How Will We Adapt To The Changing Face of Africa?

By: Philip Hunt Someone once said, “Influence like water flows downhill.”  The truth of this statement has tremendous implications to the work of modern missions across Africa.

Our great burden is to see the fulfillment of the Great Commission in Africa.  We long to see the gospel go to every village, town and city across the continent of Africa.

Twenty years ago, as a new missionary appointee to Africa, I was counseled the way to reach Africa was to go to the deep bush and make disciples.  The reasoning was as people from rural areas move to the cities, they would take the gospel with them and the cities would be reached.

Perhaps this idea was prevalent among missionaries in Africa in previous generations as the majority of Africa’s populations still lived in rural settings at the close of the colonial period.   Over the past twenty years, this continental dynamic has drastically changed. Currently, Africa is the fastest urbanizing continent in the world.  By 2050, it is estimated over 60% of Africa's population will live in cities and towns.1

I believe a number of factors are driving this change across the continent.  The leading factor is the perception city life will provide a better quality of life. The rush for a better life is creating a drive for education and economic opportunity.  Adding to this dynamic is Africa’s current political leader is taking over from the “freedom fighter generation.”  Africa’s new leaders are in tune with the world, frequently accessing the internet, have a Facebook page, and are thinking more globally2 than past generations.  The reality is Africa is becoming a secular continent. 3

As evidenced by the social uprisings in North Africa in 2011, the educated “next generation” in Africa demands economic opportunity.4  Failure to provide this opportunity has toppled long standing totalitarian regimes.

What does this mean in terms of propagating the gospel across the continent of Africa?   There is a new generation of African leaders in the church who have the capacity to provide top tier leadership in a church planting movement.  He is urban and educated, a man with a passion for Jesus Christ and for His Word. The African leader who comes to know Christ and becomes a passionate disciple will be a catalyst to influence the next generation in Africa to follow Christ and fulfill the Great Commission.

The urban environment in Africa can provide an economic platform to support an indigenous church planting movement.  This urban African church will have resources to support African church planters and missionaries.

This will not be the first time the gospel is carried forth in such a way; we need only to remember the example of Paul and the flow of Acts.  The gospel came to urban centers of influence; and from those centers, the gospel was carried to the furthest corners of the Roman Empire.  Sometimes this was intentional outreach (Antioch, Acts 13-14) and sometimes it was the result of cultural, political and economic pressures (Jerusalem, Acts 8).

Africa is primed for such a church planting model.  As in the earlier missionary era, we need missionaries like the Apostle Paul, willing to pioneer with the gospel where it has not yet taken root.  Abundant opportunities yet exist for this kind of missionary work in Africa.

We must also recognize and affirm missionaries like Barnabas are needed,  missionaries who are willing to serve an established work.  Theological training of Africa’s next generation leader must be a priority.  This theological training is a necessary part of completing the task of reaching this continent with the gospel.  If a sustainable national church planting movement across Africa is to be realized, we must sacrifice and give a generation of our best sons and daughters as servants to the adolescent African church. We must offer to partner with them as they seek to train the next generation.

For all the positive contributions of the colonial missionary movement in Africa, there are residual problems to overcome; the attitude of paternity toward our African brothers, the assumption the African church cannot drive a missionary movement and doubts that our African brothers can lead an indigenous church planting movement.

Encouraging stories are being written in real time that challenge these assumptions and remind us these assumptions must become a thing of the past in Africa.

Great and varied challenges still exist in Africa.  One of our greatest challenges is how we adapt to the changing face of Africa.


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