Gospel contextualization has received prominent attention in missiology because of its importance in Gospel communication across cultures. Biblical and critical contextualization is achieved when there is proper expression of Scripture in a given culture. Thus, translating or transmitting Scripture into an African culture by way of adopting its good elements to give the text its true biblical meaning expressed in the given Africa culture makes contextualization a significant process. Citing the work of David Hesselgrave, Pocock, Van Rheenen, and McConnell suggested four steps to biblical and critical contextualization. These are: (i) Exegesis of the culture, (ii) Exegesis of the Scripture, (iii) Community’s decision, and (iv) The formation of contextualized practices.
In addition to contextualization as necessary missiological reflection in Africa, indigenization of the gospel ministry in Africa is also needed for organizational and operational efficiency, as well as growth and development of the church in the African context. With proper indigenization of the church in Nigeria for example, Mission churches such as the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) and Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) just to mention two that were founded by the Euro-American mission agencies- Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) and Sudan United Mission (SUM) respectively, can more authentically evangelize and make the church truly African through a sensible indigenization process. This will not only make the church to be more relevant and culturally involved in solving problems through the gospel but will make mission churches more innovative towards addressing traditional, religious, political, social, ethical and economic issues peculiar to their settings. It will also help them look inwardly for ways to enhance and evolve ministerial training that produces ministers that appropriately permeate and impact their African cultural environment for Christ.
A major setback for the mission churches is the dependency syndrome on the parenting Western missions for virtually everything for its survival and which is against the spirit of mission. Therefore, for mission churches to effectively evolve into indigenous churches where they can effectively theologize for their context and truly develop their institutions to a dignified state that can make them be seen as worthy conversation partners with the West, rather than perpetually remain as theological urchins of the West that are only good for consultation on theological issues peculiar to the African context, a consultation that is always geared at enriching theological formulations emanating from the West.
Alan R. Tippett long time ago charged mission churches to aim for quantitative growth. ECWA and other mission churches can boast that they are growing and that is true. But the growth is mostly biological of children born to Christian parents in these churches over the generations. And it is also true that this growth is diminished by membership shrinkage through transfers and migration to neo-Pentecostal churches. However, durable growth comes from sincere and genuine commitment to the mission of the church, which is conscientious outreach and evangelization of unbelievers. This where a good understanding of the Person of the Holy Spirit and His role in giving courage and utterance for witness, and that of convicting sinners to repentance is important for a purposeful evangelical outreach. Hence quantitative growth emanating from effective outreach is what mission churches need in addition to catechizing children of members into the congregation. The combine effective of these growths are “spiritually essential for every Christian congregation.” It is also important that when people are won to Christ by conversion, the church should have a mechanism for effective discipleship to nurture their faith and incorporate them into active fellowship (1 John 1:3) of the church and service.
Tippett also advocated for qualitative growth among mission churches. We achieve qualitative growth by sustaining discipleship, and taking it further as new believers mature in the faith with elaborate mentoring system that include Christian education, Bible study, worship, fellowship (within the group) and by witness and service (without), life coaching, prayer meetings (corporate), etc. As Tippett indicated, incorporation of large numbers of converts into the church without provision for their spiritual nurture has never been allowed in the history of church growth theory. This is necessary because “a people movement has to be brought to consummation.”
Organic growth is another paradigm recommended to mission churches by Tippett. Organic growth includes the participation and roles of individuals saddled with responsibilities for group action. Hence there should be structures within every church organization to enable people function well, for smooth operation of the church, culture of healthy relationships within and outside the church. In other words, mission churches should be a “living organism within an environment” and capable of influencing the environment. In addition, the organic growth should be a continuous attribute that gives impetus to the church to catalytically fulfill its function as salt and light in this environment. Therefore, no mission church as an organism, should think of growing in a “foreign form but in a form suitable to the world in which it lives.”
Thus, when the above three dimensions of growth are pursued together, it is important for mission churches to pursue the growth continuously and methodically in equilibrium. Taken together, this will lead mission churches into becoming indigenous church, faithful to the scripture and relevantly and contextually minister in the environment that they are located. Allan Tippett formulated six (6) marks of a truly indigenous church that this study believe remains a good compass for African mission churches to evolve into indigenous church. The first mark being its self-image. The second is its self-functioning. The third is self-determination. The fourth is its self-supporting nature. The fifth is its self-propagating fervor and the Sixth mark of the indigenous church is its devotion to self-giving. Tippett simply expanded on a missionary theory of three-self formula that had been around but so much neglected.
