Has the Urban Church in Africa lost its Grip?
Can collaborative leadership reset the church influence back on track?
Collaborative leadership is one of the most critical leadership models required for the growth of church influence today. From a historical perspective, the Church in Africa has played a role in the development of social services in advancing education especially in marginalized areas, medical care, shaping society culture and philosophy, and also an influential player in religion and politics. However, in the recent two decades that influence seems to be fading with many African countries recording political unrests and skirmishes (such as in Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, South Africa, Nigeria among others), increased droughts and famine, the democratization of corruption, deteriorating medical care and increased mental illness and suicidal cases, increased drug abuse among youth in Africa among other such increasing issues affecting Africa.
It may be seen as if the urban church today has also been given to idolatry due to its safe approach to vices affecting society and its comfort in engaging in popular activities and preaching. This has prevented the urban church from advancing its intended influence as per church mission. Fear for safety, comfort, and tribal superiority is fueling the church’s influence in urban centers of Africa today.
In the current era, urban churches in Africa are facing many struggles that make it nearly impossible for them to flourishing and influence their society as per their mission. Some of these struggles include a lack of resources, people, and even space for the expansion of church plants. These struggles have even been more prevalent in the current period of the COVID-19 pandemic with many urban churches closed as a result of a lack of resources to sustain their premises among other restrictive covenants in its tenancies. Sadly, these difficult realities are the reasons why church influence in Africa is deteriorating as church plants in major urban towns disintegrate. Many churches in the urban context of Africa seem as though they are not equipped or resourced enough for urban church growth, impact, and influence.
Historically, urban cities are where most societal cultures are born and shaped. This is also true in our contemporary urban setting where new cultures for the African nations are driven from the urban cities. The urban context offers greater opportunities for the church in Africa to influence and transform some of the oppressive cultures, provide platforms for fair justice among people, shape the political culture of the cities and nations among other areas of influence.
God’s Kingdom has a clear urban focus and the church needs to reciprocate the same and share His heart for the prosperity of the urban cities. The church needs to focus its mission and commitment on the influence of urban cities.
Issues with current leadership style in urban churches in Africa
The current state of church leadership in many urban African cities is more hierarchical and dictatorial. Senior church leaders have personalized their leadership resulting in oppressiveness in many churches resulting in followers losing their own identity and voice as they’re swept up into the personality and vision of the church leader.
What can be done?
Collaborative leadership could be a possible solution for the urban church in Africa to engage in. Collaborative leadership is God’s style of leadership and He has modeled this in many ways. In many instances in the bible and even in contemporary times, God chose to partner with people yet He could have accomplished his entire redemptive plan by Himself. He collaborates with people to accomplish His mission.
- Collaborative leadership means church leaders seeking to include, inspire, motivate and influence teams, associates, and other stakeholders including cross-ministry teams to harmoniously work together to accomplish the shared goals as per the greater mission of the church of God.
- Collaborative leadership means urban church leaders not giving away their power and control but instead, integrate them with their teams, associates, and other stakeholders’ interests to take a shared control for purposes of synergy and impact. This however will call for church leaders to allow themselves to be more vulnerable and not defensive.
- Collaborative leadership entails church leaders’ accommodating what other people think and say, which requires courage, humility, openness, and vulnerability. Trust in each inter-denominational urban leader is critical and vulnerability plays a vital role in forming a solid level of trust
Three practical actions for ministry or church leaders:
- Shared Control: Church leaders in Africa must manage the tension of being both organizational leaders and Spiritual leaders. This will enable them to minimize the greater positional authority and a power distance between them, their teams, and their followers. An urban church leader must understand that each person and church ministries are uniquely gifted and are parts of one body, each doing what they do best but all working together for God’s kingdom
- Leadership Development: Church leaders should develop associates who are filled with the Spirit and are skilled at bringing creativity to the Africa problems, seeing conflict and change as opportunities, and empowering others (the communities) to use their gifts and skills and help resolve the challenges affecting the communities around.
- Discipleship Experience: Finally, for the urban church to exact influence, it should be clear how discipleship experience is driven in their churches. Church leaders must understand that for them to lead their churches to influence the non-believers and society they operate in to gain more followers in the church, their discipleship experience is the key driver of church engagement.
The above practices may appear deceptively simple. But, if the church in Africa is to thrive, and influence the urban cities during these contemporary times when many people and more so the majority of the youth who no longer find value in organized religion they must rise above and employ these practices.
About the Author:
Gilbert Ang’ana is the CEO of Accent Leadership Group. He is an expert source for topics relating to all matters leadership, coaching, and organization development and a regular content contributor to various online publications. Gilbert is also a Director at Innovate Leader Academy an online academy that teaches matters leadership. He is a Leadership Coach, Scholar, and an Independent Research Fellow. He serves in various ministries in his local church besides running a leadership impact ministry impacting students in public schools in Kenya with critical leadership values.