Reconstructing Mission: The Church in Africa in the Service of Justice, Peace and Reconciliation

Continued…Perceptions of mission have become multifaceted, but Jesus’ imperative to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and make disciples of them has not. Evangelization requires an understanding of salvation which implies liberation from all that oppresses and dehumanises people; bringing about inner transformation and making them new creatures who witness to God’s transforming presence and activity in society. The Church must be attuned to change in society to enable a creative response in its mission mandate.

Reconstruction and its purpose

In the 1990s African theologians agreed that Christianity was crucial to the social reconstruction of Africa. But how could Christianity help Africans grow out of the vicious cycles of crisis and promote conditions conducive to national and social harmony? Are Christians and organizations agents of reconciliation or promoters of social change? The Kenyan theologian, Jesse Mugambi, suggests replacing ‘reactive’ liberation theology with a ‘proactive’ theology of reconstruction.

The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is regarded as the most basic reconstructive theological text. Jesus, throughout his ministry, highlights the necessity of creating a new inclusive society traversing barriers of geography, culture, historical moments, gender, age, class, ethnicity and race.

Ka Mana of Cameroon proposed that Mission should help Christian communities grow in structures that resist the temptations of tribal or ethnic hegemony and which live a genuine faith without falling into a religiosity that develops feelings of enchantment about the invisible at the expense of involvement in public affairs.

Mission, says Wilbert Shenk, is always at the risk of being distorted or misdirected. When the Church accommodates herself to cultural controls she loses her sense of God’s mission. Often modernity rather than the Gospel becomes dominant.

Alternatively mission concepts have divided the Gospel into proclamation and social service. Either extreme is inimical to the integrity of the Gospel, for an adequate theology of mission must be faithful to the fullness of the Gospel. All nations are mission lands. All human beings, all societies are receivers and potential givers of God’s grace. All peoples need to be discipled. Methods of mission must consider cultures, group identity, human dignity and respect for religious plurality. Dialogue is therefore a crucial component of mission.

The Necessity of Mission for Africa: Context

Africa depicts two diametrically opposed stories. One is of frustration, the cry of people who are tired of unending debt, poverty, unlimited exploitation of their natural and human resources and who desperately seek to end the misery caused by civil wars, ethnic conflicts, inept and unaccountable leadership, debilitating disease, and mismanagement of national affairs and resources. The other story is one of a vibrant Christianity, a rich spirituality that engenders and sustains hope in the midst of this apparent chaos. There is joy in community life and in the African values of solidarity, mutual caring, and reverence for God. A dynamic engagement with spiritual forces is experienced and shared. Nevertheless, the Church is so fragmented that there is little sustained ecumenical cooperation. It is as if night and day exist simultaneously.

Christianity in Africa has grown from 9.9 million (0.6%) of the world’s Christian population, to 300 million in AD 2000 (89%) accompanied by tremendous revival. Unfortunately numerical growth has not resulted in a transforming spirituality that fosters Christian and national identity. Ethnicity is a demon threatening to tear apart the nation state and the Church.

Crucial issues for the Church to address if her missionary engagement is to be fruitful are social-economic, cultural, socio-political concerns, ecumenism, minorities, migration, inter-religious dialogue, violence, gender injustice and environmental degradation.

The recent crisis in Kenya tested the nature and integrity of the Church, questioning her participation in God’s mission and calling for an evaluation and reconstruction of her mission theology and practice. The Church’s initiative in welfare provision is commendable but Christians expected bolder and more prophetic leadership to show the Church really is the ‘conscience of the nation’. The unprecedented ethnic violence was reminiscent of Rwanda where ‘born again’ Christians were actively involved. What people wanted to hear was a message of hope, reconciliation, justice and a creative political intervention. This tragedy has shaken the Christian Church to its foundations and haunted it ever since.

It seems the African Church has failed in some respects to create an authentic Christian identity, communities that transcend barriers of ethnicity forge nationhood or empower communities.

Challenges facing the Church in Africa.

Ethnic conflicts and violence make reconciliation, justice and peace a matter of utmost concern and priority. People expect the Church to take leadership, but regrettably, religious institutions barely contribute. The HIV/AIDS pandemic needs a more holistic approach, not just as a medical and moral issue, but as one of social justice.

The Church generally has not addressed gender questions. The critical concerns are: involving women in decision making at all levels, promotion of the rights of the girl (and boy) child, addressing gender based violence as a moral, theological and social issue and full teaching of the equal dignity of women.