According to Robert Reese, “the Three-Self Formula is much better known in mission circles than it is practiced.” This formula that has been in mission circles for over 150 years demands that a newly planted church become mature or indigenous when it is self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting. Reese chronicle that the formula was first popularized and implemented by a pair of mission executives who headed the largest mission agencies of their day. “The Englishman, Henry Venn, headed the Anglican Church Missionary Society from 1841- 72, while the American, Rufus Anderson, led the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions from 1832-66,” both arrived at the formula independently about the same.
The goal of the three-self formula was to facilitate world evangelization with missionaries moving to new field and thrusting the old field into the hands of indigenous leaders of the churches they started and committing the task of local evangelization to these indigenous leaders. “Venn and Anderson gave missionaries a goal to work towards: the production of churches that were mature enough to function on their own without missionary help in their own locale.” And the idea was that once this was achieved, missionaries could go to the “regions beyond,” and of course rest assured that the churches they left behind could succeed without them. This was how the Apostle Paul proceeded in his mission work as evident in Pauline Epistles. In fact, Roland Allen classically wrote his famous 1912 book, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? that apparently compared the prevailing mission practice of the church and that of the Apostle Paul. Through the work Allen educated the church on the superior model for mission as laid out by Paul.
Allen’s personal experiences and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit as an Anglican Priest and missionary put him in a good stead to radically challenge the theology and missionary methods of Western churches. In standing behind a novel philosophy for mission agencies to establish churches that were grounded from the beginning to maturity on the path of self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing, Allen was revolutionary. He understood the need for the missionary founded churches to adopt forms that lead to indigenous church which is not only adapted to the local cultural conditions of the environment the church was located but a necessary way of not making mission churches carbon copies of their progenitor Western Christianity.
Allen’s perspective for indigenization entailed that missionaries handover leadership responsibility to native local leaders in the community. To underscore the fact that Allen was revolutionary, compare his thought with that of his contemporary, Karl Kumm founder of the SUM that began evangelization in Central Nigeria in 1906. In his publication of the same year as Allen’s, he wrote that “Church Government in Africa should be in the hands of the missionaries for many years to come; but as the children grow up, slowly, responsibility according to their strength may be placed upon their shoulders.” Kumm was not kidding, it was his perception of the African people summed up in his own words thus:
to begin with, we must bear in mind that the African races are baby races, and that converts from these races to Christianity are children and not full-grown men. To begin with, they have not at their disposal the inherited character built up by some thirty or forty generations of Christian forefathers; and secondly, as compared with the people in the East, they are only in the initial stages of civilization. Reading and writing, geography and scientific knowledge are to them unknown accomplishments, though many among the Chinese, Japanese, or Indians have them already at their disposal. The African may be physically the most developed; mentally and spiritually he is only a child before and after he professes conversion.
Karl Kumm who was well traveled in and around the African continent and had traversed many African tribes even writing about their rulers, community organization, socio-political governance and religious orders. A direct recognition that even before the gospel was presented to the Africans, they had a way of governing themselves and instituting order in the society, but for Karl Kumm and those that had his kind of mindset, Africans cannot run a church. The Apostle Paul did not under estimate the pagan people he planted churches among on his missionary journeys, hence it was timely that Allen had to remind the churches and their missionary enterprises of Paul’s missionary methods.
Allen’s criticism of the prevailing missionary methods was a direct attack on the paternalistic and protective attitudes of missionaries and their boards who perceived indigenous leaders as incompetent and incapable of leading the church. Hence Allen in this work and The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church emphasized the overarching need and for missionaries and their respective boards to trust in the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in guiding new indigenous churches in their growth and development. “He called on missionaries to have more confidence in their converts and to release control over them as Paul did, trusting that the Holy Spirit would help them learn how to work effectively in their churches even through their inevitable mistakes.” Allen’s emphasis on the need for the church to take the Holy Spirit seriously embodies his works. For him the gift of the Spirit was a watershed in the life of the church. He understood the Holy Spirit revealed in the book of Acts as the inspirer of missionary work. And the revelation of the Spirit as creating an internal necessity for missionary work in the church. Allen saw intimate connection between the gift of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the gospel to those outside the church, this makes it necessary for the church to open her eyes and ears to see and hear clearly what the Spirit is prompting.
