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African mission conference closes: proposals to empower both clergy and laity

Posted on: April 19, 2004 10:54 AM
The CAPA primates and delegates of the Mission and Evangelism Conference
Photo Credit: ACNS
Related Categories: evangelism, Kenya, Nairobi

From Michael Craske in Nairobi

Archbishop Akinola: “Fire exists by burning: the Church exists by mission”

A major conference held in Nairobi last week for representatives from across the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) has called for an Anglican renewal in the continent, both through prayer and a dynamic approach to mission and evangelism.

In a key note address on the third day of the conference, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, the Primate of All Nigeria, also issued a challenge to the delegates for a five-year evangelism strategy, in which everything in the African Church should be committed to mission, as he believed that “there cannot be any other goal other that of ‘Africa for Christ.’”

The CAPA Mission and Evangelism Conference, held between 12-15 April at a retreat centre outside of Kenya’s capital city, heard a wide range of views from across Africa with delegates sharing their experiences of mission work. It reviewed how African evangelism had been successful and challenged itself to analyse its current efforts and weaknesses. At the conference’s close a series of proposals were finalised in a summary document after a succession of increasingly focussed group debates. The Most Revd Peter Akinola, Marjorie Murphy, the Director of Mission and Evangelism at the Anglican Communion Office in London, and the Africa Director of the Church Mission Society (CMS) the Revd Dr Zac Niringiye, gave key note presentations to the delegates before each session. The CAPA Primates and others from the Global South also joined some of the discussion groups while attending a meeting held alongside the conference.

The conference summary document stated that in order to develop a universal vision for African evangelism, CAPA should follow the example set by the Apostles and the early Church. The goal, it said, would be for every African Anglican to be an evangelist and that congregations should no longer be passive receivers of communion, but should openly promote Christian values and call people to Christ. But it also warned that this could only be achieved by leadership. “Church leadership – Primates, Bishops, Clergy – must be catalysts and role models in proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel. ‘Every Anglican an Evangelist’ is a feasible objective but must commence with ‘Every Clergy member an evangelist,’” the summary stated, adding that a key to success would be a realignment in the role of theological colleges. Several delegates expressed concern during the debates that colleges were academic before being spiritually aware and that they were not placing emphasis on the “training of the Christian character.”

The document also outlined a major concern for all African churches, that of nominalism – where a member of a parish claims to be Christian yet fails to live out Christianity in their lives. “Too many African Anglicans say they are Christians but do not take part in Church events,” said one delegate from Nigeria, who highlighted the Church of Nigeria’s method for combating this problem. The method, which was adopted in the summary document, ensures that the community has an active role in their church by promoting stewardship in Church affairs. In future, Church projects – such as building, Church planting, and pastoral care – should be owned and empowered by members of a congregation so each would feel part of the Church community.

Pastoral care was also a key concern, with many feeling that this was why many other denominations were more successful in retaining members. A newly-converted Christian should feel their spiritual lives and health were of absolute importance, it said, not only to their congregation, but also to their pastor, bishop, and primate.

The report also talked extensively of Africa-specific problems for evangelism that might not affect the larger Anglican Communion. In particular the report highlighted tribalism. Many delegates expressed great concern that tribal considerations influenced the election of bishops and clergy, and said that any cultural practices that were inconsistent with God’s word – and therefore evangelism – should be discarded. A suggestion to eliminate such tribal preferment included a request that all bishops and clergy be periodically moved across diocesan boundaries, even where congregations wanted to keep particular clergy in place. “In this way,” stated a delegate from Rwanda, “good ideas and work in keeping with God’s word would be spread throughout the African Church. What a member of clergy learns from his parish, and what he has – in turn – taught them, would be spread to enrich an entire province.”

During the conference Church Army Africa took the delegates to visit one of Nairobi’s largest slums – with more than one million inhabitants – to show the good work undertaken by the organisation to spread the Gospel and alleviate poverty. Many were impressed by the scale of the projects and the strong spirit of unity, peace and energetic evangelism shown by those that directly benefited. Delegates also visited the city’s cathedral All Saints.

Reports were also presented on the Church in various African provinces and stories shared showing the excellent work of laity and clergy in all aspects of Church work, especially efforts for peace and reconciliation in Burundi and Rwanda.

Archbishop Akinola, when issuing his challenge after hearing of the ideas brought up in the discussion groups, also warned the delegates of other possible problems. He said that evangelism must be properly planned and administered through evaluation and monitoring, adding that each evangelist should report directly to their church hierarchy and constantly inform them of progress and difficulties. He also implored them to take up the spirit of evangelism in the right attitude and put aside secular concerns, highlighting that Africa was abundant in god-given resources and that too many people excused the lack of mission work by having too little money.

“Until the continent is won for Christ, the Church cannot claim any justification for its existence in this part of God’s world,” he said.

The summary document of CAPA’s Mission and Evangelism Conference and the key note addresses – which have been incorporated – will now be taken by delegates back to their provinces for further consultation with their clergy and congregations. CAPA is to follow up these consultations and assess needs and resources for the five-year evangelism plan to start in earnest.

Photographs from the conference and Primates meeting in Nairobi will be available later this week. The speech of the Most Revd Peter Akinola will be available tomorrow on the ACNS Digest