The Church should create a balance between service provision, proclamation of the Gospel and being prophetic; otherwise there will be no difference between it and secular Non-Governmental Organizations.

What does reconstructing mission mean in Africa?

Towards a Holistic Mission:

Although the future of mission is ultimately in God’s hands, human beings shape it according to their understanding of the past and present. There is need for repenting of and correcting the mistakes of the past and charting a better vision of the future.

Promoting Peace-building, Justice and Reconciliation.

The deep hurts and painful experiences of Africa invite the Church to mediate peace, reconciliation and healing through ecumenical mission and vision that entail partnering in the suffering of the people. Ethnic hatred and xenophobia are a great hindrance. The major source is the problem of ‘otherness’, which regards those unlike ‘us’ as less human or worthy. Difference should not be divisive but celebrated and fostered in the Church as a ‘theology of embrace’. An exclusive emphasis on private morality based on individual reconciliation with God leads to an aversion towards the world and the ‘other’. Could this be a root of ethnic animosity among Christians? The social dimension of reconciliation was central to human and communal relationships in Africa and is a resource the Church can use to address injustice, and social and political strife.

The Church in Africa should see her mission as bringing wholeness to people as Jesus did through Shalom, the Old Testament concept of peace that includes harmony and wellbeing, justice, healed relations between individuals – in society, between God and humanity and between humanity and creation. The greatest challenge is post conflict reconstruction. Confession, forgiveness, reconciliation and healing are needed to lead victims to discover the mercy of God welling up their lives, allowing the Holy Spirit to bring forgiveness and reconciliation among both victims and perpetrators.

Discipling the Nations:

The future of mission and the Church in Africa depends on sound, committed and honest theological reflection, not on intellectual learning of the faith but on living it. Teaching that facilitates a living personal and communal encounter with the Risen Lord will promote moral behaviour, mutual concern and responsibility.

The Good News is about transforming cultures. Doing mission in a holistic and transformational manner implies surrendering ourselves to Christ to be purified, sanctified and renewed. It entails Christ confronting and transforming our lives and institutions to be like him. Until the Gospel effects this transformation through being inculturated in the African context we shall continue lamenting an ‘uncompleted mission’, a ‘superficial gospel’ and a ‘schizophrenic’ Christianity.

Prophetic Leadership

Effective mission needs church leaders who embody leadership like Jesus, with integrity, dignity and humility. Theological education/formation is crucial to developing this. Africa needs a visionary leadership able to engage in a dynamic and informed way with the myriad issues confronting the continent.

Dialogue as a way of Mission

Africa is a continent of diverse nations, cultures and religions. Mission entails an awareness of this pluralistic context and the mission mandate can only be fulfilled in collaboration. Mutual listening promotes mutual learning and deepens our common experience of God. This also facilitates common living, while respecting the dignity and differences of others.

Witness to the Marginalized

A relevant Church mission must be inclusive and bring Shalom to the marginalized. To be Church in Africa is to have ‘good news’ for those that seek fullness of life without ever achieving it, the deprived rural and urban poor, victims of economic and political injustices. Reconstructing mission calls for dismantling of patriarchal notions and power structures that prevent people, especially women and youth, from experiencing the liberating power of God. A renewed or reconstructed mission should value the contribution of women in all situations and accord them greater freedom in representing the Church to the rest of society. The image of the Church as a caring community is tarnished by its abetting the oppression of women.

Youth are acclaimed as leaders of tomorrow but they wait forever to take the mantle from their parents. They are a resource that the Church is not adequately funding or utilizing. Some have never been evangelized. They become fodder for politicians in urban and rural areas. This frontier of mission needs serious attention, especially in urban slums.


The Church in Africa is growing. Mission in terms of proclamation and witness has therefore succeeded. However, it is lamented that this numerical growth is not matched by moral transformation of people, as seen in the frequent and persisting ethnic conflicts, corruption, impunity and disregard for healthy relationships among fellow human beings. Mission is not a state; it is a process. We continually become Christian. Discipling is ongoing as Christians love and live the life Christ calls us to. A renewed vision must change Africa’s destiny so that reconciliation will come and peace and justice will finally reign, a vision that calls for imagining another possible world centred on Christ, who is fullness of life, our Reconciler, our Peace, our Justice and our hope.

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