Christian mission in the continent of Africa is a huge topic! That’s because Africa is massive, complex and diverse in terms of size, population, ethnic diversity, language and religion.
To engage with gospel ministry in Africa, we should start with some statistics. Get ready, as the stats are mind-boggling!
The massive challenge of reaching Africa
The African continent is roughly four times the size of Australia, covering about 20% of the world’s land area. Africa has a population of approximately 1.4 billion people who live in 54 countries. The Joshua Project (https://joshuaproject.net/continents) tells us that there are around 3700 distinct people groups and that they speak between 1250 and 2100 languages (depending on the definition of language versus dialect).
Christianity in Africa has seen rapid growth. At the beginning of the twentieth century, most parts of Africa had little or no contact with the gospel, with perhaps nine million Africans professing the Christian faith. Now there are reported to be more Christians in Africa than on any other continent, with 631 million Christians (figures from 2018). However, before we get carried away by this figure, the number of evangelical Christians is much lower, and 29.6% of the African population remains ‘unreached’. These are mainly in the Muslim-majority countries in the north and north-east.
What are the challenges for the church in Africa, and where does Moore College fit in?
The massive growth of the church in Africa has contributed to one of its greatest challenges: the training of leaders. Many pastors across Africa have little or no theological education. The speed of church growth is accompanied by other issues that make training leaders difficult, such as the cost and accessibility of theological education. The proliferation of independent churches is a related issue, as pastors with no connection to a denomination are less likely to be able to access training. One estimate is that Africa requires 1 million new pastors just to deal with current demand. And this does not take into account the expected growth in the number of Christians or that many existing pastors are reaching retirement age.
Moore College is well-positioned to contribute to the challenge of educating leaders for Africa. For many years, we have had a small trickle of students from Africa who have studied at Moore before returning home to teach and preach. This continues with the added opportunity for a small number who access the Moore College Online Diploma (Diploma of Biblical Theology). Our graduates have also gone in significant numbers over the years, with CMS and other agencies, to teach in Bible schools or theological colleges. Even today, CMS receives many requests from partner churches across Africa and could place as many people as offered to fill such positions. The need in Africa is bigger than ever, but only a few of our graduates are currently offering to go.
However, while sending Moore graduates to work in Africa remains important, a quick check of the maths will tell us that these strategies alone cannot be the only answer to the massive numbers needed. Ideally, the church needs many African Bible teachers trained locally in Africa at minimal expense who can either lead churches themselves or become the next generation of trainers.
The Centre for Global Mission (CGM) at Moore College can impact this need for more training. The role of CGM is to provide high-quality evangelical theological training resources to less-resourced churches worldwide. The primary resource that CGM offers is the content of the Moore PTC, but we are also starting to develop another ministry training course called ‘Bible Basics’, aimed at the ‘oral preference communities’ which make up 70-80% of the world’s population. PTC is a useful course, but we must make it accessible to African students.
The first step to accessibility is translation. CGM is translating PTC into languages useful in the African context. We already have most subjects in French (and, of course, English), and now we are making significant progress in Portuguese and Swahili (200 million speakers!). Arabic would be a useful addition for use in the north of Africa. Pray that we will find the resources for an Arabic project.
Delivery is the next issue. CGM has no students of its own, but we give our partners in Africa access to resources so they can teach in various offline or online modes. Costs are kept to a minimum, meaning there is no charge for a partner to have offline access to resources, and a small charge if a partner wishes us to provide an online learning platform, which our team has developed for the purpose. The current package means that we have a low-cost curriculum and accessibility in terms of language and technology.
The Anglican Church of Madagascar
The Anglican Church in Madagascar is an excellent example of a successful partnership with Moore College and other parts of our Sydney network. Madagascar is a large island (roughly the size of France) off the east coast of Africa, and is one of the poorest countries in Africa.
The Anglican Church in Madagascar is under-resourced, with a massive need for more trained pastors. One of the more established dioceses has around 300 churches and only 16 trained clergy. The Diocese of Toliara, in the south, is situated in an impoverished part of the country and is relatively new. Part of this diocese has seen thousands turning from animism to faith in Christ. Fifty new churches have been planted in the last two years with no trained leaders.
A few people have been travelling to Madagascar for years to teach French PTC. However, PTC training now takes place in Malagasy, the local language of Madagascar. This CGM translation project and the training across the country are under the direction of Reverend Berthier Lainirina. Berthier has also become the Principal of the Anglican Bible College, which trains people for most of the Anglican Church. The curriculum of the Bible College is also based on PTC. He plans to extend the reach of the college by starting to offer PTC online around the country. CGM is preparing this online facility now. At the same time, Sydney Diocese, through Anglican Aid and the Work Outside the Diocese Committee, is paying for scholarships at the Bible College, and CMS is searching for missionaries who will agree to go.
What can you do?
The need for well-trained church leaders in Africa is enormous—please pray! Pray, too, that God would use Moore College as a small part in providing a solution. The team at CGM needs prayer and finances as we establish partnerships, translate PTC, improve our technology and write resources. Pray for our partners across Africa who use CGM resources, and also pray for Moore graduates (African and Australian) as they faithfully teach the Bible. Pray that many more would offer themselves to CMS and other agencies for Bible teaching ministries in Africa. Ask the Lord if you should be one of them!
For more information about CGM, visit: https://cgm.moore.edu.au/
Bishop Malcolm Richards is the Director of the Centre for Global Mission.