The Coronavirus pandemic has changed everything; including ‘church.’ As one who loves the Church and studies her, I hope to capture my (and others) random thoughts about the Church here at a time when COVID-19 threatens to hold us all to ransom.
1. CHURCH IS PEOPLE FIRST
Some have been upset by various governments prohibiting the gathering of people, including churches, during this COVID-19 pandemic. In trying to make a point regarding what is the most important thing about church, I have seen well-meaning Christians ask on social media: “is church a place we go or what we do?” I’ve had to gently nudge some to say it’s both; and neither. Because church is first and foremost who we are. Church is people first, before it is what they do (‘doing church services’) or a place they go (‘going to a church meeting place/building’).
To all who believe in Jesus Christ as their saviour from their sins and accept him, God gives the right to become children of God (John 1:12). These persons become engrafted into Jesus, forming ‘the body of Christ’. “All of you together are Christ’s body,” Paul writes to the church in the commercial city of Corinth in ancient Greece, “and each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). These believers in Christ and now the body of Christ are also called “the household of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15, ESV).
These people may gather at a particular place (which over the centuries has become known also as ‘church’) and conduct a ceremony (which has become known as ‘doing church’ too) but church is first and foremost God’s people in Christ, before it is where they go or what they do.
So ask yourself if even you’ve been ‘going to church’ and/or ‘doing church’: are you really church? “… God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: “The LORD knows those who are his,” and “All who belong to the LORD must turn away from evil” (2 Timothy 2:19). A symbolic way the Bible puts turning away from our sins and evil is ‘washing your hands and purifying your heart’ (Psalm 24:4). Perhaps as you physically wash your hands in this season you might want to consider inviting Jesus to wash your heart with his shed blood on the cross as well so you become church; and not just go to or do church?
2. CHURCH SO SIMPLE YET SO COMPLEX
Precisely because church is people and people are diverse and complex, what should’ve been the simple definition of church in the point above, has evolved in complexity! As Karkkainen bluntly puts it, “the term church for better or worse reasons has been loaded wth so many unfortunate connotations from authoritarianism to coercion to antiquarianism.” Almost anything anybody says about ‘church’ can be true because there is such a wide range: the good, the bad and the ugly. All those books in the picture above (and I have more) are my feeble attempt to learn more and more about the church.
So, there is Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology, Roman Catholic ecclesiology, Lutheran ecclesiology, Reformed ecclesiology, Free Church ecclesiologies, Pentecostal/Charismatic ecclesiologies, the Ecumenical Movement ecclesiologies, Communion ecclesiology, Universal Ecclesiology, Messianic Ecclesiology, Participatory ecclesiology, Baptist ecclesiology, Missionary Ecclesiology… Do you have the time for me to go on? Mehn, people make a living from this and get PhDs studying this stuff! If you didn’t know, at the last count there were approximately 40,000 Christian denominations, each one with a slightly different emphasis, all from that one God and His single Bible!
3. CHURCH HAS BEEN HERE A LONG TIME; AND AIN’T GOING NOWHERE
Not physically meeting as church for a few weeks isn’t going to destroy the church; and please don’t call it “persecution.” There’ll be an instalment on ideas for being and doing church in these Coronaic times. I like the use of the word ‘century’ in this Church in a Century of COVIDic Captivity series because it provides a significant long-term perspective. The Church and churches have been around for at least 2,000 years i.e. 20 centuries. The Roman Empire tried to vanquish her in the first two centuries and ended up merging with her under Constantine around 300A.D. When the church was oppressed during the Chinese cultural revolution in the last century and missionaries expelled many thought the worst for the barely 1 million Christ followers in Mao Zedong’s communist/atheist China. By 2010 the Church had grown to 50 million; and many believe it is about 100 million now.
