Africa Needs Discipleship
This is a reprint of an older article I wrote. I’ve updated it slightly & cleaned up spelling & grammar (where I caught errors)
Africa needs discipleship, and not just church planters, and definitely not just mission workers unwilling to truly invest in people. Churches are abundant especially in the poor areas but too often they are syncretic messes (and often they are sponsored by denominations and congregations from outside of the continent so there is limited local oversite). Syncretism is the blending of religious traditions in such a way that pieces of each are retained and actively integrated into the whole. This can be very problematic for followers of Jesus as part of what He calls us to is a repentance (an active turning away from) from the track of the world (particularly idols and other ‘gods’ existing in our lives).
We saw this play out in our time in Cape Town over the years in that many of the folks that we met that said they knew Jesus went to churches where ancestor worship played a large part of the religion. It was Jesus and…this other thing. It’s in this other thing where things get problematic because people make for themselves, often unwittingly because discipleship is non-existent, idols that open them to dark spiritual forces.
Many of you may not be aware of ancestor worship and its problems. Ancestor worship says that when we die, we still have a spiritual presence in the material word and can act upon it through our living descendants. People believe that their ancestors come to them as spirits and that they have to do anything that their ancestors say. It’s always the destructive path that the ancestors lead people on: drinking, drugs, promiscuous sex and the like are common things that people say their ancestors affect. People commonly seek both protection and aid in dealing with these spirits through witchdoctors, who are actually allowed to play a fairly prominent role in syncretic churches.
Syncretic churches aren’t the only reason Africa needs discipleship though. I mentioned previously that many African churches have some connection to outside churches and denominations but oversite is limited and we’ve tended to export our bad along with our good. One “bad” that we’ve exported is our western consumerist attitude that says not only that church is just another decision we make but the church we choose is dependent on what’s best out there (it’s fairly common within the western church to be based on ideas of “attraction” or what we can best do to attract people into our church).
One particularly bad case of this gone awry is seen in Nigeria (and many other places in Africa) where churches are quick to label children as witches in order to attract people in with their supposed power. According to the linked article, over the past decade in two of the Nigerian states 15,000 children were accused of witchcraft (1000 of them were brutally murdered and countless other brutally tortured). If it wasn’t bad enough that these supposed pastors use such false accusations to garner attention, they also often charge an arm and a leg to perform supposed exorcisms (often $60/session to people who make no more than $2/day). And what’s worse it’s often the orphan that’s targeted.
As I started by saying, Africa needs discipleship. This is why we are moving our family half way across the world. More than planting churches we seek to truly disciple leaders, training them to do the same, not in the ways of western churchianity or old African traditions but in Jesus who transcends all of these. He has a plan for this continent and these people; when they truly grab ahold of Him and Him alone, old ways will pass away, lives will be transformed and a whole continent will be closer to the kingdom of God.