Is Africa's moment over? As missionaries raising support to return to the field full-time, we have the privilege of contacting American churches by the dozens every week. We've become accustomed to all sorts of pastoral Christian lingo about why they are not interested in hearing about the ministry in Togo (and, lest we sound cavalier, we empathize with how difficult and sometimes disheartening it must be to feel a constant tension between a mission-minded heart and a budget that just doesn't seem to want to stretch one penny further).
Perhaps the most perplexing response we've received with some regularity, though, is that most African countries (Togo included) are fully evangelized and that their church only desires to hear from and partner with missions to new fields of unreached people groups. While it's easy to understand the honorable intentions behind such a statement, the mission-minded American Christian church is perhaps short-sighted in such thinking.
In April, the Pew Research Center released a report showing that, by 2060, six of the top ten countries with the largest Christian populations will be on the African continent. This is probably not surprising news to most who are even marginally engaged with national and international trends. The rise of secularism in the historically Christian West seems to permeate the news daily. The increasing representation of African and even Asian Christianity likewise occasional makes news, including earlier this year, when their allegiance to historic Christian orthodoxy blunted the advance of theological liberalism in the mainline protestant United Methodist Church conference.
This news serves as both an encouragement and a warning. Our African brothers and sisters in Christ are poised to become, numerically speaking, a bulwark against insidious, creeping religious relativism. Now, more than perhaps ever, the work being done by national leaders in conjunction with international missionaries is of first importance, as African Christians ready to take on an increasingly influential seat at the global Christian table. Despite impressive numerical growth, though, African Christianity, including right here in Togo, is still spiritually immature and needs careful mentoring, discipleship, and theological training.
Christianity on the African continent is easily tossed about by the winds of syncretism. Syncretism is especially a problem in a drop-and-dash model of missionary engagement, where the emphasis is on conversion numbers amongst unreached people groups, rather than the slower, more relational and less glamorous work of creating, maintaining, and replicating systems of discipleship and advanced pastoral training. The other major threat to African Christianity comes from false teachers, especially proponents of prosperity gospel, which unscrupulously rides in on the backs of the work of previous orthodox missionaries who laid the groundwork for belief in Jesus, only for those beliefs to be hijacked and heretically corrupted in the name of personal gain, prosperity, and happiness.
Is Africa's moment over? No, far from it! In fact, it hasn't even arrived yet. What that moment will look like and whether or not it will be to the advancement or detriment of historical, biblical Christianity, remains to be seen. That, my friends, depends on the work being done, right this very moment, by nationals and foreign missionaries, throughout Africa, including Togo.