A hundred years ago (1918), the Spanish flu killed 20-50 million people, 3% of the world’s population (some say 100 million); Church didn’t die. And we’re still here, 2.3 billion strong. This COVID-19 pandemic is not the worst thing that ever happened to Church. Oh, and the Church will still be here till Jesus returns for his bride (another word for church)! How do I know for sure? Jesus himself says so: “I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18, NLT). I almost said “you can bank on it” but we’ve seen several banks collapse in this century. So let me rather say, you can church on it!
Karkkainen, Veli-Matti. 2002. An Introduction to Ecclesiology. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
There are seismic spiritual shifts among the nations in nearly every generation which redefine socioeconomic and other key realities. We are in the midst of one right now but few notice it. As they say, “the fish in the water doesn’t see the water.” Part III.
In Part II of my cathedral trilogy I made mention of my alma mater, Achimota School. I still find it super intriguing that as a government institution the seventh and final ideal upon which the school was built was “the belief on which all else rest, in Jesus Christ as the revelation of all time and all people, of the love of God, and as the guide and pattern for our lives.” Today, postmodern Ghanaians cannot seem to wrap their minds around why the government of the day will support a clearly Christian venture even despite the fact that there are more Christians in the country now than there were in 1927. Meanwhile, the government of Ghana knows very well that without the Church’s partnership in education, health, agriculture etc. it cannot even run the country!
Many have criticized the ‘amorphous’ state-church partnership in the putting up of the National Cathedral Ghana. To be clear, the government is only gifting the land and seed money; the body of Christ in Ghana is to raise the remainder of the money for the project. I personally like that test. If truly, the majority of Ghanaian Christians are not in favour of building a national Christian monument of this stature to the glory of God at this time then this project should die a natural death because there will be no funds from government to complete it. On the other hand, if “the gracious hand of God” is upon the project, then like Nehemiah and Ezra who popularized that precious phrase, the heavenly King will provide a few strategic people and places to provide what is necessary to build and complete it in ‘fifty-two days.’
It is a bold move by the government of Ghana, this state-church partnership, in an era where many misunderstand, even misconstrue, the idea of ‘separation of church and state.’ It is heartwarming, to me, that the Executive branch of government’s decisive step in this direction was affirmed by the recent Supreme Court ruling to have the state unashamedly associate herself with the Christian community while providing the congenial environment for all other faiths to practice and even flourish. The Republic of Ghana’s Supreme Court’s ruling that “The State is free to lend support or aid to a religious group if it deems such beneficence to be for the good of the nation” is in order. According to the ruling, “Obviously, secularism in the context of the Ghana Constitution must be understood to allow, and even encourage State recognition and accommodation of religion and religious identity.”
Increasingly voices like Miroslav Volf have decried the challenge to and shrinking of faith in the public space. Ghanaians want to claim Ghana as a purely secular state yet what exactly is secular about borrowing the name of Almighty God in the national anthem and national pledge and swearing in national officers, including the President, by the Christian Bible. It is a good thing that this project is not solely a government one without the Christian community in Ghana not having skin in the game and a sense of ownership. On the other hand, it is a very welcome thing for the government to provide a logistical head start, legal framework and leveraging its convening power on behalf of the body of Christ.
In the President’s own words at the January 03, 2020 cathedral fundraising event in Kumasi: “It is my earnest wish that the building of the national cathedral should not be a burden on the state. That is why we are mobilizing the Christian community at home and abroad to join in partnership to raise the needed resources to build the cathedral. We seek to build this partnership on the rich history of the church’s involvement in our nation’s development. From agriculture, education, health amongst others, the church has been a major contributor to our national life and a strong partner of the state—which has chosen for its part to donate the land and a modest seed fund for this development in the partnership… This will be a historic coalition…” Indeed, the European missionary thrust of the 15th to 19th Century could not have been accomplished at the rate and scope it was without royal backing and national government resources of the Portuguese, Danes, English and such. This is not without it’s challenges, I know. But it’s our turn now.
