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Biblical training fosters healthy African churches

Africa’s population is unquestionably on the rise, so much so that by 2050, projections suggest that roughly a quarter of the global population will be African. Within this continental groundswell, nearly 60% of its people are expected to be under the age of 25, firmly establishing the continent as the youngest globally. Moreover, Africa is home to nearly 685 million Christians, with 760 million expected by 2025 – making it the continent with the most Christians in the world.  

Herein lies an extraordinary opportunity for the church: by investing in this vast population of next generation leaders, we have a chance to shape not only the future of the continent but also the trajectory of global missions and the church worldwide.  

The question then begs asking, is the church in Africa equipped to do so?  

Dr. Stuart Sheehan, CEO of World Hope Ministries International, suggests that we answer this question by evaluating the authenticity of the gospel being shared. A gospel that is undiluted and free, and comprehensive in its presentation, will catapult the African church to be a ‘missional, hope-exporting enterprise’ to the world. A gospel that is ‘marred and spiritually compromising’, on the other hand, will hinder the church’s ability to fulfil this crucial mission, ultimately limiting its impact.  

‘Therefore,’ says Mergon Foundation’s De Wet Spies, ‘the question we need to be asking is: how healthy is the church, and how can we ensure that new churches are being built on a healthy theological foundation? The church was God’s idea, after all – it is His primary plan for displaying and preserving the gospel for the generations to come. The scriptures are clear about Him coming back for His church, His bride… Not a fancy building or stately individuals, but a healthy body of people who are devoted to Him, have a love for His Word, who display the love of Christ to others, and who worship Him in Spirit and in truth,’ he adds. 

‘Our goal must be an Africa, trained and ready to reach the nations,’ says Sheehan. Whether we reach that goal, he asserts, ‘depends on the theological training of African pastors and ministry leaders across the continent.’ 

This is why, in the sub-Saharan region, one of the areas the Mergon Foundation focusses on, is equipping leaders in the indigenous church to be servant leaders with sound theology, a missional mindset, and vision for holistic transformation. Here is a deeper dive into our focus on biblical training: the rationale behind it and the approach we have taken to address its need.  

The need for formal theological training in Africa  

Within the context of predominantly rural and highly communal cultures in Africa, church growth unfolds organically. Small gatherings often engage in discovery Bible studies, reading scripture portions and reflecting on practical applications. However, as these groups expand into house churches or larger congregations, a pressing need emerges: the demand for equipping leaders with fundamental theological knowledge and pastoral skills. 

This has resulted in a surge of Christian leaders without formal training to adequately shepherd their people, accounting for a significant majority – roughly 90% of all church leaders across the continent.  

 ‘The need for true gospel-based training, resources and access to discipleship could not be more vital for Africa’s future,’ says De Wet. Real transformation can only take place when our leaders have a true grasp of the gospel – along with the tools and networks – to love God’s people well and share this love with their people and communities.’ 

Our partnership criteria for ministries engaged in theological training  

To address this significant need, the Mergon Foundation partners with a number of ministries who work into the theological training space.  

When choosing partners, we consider a few things:  

    • Where they are serving? Is it an under-resourced area where there isn’t access to training?  
    • What is their model and is it contextually relevant? 
    • Is the model catalytic in the sense that it can be reproduced? 
    • Are the trainers speaking ‘at’ the people or is there a healthy participation of people discovering for themselves? Just training for the sake of training has no lasting impact if they aren’t really getting to the heart issues of what people are grappling with. 
    • Discernment from the Holy Spirit.  

This approach has led us to incredible relationships with people who understand the need on the ground… who take the training to the pastors, recognising that the barriers that keep people from being theologically trained are usually finances, proximity and literacy. These partners are also aware of the fact that many pastors are running their own businesses to support themselves, so they keep it practical. They would typically do a short week or two-week module after which they are sent home for six weeks. They then come back to give feedback and start another module of training before they go back home again for six weeks. 

Some of the incredible ministries with whom we partner include The Word Transforms, Reconciled World, New Harvest Ministries International, Re-Forma and Judea Harvest, among others.  

The growing importance of theological training  

Theological training is becoming increasingly essential as more and more African countries are requiring pastors to have some form of certification in order to do their work. Some of these countries include Benin, Kenya, Rwanda with talks about it in Nigeria and South Africa. This list will likely keep expanding into the future.  

‘Oftentimes theological training unfortunately isn’t certified – especially in the challenging areas where our partners work,’ says De Wet. ‘To this end, we are working with one of our partners, Re-Forma, who is responding to the crisis of a lack of trained church leaders. Founded on outcome and impact-based assessment, Re-Forma provides recognised benchmarks for informal and non-formal biblically-based ministry through a programme which provides guidelines for evaluating the thousands of existing training programmes. We are exploring an opportunity where, if the training institutions are able to show certain outcomes, then Re-Forma is willing to award them with a Certificate of Biblical Training for Ministry. Underwritten by the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), this certificate provides the first-ever global standard for non-formal ministry training.’ 

 ‘Tackling the task of training this vast number of pastors across the continent is not easy, yet it is an incredible opportunity. And as a foundation that believes in the role and the power of the church as Christ’s body, we support ministries that work towards this end. Our desire is truly to see the church healthy and thriving across the African continent and we believe it well within reach,’ De Wet concludes.