Equipping Christian Leaders Feature Article: Fall 2019
Dr. John Jusu, chief curriculum architect, MMD
It is now common knowledge that the hub of Christianity has shifted to the Southern Hemisphere as the South American, African and Asian continents and subcontinents are experiencing record high conversions to the Christian faith. While this might be true if we go by head count, we may be hard-pressed to find demonstration of authentic Christian faith and life in the lives of the converts. Some of the countries in Africa recording the highest number of Christians continue to be listed as more corrupt, unjust, ethnically divisive and economically stratified than countries with minimal Christian presence. There is a great disparity between the numbers and the quality of Christian impact.
Perhaps recent research may help us to understand why this is the case. Statistics indicate that about 85% to 90% of church leaders worldwide have minimal theological and biblical education. This percentage might be higher for Africa. Theological institutions have not been able to keep pace with the high numbers of converts for several reasons including elitist, inaccessible and expensive training modes that offer delayed results. This mode of delivery has shut out many of the leaders who give pastoral leadership to the millions of Christians on the continent.
A need, an appeal, research
In the late 1990s, Mozambique saw explosive church growth and found itself in dire need of theologically and biblically trained leaders for all the new churches. This church growth came shortly after the collapse of communism in that country and at the seeming end of a protracted civil war.
It was then that some church leaders in that country made an appeal to Entrust, headquartered in the U.S., and to Apollos in Holland, to replicate training paradigms that had worked so well in post-communist countries in Eastern Europe. Wisely, Entrust and Apollos, with their vast experience in countries that had gone through similar massive changes, refused to replicate their programs, but rather, chose to:
conduct continent-wide research to ascertain the training needs of local African church leaders, and,
mobilize African theologians, educators, missiologists and apologists to design a training program that would suit an African worldview, African ways of learning, and, address emerging African issues which were confronting the local church.
The research target populations were Africans who were serving cross-culturally, and theological and denominational leaders from the western, eastern, central and southern regions of Africa. The research solicited ideas about developing a contextually relevant training program that would ensure local ownership, collaboration, holistic discipleship and transformative impact within communities. Findings were presented at a meeting of the general assembly of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in 2001. The findings were endorsed and confirmed by the hundreds of Christian leaders from Francophone Africa as well as their counterparts from Anglophone Africa. It should be noted that 50% of African Christian leaders come from Francophone Africa and their endorsement was necessary to give the research a continental flavor.
Partnership leads to MMD
Considering the training resources available to the church at that time, it became clear that the prevailing non-African models of training were so steeped in recycling content and so low in responding to context, that they were inadequate for emerging African training needs. In the years that followed, a team of leaders gathered and developed what is now called More than a Mile Deep. Members of that team set out to devise a contextually appropriate African set of courses, written in view of the competences the African pastor would require to function effectively and efficiently in a specific region in Africa.
Toward achieving this desire, Apollos brought in significant funding and practitioners from their network, including Mission Aviation Fellowship, South African Theological Seminary, International Fellowship of Evangelical Students and the Church Mission Society. People from these organizations mentored MMD team members in producing the required tools for the transformation of the African church.
Thus, MMD was birthed, to respond to training needs in ways that befit the context, goals and methods of providing theological education in Africa. The name MMD was chosen to match numbers with quality, responding to the charge that Christianity in Africa is sometimes only a mile wide (numbers) and an inch deep (quality).
Ongoing mutual collaboration
To contextually test and then roll out this training program, MMD worked with existing training programs that were seeking renewal, and with denominations that lacked a systematic method of training its leadership. The scope of this new educational training system required coaching and resources which some African leaders lacked. There was therefore the ongoing need for the Africans to be supported by those who had developed these systems elsewhere. Entrust and Apollos were MMD’s partners of choice as they knew the extent of such undertaking from their years of experience in Eastern Europe and Latin America. A partnership was forged on the basis of mutual trust, respect and value, based on the biblical model of the “body of Christ” metaphor.
Entrust and Apollos created the platform that empowered the curriculum designers and implementers to function effectively. Apollos and Entrust provided the coaching needed for communication, education and management. Entrust and Apollos together passed along funding opportunities to the core MMD staff and became strategic advocates of the training program. The West was keen to listen to the African stories, to MMD’s struggles and accomplishments, without a paternalistic intrusion into the process. Such an international collaboration, wherein one partner did not try to control the other, was more of a learning curve than all expected. However, mutual encouragement proved indispensable to all, in Africa and in the West.