Today, in the postmodern secularization of governments and separation of church and state we forget the things that made the countries we call “great” and “developed” today what they are–their Judeo-Christian roots. Even they forget the Christian ethos from which they were hewn! Shall we at least copy their foundations for the next 150 years and develop too and not buy into their current memory loss? The idea of a “Great Church for National Purposes” that was “non-sectarian and nondenominational” was not an afterthought in the design of the US capital, for example. Plan of the Federal City was developed in 1792 for Washington DC and discussed with George Washington, America’s first president. I will soon show, in my last point in this article, how the founding fathers of Ghana too envisaged a nation whose God is the LORD.
The Ghanaian Church is leading the world but we cannot lead our land? The most multinational church in the world today (with 106 nationalities) is pastored by a Ghanaian, church denominations have originated from Ghana and established presence in over 100 nations, the Global Christian Forum is headed by a Ghanaian, the Lausanne Movement even once described yours truly as occupying “a strategic global leadership role.” Several of the heads of churches that have spread from Ghana to multiple nations are leading this cathedral effort as advocates and trustees. Could they know and understand something that the rest of us rank and file members do not yet? The head of the largest and most global denomination in the country, Apostle Eric Nyamekye of the Church of Pentecost, says unequivocally: “Let’s unite behind the national cathedral.” Are all these seasoned, godly leaders of different persuasions of the Christian faith wrong about the national cathedral? If they are, then we’re in serious trouble as a nation!
Unity is key to all missions, particularly to the mission of God who is Himself completely one—Father, Son, Spirit. The Church has no mission without love and unity. Although there seems to be disagreement among a section of Christians about the relevance and priority of this colossal project in some quarters, on the contrary I have never seen the various denominational leaders in the country as united in their diversity over one thing like in this endeavour. Historically, Ghanaian Christians have never really been united enough to have one authoritative voice; there are at least three: the Christian Council of Ghana, the Catholic Bishops Conference and the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council. Take a look at the board of trustees of the National Cathedral Ghana and you will see an unusual confluence of the heads of denominations from all three Christian streams in our Republic at the table. I look to the leadership of those Jehovah, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, has placed over us in this dispensation as his under-shepherds, and trust that I can follow them as they follow Christ.
ELEPHANT IN THE CATHEDRAL
Whether we like it or not, there is a political aspect to religion just as there is a religious aspect to politics. The ‘elephant in the cathedral’ I speak of is not the New Patriotic Party’s mascot; no. The ‘elephant in the room’ is Islam. The fact that there is an Islamization of Ghana agenda is not unknown to some of us (it will require an entirely different lengthy, evidence-based piece at another time). Most countries in West Africa are either majority Muslim or about half so. Ghana remains a hub of Judeo-Christian vibrancy and as long as some of us are alive, we would want to keep it that way (and I’ll explain). This displeases many Mohammedans although the Judeo-Christian way of the 71% of Ghana’s population has allowed incredible freedom for a Muslim minority to have a couple of vice-presidents of our Republic, several ministers of state, a whole ministry for development of Zongos, state facilitation of pilgrimages to Mecca (at significant cost to the state), and freedom of worship to the extent of building one of the largest mosques in Africa on government-gifted land! Yet very much like Islam, that is not enough; they want it all.
I am so happy that our Muslim friends (and I have many!) can flourish in countries with majority Christians like Ghana, the USA, Canada, England and the like. Unfortunately, that favour isn’t reciprocated in Islamic republics and/or countries with Muslim majorities. As the debate over the cathedral raged one Muslim cleric in Accra even had the nerve to say that a cultural centre for all religions rather should’ve been built by government and not a cathedral to the God of the Christians. Ah! The National Cathedral Ghana is an emphatic statement that the Almighty God sang to in our national anthem and prayed to in our national pledge, is the Almighty God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Why a national bias towards Christianity? I side with a couple of the founding fathers of the nation state Ghana. First is the one who actually christened us ‘Ghana’ instead ‘Gold Coast.’ Hear the erudite philosopher: “Christianity has all the values of an enlightened civilization that modern philosophy and modern society and modern democracy can give us… It is my view that this nation, above all, must attain the civilization of a Christian people if she is to be capable of fitting herself for her role, a mighty role in Africa…” (Danquah 1960). Said another, Dr. Ephraim Amu, regarding ‘The Path that Leads to National Greatness’: “our highest and greatest aspiration should be the kingship of God in individual hearts and throughout the nation and the whole continent” (Amu 1960).
