Church Planting in Africa
Church planting in Africa — building people not simply programmes, part of the Africa files
Our experience of church planting in Africa by Chris Child. We went to Africa (location not identified to protect the workers) and from the beginning our aim was to reach the people where they were, standing where they stand, sitting where they sit. In this way we could build relationship and understand what the people were seeing. To do this we lived with the people although some said that it would be impossible for white people to live in a black township. We can honestly say that we learnt more during our time in Africa than we ever taught.
Living among the people, not on a base
As the work progressed we established a base near a village outside the city. But we realised that if we wanted to impact the local village community we would need to be in direct touch with the people. A base can so easily become a subculture. So we moved to having most of our staff off base so that they were right amongst the people. They could now show the people what the application of biblical principles looked like as well as teaching them. One of our white staff wanted to also live in the village and she built a house amongst the people. Outside it was African and inside it had many features of her western culture. Being bi-cultural is important.
Empowering and enabling local staff
One of the big stumbling blocks in Africa is that so many do not have any ownership particularly of land. So step-by-step we moved towards helping our staff get their own land and build their own houses. We figured out that if staff had their own land and homes they would have halve their income needs met already and would be encouraged to steward what they had because it was theirs. We encouraged them to plant fruit trees on their land so that they could more fully supply their own needs nutritional and set an example to others in the village. One of our staff was introduced to 'Farming God's Way' a powerful conservation farming method, which was developed in another African nation. This method enabled one of our staff to significantly increase his crop yield. He had a big surplus one-year and was able to sell the maize and raise money to buy a house and land.
Developing family as foundation to ministry
At the same time as looking at the ownership issue we saw that having healthy families was a priority. At one point I wanted to do a series of studies introducing the staff to a deeper understanding of scripture but we felt that it was more important to have interactive group training on family issues and marriage. We called a mature married couple in to help us and then gathered the staff and their wives to provide practical training on marriage and family. Such a series of training sessions was only a start and the need for ongoing input was important.
People must model the truth that we preach
We reckoned if we could plant three godly families in a village community this would have a big impact — three families that could model, not just teach, godly principles. More teaching will not help Africa unless we have people on the ground modelling the truth in their daily life. We worked with one of the married couples on our team. They developed a vision to start planting house churches and it began in their own home starting from a healthy family. I remember one day he asked me "Can I baptise people?". I said: "Yes sure you can!". So we taught him how to baptise. It was amazing to see the excitement on his face as he did his first baptisms with the help of another African and me as the white man watching.
Training from behind the scenes
We continued training him behind the scenes that is when I went and gave him teaching in his home and then he gave the teaching in the church. I, as the white man, stayed out of the way as far as possible. We encouraged him to follow the Luke 10 approach to evangelism, no open airs just visiting homes until one finds the 'man of peace'. God began to lead him and his wife whilst we stayed out of the way. They went to a Muslim village and found a 'man of peace'. There they prayed for the sick, cast out devils and people began to come not because of advertising or big open airs but the message spread by relational word of mouth out from the home because of what they saw happening.
Simply church, nothing else
Very soon a small church formed in the home right in the middle of the village. To date five house churches have been planted in different areas. No building, no headquarters (except heaven J), no constitution except the Bible, no paid leaders, no founder except Jesus. It is simple but revolutionary. This is being lead by an African. The vision is coming from him with some input from others. He is now training other leaders and is already doing behind the scenes training with someone else.
The way we train is the way the next generation will train so it is not just what we teach but how we teach that is so important. They have reached a point were they have planted five churches. Those churches now need to multiply themselves so that hopefully, slowly, a whole net of groups will form that are multiplying but not owned or controlled by anybody except Jesus.
The next challenge that faced us was how do we give people a foundation in the scriptures. Over time we began to realise that Chronological Storytelling was a vital way to impart truth to those attending the groups. So starting in Genesis and working through the main parts of scripture to Jesus they began to tell the stories. Eventually they will see the whole picture of what the Gospel is all about. That is still in progress and it will be interesting to see how things develop in the next few years. These things take time and the results of foundation laying are not quickly seen patience is required but in the end the fruit is last and self-multiplying.
Chris Child April 2008