05 The church at its best – the heart of the movement

In today’s society, a church working towards a state of shalom is by design a transformative agent, ushering in spiritual, social, cultural, economic, political and emotional abundance. It is this sacred mission that today’s church should be working towards – building God’s kingdom on earth where God’s people exercise their full capabilities; where agency and capacity to think and create as God’s sons and daughters is fully exercised; where the unity and working together embodied in the concept of ubuntu are lived out; and where human dignity is valued.

The church is more than an institution or group of likeminded people. The church is the body of Christ, his hands and feet on earth. The body of Christ takes many different forms, each with unique strengths and roles to fulfil his calling. Church bodies that have contributed to this report include: mission agencies; community-based local churches; denominational leaders; Christian NGOs; youth movements; national church alliances; and continental church alliances. Each is a unique and valued part of the body of Christ, the church.

Some of the strengths that make the church so well suited to this role include:

Theology: The ministry of reconciliation and the restoration of relationships are at the heart of the church’s calling. Movements are ecosystems of diverse individuals and organisations with similar values working in alignment to achieve a particular outcome. In movements there is no hierarchical power to coerce compliance and an ideal movement is centred on relationship and equal partnership. When paired with Jesus’ teaching about serving others, giving up power and embracing vulnerability, the church is uniquely placed to find ways to live this out in humility and repentance.

Trust: In Africa the church is among the most trusted institutions. This has emerged from our proximity and presence to communities and from our service to others. This trust allows us to be bridge builders and peacemakers. The church’s teaching is trusted. Doors open for church leaders in a variety of spaces.

Organisation: The church is one of the most organised and widespread institutions on the continent. Multiple times a week millions of Christians meet in almost every town and village and organise community and outreach activities.51 Even while COVID-19 has restricted larger services, small groups have been able to meet and congregations have migrated online where possible.

Diversity: The church is made up of people from almost all tribes, tongues, professions and spheres of influence. They live in relationship, cross-pollinate ideas and are discipled together as a community. Almost any institution or subculture can be accessed through the relational networks emerging from the church.

The state of the African movement
The story of Moses and Joshua was a popular scripture narrative used by some African liberation movements to inspire hope and action in the long struggle to liberate our continent from colonialism. The story of crossing the Jordan to enter the Promised Land, continues to be a powerful narrative to explain the present state of the movement of God in Africa.

In the past 50 years Africa has experienced a political liberation and one of the greatest spiritual revivals the world has ever seen. Our liberating Moses generations have been some of the greatest generations in our history. They successfully freed the continent from captivity; shared a vision for the future; and moved us in the direction of the Promised Land. Unfortunately, like the Israelites, since liberation we have been walking in circles, lost in the desert for many hard years. We have not yet reached the Promised Land!

The leaders of the movements that are rising up now were born in the metaphorical desert and are no longer captive to the ideas and gods of Egypt. They are standing on the banks of the Jordan river and want to cross into the Promised Land, a vision of the physical manifestation of shalom. They are the heirs of the values of the movement of God during the liberation generation. In turn they will prepare the way for the next generation to inherit the fruits of the Promised Land.

A generation ready to cross the Jordan
The main preoccupation for African movements at this moment should be generational transition. Africa is ready for a generational transition in leadership as we move from the legendary Moses-like liberation leaders to a new Joshua generation that has the courage and skill to take us over the
Jordan towards the Promised Land. At present, the median age of an African leader is 62 and the median age of an African citizen is 20 – that’s a 42-year gap in the average age between leaders and the people they lead. In the rest of the world the average gap between the age of leaders and citizens
is just 10 years.

With young leaders multiplying, and older leaders often refusing to let go of power, in some cases going so far as to persecute younger leaders, we risk a forced or a failed transition. With the contextual pressures of poverty, population growth, the COVID-19 pandemic, and an environmental crisis, Africa can’t afford to waste energy on generational conflict.

We are seeing movements like #EndSARS in Nigeria, #FeesMustFall in South Africa and Uganda’s People Power Movement pushing back against youth repression and articulating the ideas of a new generation. Young leaders aligned with Abundant Africa are voicing their call to the AU to “Silence the Guns – Not the Youth” and end the brutal targeting of young people to enable their genuine participation in public life. Unless older leaders actively work to engage the younger generation, it could be a matter of time until frustration spills over the borders and we have a sub-Saharan version of the Arab Spring.

The context is shifting so quickly that for change to happen some older Moses-type leaders may not be able to adapt and will be forced to stay in the desert, like Moses, never getting to enter the Promised Land. While other older leaders could be like Caleb, identifying the godly leaders of the new generation and working with them to create the Promised Land.

The older generation is essential for curating values, mentoring leaders and sharing stories of what was learned in the liberation struggle. Leaders of all generations must build bridges to ensure the generations can overcome any divisions, learn from one another, and work together towards an Abundant Africa.