A statement in the Cape Town Commitment of The Lausanne Movement should remind all and sundry that for us Christians, “Upholding human rights by defending religious freedoms is not incompatible with following the way of the cross when confronted with persecution. There is no contradiction between being willing personally to suffer the abuse or loss of our own rights for the sake of Christ, and being committed to advocate and speak up for those who are voiceless under the violation of their human rights. We must also distinguish between advocating the rights of people of other faiths and endorsing the truth of their beliefs. We can defend the freedom of others to believe and practices their religion without accepting that religion as true.” I cannot say the same for Islam.
We Africans are the descendants of those who built gigantic pyramids to honour dead pharaohs; do we now not have what it takes to build a monument to the glory of the Most High living God? The postmodern notion that faith has no place in the public space is scandalous, especially to the ‘incurably religious’ African. The National Cathedral Ghana is about more than a building; it is a key ingredient in the complex endeavour of nation building.
There are seismic spiritual shifts among the nations in nearly every generation which in turn redefine socioeconomic and other key realities and Ghana and Africa are in the midst of one such colossal change right now. Although few notice it, I hope this trilogy has thrown more light on the stirring of the waters going on in the realms of the spirit. Be warned that the smartest, most logical, most professional and other such voices we tend to listen to as ‘voices of reason’ in a modern democracy do not necessarily have the spiritual ability to discern the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit of God in our midst (I do not claim to be any better).
Even the President, I believe, is being moved by a Force greater than himself and buoyed upon a phenomenon he can neither fully comprehend nor control, making a stupendous move to advance a national cathedral vision that could even cost him an election as a politician. I reiterate that the extent that a National Cathedral advances God’s three-fold mission on earth as it is in Heaven, it is worthy of support of all who call on the name of the LORD and are called by the name of His Christ. History is being written right now by the missionary God. You watch and see. Time will tell; eternity too.
I am convinced: “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build” (Nehemiah 2:20).
Amu, Ephraim. 1960. ‘The Path that Leads to National Greatness,’ May 22, 1960.
Danquah, J.B. 1963. “African Culture and African Religion,” 15th March, 1963.
The Lausanne Movement. 2011. The Cape Town Commitment. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.
Everyone’s talking Corona now (at the time of posting this). I find even scientists and doctors using words like ‘hope,’ ‘faith’ and ‘pray.’ In times like these we remember there is something beyond our five senses. Indeed, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” When you take a break from the virus that is being coronated, read about how the design of the National Cathedral Ghana CORONATES CHRIST the King in the African context.
CHRISTIAN SYSTEMS & STRUCTURES NEEDED
You have probably come across the line made famous by the late John Stott about certain people’s Christianity being “one mile long but an inch deep.” That, to a large extent, describes African Christianity (we’re not alone but Africa is my focus now). One of my biggest problems with Christianity in Ghana is the issue of large numbers of professing Christ followers yet such shallow discipleship and not enough positive impact on the spheres of society: arts & entertainment, business, education, family, government, media.
While desperately working on the issue of discipling the peoples of Africa themselves, we also have an equally important duty of discipling the structures and systems in Africa, from Archaeology to Zoology. In the famous words of former Dutch prime minister Abraham Kuyper, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” I find that Europe, when it had the chance a millennium ago, and North America in the last 200 years, discipled the society’s structures and systems to the effect that today although these continents do not necessarily have the most numbers of self-identified Christ followers and are becoming increasingly secular, even atheists and agnostics ethically behave like Christians on account of the Judaeo-Christian influence over the centuries. Ask where the work ethic came from, for example, or even the notion of human rights. We have the opposite in Africa, where there are so many nominal Christians but our societal systems and structures are inadequately discipled. What has this got to do with the cathedral?