Condemning the lackadaisical attitude of the church to the Holy Spirit, He warned of neglecting the Spirit of Acts of the Apostles: “our conception of the work of the Holy Spirit has been almost confined to the revelation of truth, of holiness, of church government and order. Missionary work as an expression of the Holy Spirit has received such slight and casual attention that it might almost escape the notice of a hasty reader” of Acts of the Apostles. For Allen, the book of Acts stands out in the New Testament because it is the revelation of the Holy Spirit as a missionary Spirit.
Going down the memory lane, Reese note that the “indigenous principles,” which incorporated the Three-Self Formula, only became popular with decolonization that resulted in developing nations becoming independent nations in the second half of the twentieth century. And that it was with the end of colonialism that mission agencies began to give serious thought to indigenizing local churches. “Apparently the thinking went something like this: if leaders of the developing nations are now expected to run their own countries, perhaps it is also time to allow the local church leaders to run their own churches. Not only that, but church leaders also insisted on taking over from missionaries after the prolonged delay associated with western domination.”
Reese is damn right because for example, David Olatayo a former leader of ECWA/SIM writing on the root, birth and growth of ECWA from SIM reported of protest by locals who even though had received some sort of training from the SIM missionaries for the work of ministry, they were confined to performing auxiliary roles for the missionaries. They had to stage a protest because they were infuriated that despite possessing training, they were not allowed to perform the ordinances of ministry and attain leadership, yet female missionaries were allowed to address leadership meetings when councils were convened, they taught in Bible school and were serving in certain areas of church ministry while the indigenous ministers were not saddled with such privileges. To underscore the cultural underpin of placing woman above man in the African context, we will illustrate the implication of the missionary action with a story. The Nigeria president- Muhammadu Buhari during a state visit to Germany in October of 2016 was asked by journalists during a joint press briefing with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to respond to a political commentary by his wife on the BBC Channel. His response was that his wife went off the curve by dabbling into political trajectory. According to the Associated Press reports, President Buhari laughed it off and said: “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room [bedroom].” This is a 75 years old man talking and what he was saying was indeed the skewed African cultural perspective of women. One can now see the more reason why the native pastors felt putdown by the missionaries. They were partly instructed by women missionaries and secondly, they cannot do what women missionaries were doing.
Bulus Y. Galadima and Yusufu Turaki writing on the impact of the African Nationalists struggle for political independence from colonial regimes and the influence it had on mission organizations noted that:
Nationalists were not only interested in wresting power out of the hands of colonialists but also in the training and development of indigenes who would take power from the colonialists. The demand here was not simply freedom, but consistent training and preparation of those who would run the government machinery when the colonial masters left. As a result of the nationalist movements, their demand for political independence and training of nationals who would take-over became a matter of necessity. This political movement exerted a powerful influence on missionary development and the implementation of indigenous principles.
Some Africans became quite vocal and radical and thereby demanded advanced training and greater participation in the running of the missions. Such dissenting voices were beginning to be heard during the late 1940s. Many nationals felt that the process of indigenization was too slow, either by not giving adequate training to the nationals, or not giving them a greater part to play in the running of the missions. This area too created a lot of tension, suspicion, and misunderstandings between the missionaries and nationals.
Reese’s correct assessment that native leadership agitation contributed to a renewed attention to the three-self formula is also exemplified in the sometimes harmonious and contentious and complicated relationship between SIM and ECWA. SIM had to formally handover the reign of administration of the church to native leaders in 1976, sixteen years after Nigeria independence. A structured organization of the indigenous church had started in 1954 as the Nigerians were preparing for political independence from the British. The declaration of independence for Nigeria in 1960 was followed with an indigenization policies ultimatum by the new national government to multi-national corporations and organizations to cede leadership to Nigerians. The transition from “SIM missionary Leadership” to “ECWA indigenous Leadership” is a sore spot in “father-son” relationship represented by SIM-ECWA. This study however, determined that both sides were at fault in this acrimonious change of baton. Without trying to impugn on the character of the selfless SIM missionaries or the zeal of the native leaders to assume leadership and full control. We will cite examples of few disagreement the transition evoked.
