Last month I focused on the emerging Ministry Plan for the Christian Reformed Church, ending with “together, we will be working on a plan to assist each other in our local ministries as well as those carried out by denominational agencies and ministries. Stepping forward in faith into the places where God would have us.”
After writing those words, I was able to step into one of the places where God is at work—and where we’re privileged to be a part of it. I attended the Christian Reformed World Missions Theological Education in Africa (TEA) conference in Kampala, Uganda.
Like many of you, I grew up with an image of missionary work that’s a mix of challenging hardship and adventurous faithfulness, resulting, in my mind, in near sainthood for those who serve in faraway places.
If the old approach to missionary work in Africa was to parachute North Americans into cities or villages, a new approach is needed, for much has changed in Africa and the entire global South.
The World Christian Encyclopedia predicts that in 10 years, there will be 633 million Christians in Africa, compared to nine million in 1900. Most significantly, the explosive growth of Christianity on the African continent is a result of evangelism to Africans by Africans.
It is clear that we need to learn from our African neighbors. Their churches are growing; the Spirit is at work. Yet as I listened to church leaders from the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, I heard something else that should be and is profoundly reshaping our approach to missions. The refrain was repeated over and over: “We need your partnership with us.”
For most denominations in Africa, pastors have little theological training and there is an extreme shortage of pastors. While they may wish to send a few leaders to places such as Calvin Theological Seminary so they can return as professors in their seminaries, the overwhelming desire is that pastors and aspiring leaders receive training where they are—while they remain involved in their flourishing ministries.
The Timothy Leadership Training Institute is World Missions’ and World Renew’s key vehicle of partnership for training pastors and lay leaders. It also provides an important resource to the French-language ministries of Back to God Ministries International. At one point in the TEA conference, those in the audience who were or had been involved in Timothy training were asked to stand. More than 100 pastors and leaders stood.
The Timothy approach, used in more than 50 countries around the world, focuses on preaching, pastoral care, stewardship, worship, educating others, and family issues—and always includes assignments that put learning into action.
The ways in which the gospel is being spread around the world are changing, and those changes are being reflected in our own denomination. One strategic focus in the emerging Ministry Plan states: “Congregations and ministries participate in leadership development efforts with partners throughout the world.”
How? It’s already happening, but we are hoping for even more involvement across North America as congregations form relationships with leaders and partners overseas in ways that both sides can benefit and learn from.
Another strategy flowing out of the Ministry Plan is to better understand how to relate to our Reformed brothers and sisters in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and other places whose denominations also bear the name “Christian Reformed.”
While it’s encouraging to see our name reflected in these places, I think it also signals a significant opportunity. Looking for new partners in mission? We must ask these brothers and sisters what partnership could mean—not just for them, but for all of us. Drawing closer could radically reshape our collective ideas about kinship in Christ, about the unity of the Reformed family, about how to share faith with others.
These are just two of the strategies flowing from the emerging Ministry Plan. The plan has been shared at some classis meetings this fall and will be shared with even more in the months ahead. Consider it an invitation—an invitation to open our hearts to the leading of the Spirit, engaging us in life-changing ministry at home and around the world.
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