Questions and Observations About South Africa
I recently returned from South Africa from a remarkably busy trip, with a few days off for relaxation and to spend time with my oldest daughter, but mostly ministry in various contexts.
Now that things have slowed down a bit, I thought I would write out some observations about my trip.
I should note that I'm not an expert on South Africa. Actually, I'm not even a well-educated observer. I'm just a missiologist thinking about culture. I will break most of these observations out as full blog posts, but here are a few of the things I noticed:
1. Christianity in South Africa—like in most of the world—is decidedly more charismatic than in the United States. Continualist movements—Pentecostal, charismatic, or Third Wave—are having a huge influence, not just in their own movements, but in other settings as well.
2. Crime and mission do not mix well. When crime is a central reality in life, mission is not so easy. After all, you can't fear a people and engage a people at the same time. Yet, you cannot ignore the reality of crime's danger—and South Africa is certainly struggling with crime while its believers are working hard to stay on mission while they do.
3. Race is immeasurably complex. A color-blind society may be the goal, but I'm not sure it is achievable this side of eternity. As I have written before, race matters.
4. Forgiveness can change a nation and the world. The more I learned about Nelson Mandela, the more I understood that reality.
5. Corruption is a defining reality in most of the world. Simply put, it is normal for the police (and many other institutions) to be corrupt to varying degrees. South Africa is no exception.
6. Networks are a growing global force. Denominations are very significant—and are much more of an influence than networks even though networks tend to get the press. Yet, increasingly, networks are not just getting press, but they are getting things done. I spent time with two networks while in South Africa—one established but refocusing (New Covenant Ministries International) and one that is still forming (Advance). As I was speaking at NCMI, I was struck by their energy and focus. While I spoke at Advance—just now in its formative stages—I thought to myself that I was at an historic happening which people will speak of decades from now.
7. When you are out of the developed world, and in places like the BRICS nations, the idea of limiting the mission to making disciples does not make sense. In the case of nations like South Africa, wealth and poverty are close to one another and affluent Christians rightly see ministering to the poor as part of the mission of the church. They know that the mission includes both gospel proclamation and gospel demonstration.
8. Poverty is a complex problem that requires real discernment to address. I was struck by the care these christians and churches had for the poor, but also the fact that they had to move beyond the common approach of just throwing money at the problem.
9. Theological education matters. South Africa, like much of the world, has been hurt by theological aberrations often exported from the United States. I was encouraged to speak at one seminary and visit another that was seeking to bring theological clarity into a setting that often lacks orthodoxy we often take for granted.
Needless to say, I was moved by my time in South Africa. As you can see, it got me thinking on many subjects-- and I often had more questions than answers. And, yes, it's a bit of a random list, but I think we can learn from our brothers and sisters in South Africa in many ways. I'll share a few in the months to come.