At the eve of departure of SIM Leadership, SIM sold off the important printing press in Lagos, roll up her movable assets like aircrafts used for missionary work and moved them to new destination in Ethiopia. Did this impact the image and operations of the emerging indigenous church? The answer is yes! On the other hand, flamboyant Secretary General of ECWA- the Rev. Dr. Simon Siman had in a fist of fury over disagreement with the SIM Field Director that handed the indigenous church from SIM to ECWA, threatened him that “all I need is a pen and paper and you will be thrown out of this country.” Was that uncomplimentary and ungracious? The answer is yes. These and many other situations and exchanges will subsequently define ECWA-SIM relationship that is easily perceptible to a discerning mind. This researcher growing in ECWA has seen and felt these tensions. For instance, as university student attending Summer Discipleship training in 1995 organized by the Rev. Chuck Brod (SIM) and Rev. Samuel Akeju (ECWA) all of the ECWA Discipleship Unit headed by Rev. Brod. The Rev. David John the SIM Nigeria Director at the time was invited as guest speaker at the training session which was taking place on the campus of the Jos ECWA Theological Seminary (JETS). Pointing at part of the ceiling in the hall that was falling apart, the SIM Director remarked dismissingly: “You can see that, people are incapable of managing resources, yet they will boast we are the ones in charge now.” Everyone in the hall knew who he was referring to- ECWA leadership of course. Their turbulent relationship was not a secret. When people in conflict refuse to climbdown from their high horses, expect things to escalate. And that was what exactly happened under this SIM Nigeria Director that the one that took over from him had to do a lot of face mending and bridge building.
Setting aside the institutional misgiving on either side of the divide, it is important to point out here that the personality of leaders of SIM and ECWA at a given time contributed to some of the hiccups experienced in their relationships. At any rate, in leadership theory, it is an undisputable fact that once you delegate responsibilities, you also release authority. So, the situation was like the native leaders were feeling we are in charge now, but you are overbearing and controlling, while SIM leaders were feeling, you lack capacity and needs our guidance, allow us to nurture you for some time.
Rick Calenberg a former SIM Nigeria Director as if validating Reese, wrote:
SIM leadership around the world held prayerful consultation with Nigeria’s ECWA leaders. Of particular concern was the counsel of trusted Nigerian political leaders warning of potential post-colonial political fallout and its effects on Western missions and their related churches. The gale-force winds of political independence and anti-colonialism were blowing. The implications had to be reckoned with, especially for Western-dominated missions with major land holdings. These realities made for a difficult but critical decision. Delicate negotiation, divine wisdom and right timing were vital.
Some leaders involved in the decision were schooled in the three-self mission theory developed in the writings of John Nevius, Roland Allen, Rufus Anderson and especially Henry Venn, who as secretary of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) has greatly influenced SIM’s development in Nigeria. As SIM leaders sought to understand the gentler winds of the Holy Spirit’s divine purpose, they concluded that the pioneer vision of early SIM was essentially complete: Establishing a mature national church with trained leaders. A new paradigm and mission role was not only appropriate but, in fact, necessary.
Furthermore, Reese reveals that despite the end of colonialism, the dependency syndrome of mission churches has not ended, and which necessitated the reinvigoration of the three-Self into prominence by the writings of missiologists like Melvin Hodges and Donald McGavran. Rather than the three-self formula receive a desirable and engaging attention by missionaries and practitioners, it came “under attack from various quarters,” summarized into six objections to the three-self formula.
Lack of Cultural Perspective
Too Much Emphasis on “Self”
A Hindrance to Partnerships
A Hindrance to Western Support of Foreign Evangelists and Missionaries
A Hindrance to Aid from Rich Christians to the Global Poor
Permission Not to be Generous.
According to Reese: “Over the past few decades, the Three-Self Formula has been called an elevation of the self, an evil autonomy in the body of Christ, silent about Jesus’ love for the poor, a projection of American value systems, a hindrance to partnerships, a sacred cow that needs to be slaughtered, outdated, and senile. Yet the fact that all its opponents still regularly attack it as a worthy adversary is an admission that it continues to have staying power.”
Clearly, in this study we agree with Robert Reese that irrespective of the shortcomings and blind spots of the three-self formula, it remains the way to go in mission praxis especially towards transforming mission churches into indigenous churches that are not dependent on foreign aid for survival. Most certainly, “a Three-Self body of Christians has enough strength and responsibility to work for Christ whether others are available to help or not.” African mission churches will not be able to develop her institutions if she keeps looking up to the West for handouts. Africa will not be able to raise theologians relevant to her context and strategically positioned with capacity for the coming future role for Christian apologetics in the world if she keeps training her theologians at the highest level in Western institutions. The three-self is about sustainability, institutional capacity building, contextual ministry development by mission churches and the overall birthing of indigenous churches that are thriving and igniting fervent faith among indigenous congregations. In all these, and as Roland Allen saw way back, the strategic role of the Holy Spirit in mission and to the life of the indigenous churches that is characterized by fellowship of lifelong disciples, is still very relevant today.
