An International
Development
Strategy

Thoughts about Church Development in Ethiopia

Oct 1, 2014

THE SITUATION

Awaiting_baptism.jpg• Evangelism and rapid church growth are taking place in all sectors of Ethiopian society. Most evangelical Ethiopian churches have given these high priority. In fact, thousands of people from many religious backgrounds are coming to identify themselves as followers of Jesus. Outsiders invest heavily in these activities.

• There are many seminaries and Bible schools throughout Ethiopia. Therefore, training for Christian leadership is widely available.

• While evangelism is going forward, there is also definite, although low-level, persecution from other religious groups.

• Over-spiritualized theology imported from the West has influenced many churches to confine their attention to the strictly spiritual aspects of life. Therefore, instead of helping people deal with their practical problems, they often merely provide a periodic emotional escape to the misery in which people continue to live. Many churches do not see economic or social development or the development of their communities as part of their agenda.

• Because of the lack of discipleship, many people who identify themselves as followers of Jesus still retain the worldview and many of the destructive practices of animistic culture. Christianity for them often only means attending as inspiring worship service once a week without greatly altering their way of living.

• Preaching, by itself, has a limited effect in changing worldviews. Even at that, often preaching in a given church is done by many different people and sermons may therefore be unrelated fragments. They often don't build a coherent Christian worldview or envision people in any particular direction.

• Many pastors have limited understanding of how spiritual and personal transformation takes place. Much of the theological training available in Ethiopia, derived from Western models, tends to be academic and often does not contain much practical training in discipleship and personal transformation

• Many evangelicals in Ethiopia do not identify deeply with a particular church or know very many of its people personally. They often tend to drift from one church service to another.

• Older, more established churches, are sometimes bogged down in traditions, structures, and leadership models that tend to maintain the status quo rather than promoting true transformation.

• Many churches unconsciously reinforce a dependency mentality. They often do not train their people in stewardship and see subsidies from the West as an important source of their income.

• Evangelism and missions are often done in very traditional ways that neglect wholistic transformation, are often highly confrontative--which stirs up needless persecution and fails to win the hearts of the majority of the target community--and do not disciple new converts adequately. Such efforts often reproduce the problems of their sending churches.

• The theological training that is available often does not fit the needs of the country. It is often more academic and theoretical rather than wholistic and practical. It often creates an inordinate desire for more academic training, including training in the West. People who get training in the West often don't want to return to Ethiopia. Some training creates a desire to become scholars, academicians, or church workers in established churches in urban settings, rather than a desire to participate in and support the greater spiritual awakening that is happening in the less comfortable areas of Ethiopia. Indigenous missionaries who work in areas of great church growth and who cannot leave their villages for long periods often receive very little training or mentoring.

WHAT ARE THE ANSWERS?

• Churches and their people must change their worldviews. The view that only what is spiritual is important to God must yield to the view that God is in the process of re-establishing His rule over every area of life and culture, and that He calls His people to be agents of that transformation, not just operate worship stations. The theology of the kingdom of God powerfully enables this change.

• Key church leaders need mentoring relationships and training through which they can capture this new vision of the Church and be supported and coached as they implement and disseminate it.

• All churches need to develop interactive small groups in which people experience community, receive practical care, and wrestle together with Scripture until, with one another's help, they discover its application to their own lives. If these groups are well led, they can be extremely affective in changing worldview and behavior and transforming individuals, churches, and communities. They also help their members identify more closely with particular local churches.

• To be effective, leaders of these groups must themselves experience ongoing community, training, and mentoring so that they can themselves be transformed and
catalyze transformation in those they lead.

• All church leaders--pastors, elders, deacons, worship leaders, organizers--need to be motivated and trained to be disciple-makers, regardless of their other jobs. Many also need help in upgrading church structures to more consistently produce active disciples of Jesus and promote wholistic development rather than hinder it.

• Ethiopian Christian leaders need training and modeling in stewardship so that they recover a sense of dignity and self-sufficiency, require much less outside funding of their ministries, gain more sense of ownership of them, and begin to experience the blessing inherent in the promise: "Give and it will be given to you." They also need training on how to manage and spend their income not only on status symbols but in ways that produce effective disciples and leaders.

• Training agendas for all Christian leaders should include principles of community development. bridge-building evangelism, discipleship, developing small group communities, income generation, teaching and practicing stewardship, and AIDS ministry, all rooted in the theology of the kingdom of God. Once trained, they need support from their denominational leaders to envision their churches in these areas and begin such activities with their members.

•  New models of training for leaders of existing churches and for new missionary/church planters need to be developed which give practical training relevant to the contexts in which they work, which keep them geographically close to the people they serve, which provide long-term mentoring, and which equip them to bring about wholistic transformation on all levels.