At a time when statistics suggest in Britain there are about 44.8 million unchurched (66% do not attend church), some resident African church leaders held another consultation designed to find a strategy to engage. The consultation termed The 3rd Consultation for Leaders of the ‘African Majority’ Churches – Overcoming the Challenges of Building a Multi-Cultural Church’ emerged with a plea, and heartfelt it was. The plea to the panel of experts was please equip us to take the next steps to transform Britain. In other words show us a roadmap we, the ministers, can begin to utilise in order to break out of the comfort zones of mono-cultural churches.
The Consultation brought together a panel of speakers, ministers, who had been able to break free from the barriers of mono-culturalism into the freedom of multi-culturalism. They represented Kenyan, Nigerian, Zambian and African Caribbean origins. They shared their practical perspectives, using the Bible as the framework for their break through. They were subjected to a session of BBC Question & Answer, where a number of issues were brought to the fore by their fellow ministers.
In their comments on and off records many ministers claimed the agenda of the Consultation was arguably the most significant challenge of our time. However, many wondered why many more ministers had not attended the Consultation, the refrain was: “Where are our big ministers?” Beyond the answer to this question which I am not competent to engage with lies something more fundamental and a need for a paradigm shift in understanding the culture we live in and redefining our parameters of success. They are:
1) Can we export without modification our cultural coloration of the way we do church in African without modification?
2) Is our success determined by the number of Africans we are able to bring into our church buildings, programmes or conventions?
3) Why have we not been able to break through the cultural barrier in Britain even though we are faithful in regular prayer and fasting?
4) Does evangelism remain the highest priority of our Churches?
Some have suggested that there is a perspective out there that many of our ‘African Majority’ churches, both mega and minor are comfortable with the status quo. A status quo, mono-cultural in its complexion, which brings in the massive crowds.
There is no doubt that many of our conferences are able to mobilise significant numbers of our own kind to the exclusion of the host communities. Many of our churches represent ‘Africa’ abroad where we are comfortable there because of the claim ‘they do things like they do back home’. Maybe it is because many seem to have left the shores of Africa physically but mentally remain in Africa.
It is suggested that with this mindset we have set up a new form of ‘circumcision’, the kind that Paul spoke of in Galatians that excludes those who cannot be Christians in the mould of the African variety. We seem to seek to impose our values, minority values on the population of Britain, churched and unchurched. In this we have had limited success in our desire to transform or evangelise Britain.
The reality seems to be that in many areas where our churches are engaged the demonstration of little or no real engagement with their host communities is apparent. The observation is that we seem to be churches unto ourselves, meeting only our own particular needs.
This agenda of conversion and transformation of cultures other than African takes me into the Bible. Here it reveals what Paul’s experiences when he was seeking to convert the nations that God led him into. In Corinthians, the 1st book, chapter 9, Paul had to surrender his rights. He was able to declare that woe is upon him if he failed to preach the gospel and significantly laid the grounds for a cross-cultural approach to preaching the gospel. Paul here was concerned with the Jews, to those under the law, to the weak, indeed to all peoples. It would have been easy and most natural for Paul to restrict his ministry to his own kind, his own culture and in the face of difficulties and sheer bigotry retreat into such comfort zones. Corinthians Chapter 9, verses 19-23 states:
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel that I may share with them in its blessings.
What therefore is the relevance of Paul here, to the ‘African Majority’ churches, ‘mega’ or ‘minor’? What must we be to the British in order to win them to Christ? Certainly not African! It means whilst here in Britain we must carefully negotiate aspects of our culture which creates barriers for multiculturalism.
An example is in a society where time keeping is kept at premium we cannot export time sloppiness and expect a positive response. Another illustration might be the nature of songs we sing, do they exclude ‘outsiders’? Do we celebrate other national days, events such as the Remembrance Day or we remained focused on only our own days?