Here we determine that the idea for indigenous churches as encapsulated in the three-self formula is good for the Kingdom advancement and for everyone- the indigenous church, the universal church and the mission enterprises serving as the conscience of the mission of the church in the world. This should not be misconstrued for severing mission churches from the parenting mission agencies, on the contrary, it engenders partnerships and pooling of resources where each contribute from its comparative advantage to the gospel proclamation. Everyone created of God, redeemed by Christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit has something unique to contribute to the universal church regardless of their geographical location or race.
According to Bolaji Idowu, the church as:
organic cell belonging to the whole body, it naturally partakes of certain characteristics which belong to that body and which it shares in various forms as common heredity with other cognate cells. Thus, she maintains not only the ‘faith once delivered to the saints,’ but also certain inevitable elements which have become in various forms integral marks of the life of the visible church.
Aiming for indigenous churches in Africa and around the world is progress, we see it in our homes, when a child comes of age, he moves out and start his/her new home and family. They are no longer in their parents’ home, neither can they be said to have severed relationship with their parents. So it is with Missions and Indigenous Churches, modern missiologists gives it purposeful meaning or expression in PARTNERSHIPS.
As noted by Idowu, indigenization of the church in Nigeria is to make it more relevant to the culture, bearing the “unmistakable stamp of the fact that she is the church of God in Nigeria…worshipping God as Nigerians; that is, in a way which is compatible with their own spiritual temperament, of singing to the glory of God in their own way, of praying to God and hearing His Holy Word in idiom which is clearly intelligible to them.” This is to make the church in Nigeria assume a corporate personality, where she takes responsibility personally for discerning what the will of God is for the church and her ministry to the people, as well as the responsibility for all the requisite steps to be taken to fulfill the ministry. This is to galvanize the Church in Nigeria along with the church of God throughout the world to come to recognize their respective peculiarities occasioned by locations and at the same time realize her oneness, laced with mutual and reciprocal interchange of workers everywhere on the globe.
In closing, one cannot claim ignorance to the debate or attention the concept of indigenous church has received in missiology. Whether it is possible to have an “absolutely indigenous church in any culture” or something less, the ideal indigenous church we strive for here does not imply having a church that appear, function and in meaning be no different from the rest of the culture. No, we equally recognize Christianity’s intrusive capacity to certain degrees in a given culture and the power of the gospel to transform culture. There is certainly no way that every mark of “foreignness” upon a mission established church can be removed, as it will amount to denying “herself of the spiritual tonic which ‘the Communion of the Saints’ affords.” If that happens, the church will must assuredly cease to be a living cell within the body of Christ to which she belongs. And that is not what we are striving for, but a church that is marked by Alan Tippett’s six marks of indigenous church- with self-image; self-functioning; self-determining; self-supporting nature; self-propagating fervor; and its devotion to self-giving. When this is the case, the following will be happening in the life of the church:
The Holy Bible in Native Languages
Evangelistic tools and outreaches in the community in languages understood in the locality
Theology that is relevantly applicable to issues in the locality
A liturgy that is homegrown, participatory and engaging
Less formality to dress codes and vestments that are magisterial
Spiritual awareness that graces prayer
Loving community of interconnected and interdependent brethren.
Congregations that embody the above marks and DNA is what we need for the gospel ministry in our sphere of operations in Africa to impact lives and influence the local cultures. Mission churches have to metamorphose into indigenous churches.
Nashon A. Azaki
Dr. Azaki Nashon Awyetu is a consummate campus minister, prolific writer and missiologist with specialty in Christian Spirituality and Church Growth. He is also active in Apologetics and leadership development. He is a minister with the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) Garki District Church Council Abuja Nigeria, from where he leads mobilization and facilitation for Missions.
In addition to holding a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, his ministerial training includes a Post Graduate Diploma of Theology (PGDTh), Master of Divinity (MDiv), M.A. in Organizational Leadership and Management as well as PhD in Missiology. He currently resides in Grand Rapids Michigan, USA with his wife- Joyce, son- El-Elis-Almodhadh and daughter- Eliana.