I was amazed when I heard the architect of the National Cathedral explain why that particular piece of land in Accra. Sir David Adjaye passionately speaks here about understanding the monumental core of Ghana’s capital, all a walking distance from the Independence Square: there’s the area our ancestors and heroes are buried (both military and civilian) and the State House and Parliament (with the international conference centre across it) where our current leaders to do their gig but what has been missing is the faith space, a “missing link in the nation’s architecture.” For an ‘incurably religious’ country, therefore, the National Cathedral finally becomes that sacred space and the people’s place. I like that we are structuring and systematizing what we believe in and putting our money where our mouth is in concrete structures at our national core.
It thrills me that beyond the cathedral as concrete (hardware) though, there is also the idea of the cathedral as convenor (software) of crucial national conversations regarding faith and public life to, as my professor friend Esi Ansah put it in a recent Face Book post, “build the cathedral within.” Whether hosted under the auspices of the National Cathedral Ghana (in name) or as the venue or both, these are the things that will reengineer our mindsets and attitudes, structures and systems, to see the transformative power of the Gospel on society. It will be a mistake to construct a physical cathedral without building the internal one as a people and systematizing what a cathedral to the most High symbolizes in our national attitudes and values. On the other hand, it is equally erroneous to say all we need to do is “build the cathedral within” without an outward expression of an inward and spiritual reality. This isn’t either/or but both/and.
We are building a nation here, a cohesive entity that must have spirit; not just a conglomeration of social services! My maternal grandfather, Emeritus Professor J.H. Kwabena Nketia, shared with me how he highly appreciated that about Ghana’s first president, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. The latter knew we needed to garner the spirit of the people and not just their bodies. May the distillation of our Christian values and ethics into the physical cathedral structure and the centering of it in the monumental core of our national capital be a daily reminder and constant inspiration to think “freedom and justice” and all that is right/true and then to practice same always, to the glory of the God of Heaven.
AFRICA’S COME OF AGE
While the demolition of a few colonial buildings at the cathedral site is of sad note to some—but really, we have enough forts and castles and other buildings elsewhere as souvenirs of our sordid-but-should-not-be-forgotten past—in a sense it has been a statement that this young African country, Ghana, is cutting her teeth in this unavoidable intersection of gospel, culture and church. Any missiologist worth their salt should readily see the coming of age of African Christianity in this grand undertaking of a national cathedral. The idea wasn’t mooted by a white man nor the blueprint drawn by one; it shall not be built by Anglo-Saxons or Caucasians either. Although Africa actually shaped the European mind through the early church fathers like Tertullian and Augustine in the first 500 years of the Christian movement, our parts of the western coast of Africa were reached only in the last 500 years anno domini by sea-borne Europeans making some erroneously claim Christianity to be a “white man’s religion.” Christianity has been indigenous to Africa since the Ethiopian eunuch’s encounter with Apostle Philip in the first century!
Indeed, some white missionaries’ insistence on discarding our rich African traditions, the substitution of our meaningful local names with European ones like George (so-called ‘Christian names’), the condescending attitude towards our dress and manner of life etc. give just cause for rebellion against the faith they brought. But the missionary God Himself who made all people and is the originator of all that is good in all cultures (tainted by sin since the fall of man in Genesis 3) has revealed Himself in every culture so that all humankind may be drawn to Him. He has expressed Himself through each culture, including our approximately 80 languages in Ghana, that He may be seen, understood and worshipped.
The same day I attended the groundbreaking of the national cathedral on the eve of Ghana’s 63rdindependence celebration, my Achimota School year group began the formal activities for our 25th anniversary/homecoming celebrations and 93rd Founders Day activities. It struck me how the founding fathers of the school that has produced more Ghanaian (and African) heads of state than any other, wanted an institution whose ideals were “the belief on which all else rest, in Jesus Christ as the revelation of all time and all people, of the love of God, and as the guide and pattern for our lives” and simultaneously one where there was “respect for all that is true and lasting value in the old African culture, beliefs and ways of life.”
