churches do not invest in training leaders for such an endeavour?
What I have seen in most Southern African cities is that there are "churches" on almost every corner - but the honest and sad truth is that most of these men purporting to be "pastors" are biblically illiterate, driven by selfish-ambition and their lives are at odds with the truth they purport to live by. Another smaller percentage relates to those that are sincere, but are sincerely wrong in their doctrine and philosophy of ministry. These few are genuinely saved maybe, but do not know any other way of doing ministry because they are not trained at all.
(Now because I am using the Word trained I want to quickly say I am not referring only to formal theological training at a seminary, but any other type of training which different church traditions think are important for different ministry positions.)
Another group of churches are just not necessarily focused on multiplying as it were for various other reasons. Some could be strategic - they are praying and rebuilding some structures in their ministry, or have other priorities, some could be financial - they are raising support for multiplication, and some could just be blatant disregard. My thinking on this is that any time churches should be training young men and women for gospel ministry, and especially training young men for pastoral ministry and church planting.
I think the more churches are planted, faithfully preaching the gospel in various parts of our cities, the more impact we can make for Jesus, and we will see Christian witness and the Christian gospel spread to places where we have struggled to reach simply because of the gospel witness of churches in those places - loving and serving their neighbours.
In thinking about this subject, a couple of things come to mind as to why we are where we are are and how we can think and process overcoming them.
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38)
1. The "Money Excuse".
"We just do not have money to do this kind of thing".
And this is a reality in doing ministry in Africa. But if its God's mission, do we really believe He will not provide? Do we really believe God will not fund his mission?
2. The Megachurch Trap
"We do not want to disturb whats going on here - we want it to expand and grow bigger and bigger."
Some churches are focused on becoming "mega churches", and there is nothing wrong with a mega church which is also a multiplying church. Has the "bigness" of your church become an idol that you wouldn't want to spread out the resources (both financial and human) to a new church plant?
3. The "Where Do We Start" Excuse
Well, thats a good question. There are organisations that are very much interested in training, accessing, resourcing churches and individuals who want to plant churches. One of the greatest blessings of my life recently has been part of the Acts 29 Academy, where we are being trained and equipped for future church planting. Being a part of this, and being exposed to people - both lay and vocational ministers - who have actually planted churches helps to build perspective. There are many other organisations which are poised to this end.
4. The "Everything Else" Is More Important Excuse
For some churches, focus is probably on other things other than multiplication, and that on its own is problematic simply because of the teachings in the Bible. Dr. Daniel Akin say many times that “last words are lasting words.” And when those words are found in scripture, spoken by the Son of God before ascending into heaven, they carry special weight for us on earth.
"Go into the world and make disciples of all nations..."
Jesus's gospel is not a stagnant gospel. Its a going gospel. Biblically and historically we see how multiplication in multi-geographic location is at the heart of Christianity and its spread.
What we should do?
That is what Jesus says in Matthew 9, right? We pray earnestly that God would raise labourers. That He would provide resources. That our focus will be on multiplying the kingdom. That our focus will be on raising leaders.
And may He grow His church in Africa.