With the coming of age of African Christianity, the National Cathedral Ghana is a welcome discontinuation of European cathedral forms of the past, especially gothic architecture. Rather than spirals and bells, all that rings true and good in our old African culture, like the expression of divinity through umbrellas, has been adopted for this edifice. If Jesus Christ the King were to take on flesh in a Ghanaian culture, paramount chief of all of Ghana, how would that be expressed? You will notice from the cathedral design that the roof (as only one example) is wavy like the tapestry of royal umbrellas in durbars with the highest umbrella (highest point of the roof) being where Christ the King ‘sits,’ at the altar. This is one of the essential missiological thrills of the national cathedral.
For indeed, in the words of Kenyan theologian John S. Mbiti, “Christianity is always a beggar seeking food and drink, cover and shelter from the cultures and times it encounters in its never-ending journeys and wonderings” (Mbiti 1970, 438). Finally, there is an edifice of national stature that has offered the proverbial Ghanaian hospitality to the Christian faith in a deeply symbolic way. Christianity has taken on the cover of Ghanaian culture and has become authentically African. This is not a white man’s cathedral; this is our cathedral to the God of all the earth and of all flesh! As Mbiti states elsewhere, “…Europe and America westernized Christianity. The Orthodox easternized it. Now it’s our turn to Africanize it.” Yes, we have!
A LIGHT TO THE NATIONS
Many comparisons have been made between Ghana and Israel, some of which don’t hold water. However, Ghana, like ancient Israel, has apparently been selected by God as a covenant people to be a light to the nations (we will need a whole different article about prophecies made about Ghana). As the lode star of Africa, the “Black star of hope and honour to all who thirst for liberty,” neither our geographic or population size should warrant the prominent place we hold in Africa as the first country south of the Sahara to achieve independence from colonialism or any other accolade we’ve been showered with. Whether it’s our consummate idea of a united, free and prosperous Africa or producing a United Nations Secretary-General in the person of the late Kofi Annan, Ghana has throughout her history captured the imagination of Africans and the world at large. It is remarkable then that now, a landmark of Christian ideals and worship and a site for pilgrimage in Ghana will draw nations to our light (sure, and we’ll make some money too!). May the Queen of Sheba types travel over land, sea and air to come and see the marvels of the Holy One of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob right here in Black Africa.
O that that we might have a taste of the future glory of Zion Isaiah prophesied, right where we are: Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. For behold, darkness covers the earth, and thick darkness is over the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you, and His glory will appear over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around: They all gather and come to you; your sons will come from afar, and your daughters will be carried on the arm. Then you will look and be radiant, and your heart will tremble and swell with joy, because the riches of the sea will be brought to you, and the wealth of the nations will come to you (Isaiah 60:1-5, NIV).
Among the sites within the National Cathedral Ghana will be Africa’s first Bible Museum and Documentation Center and replicas of significant places in the Bible like the walls of Jerusalem and the Garden of Gethsemane, right where we are, without a flight to ‘the Holy Land.’ The stone from Jerusalem that was brought in as a foundation stone during the groundbreaking has symbolically brought Jerusalem to Accra. Emmanuel! If God is with us, Jerusalem stone or not, then our land too, Ghana, has become holy ground.
TO BE CONTINUED here.
Mbiti, John S. 1970. “Christianity and Traditional Religions in Africa.” International Review of Mission, 59, no. 236 (October 1970).
There are seismic spiritual shifts among the nations in nearly every generation which redefine socioeconomic and other key realities. We are in the midst of one right now but few notice it. As they say, “the fish in the water doesn’t see the water.”
The story is told of a delegation from a ‘backward’ African tribe that experienced the delight of their first plane ride en route to Britain. While their English tour guides thought they were making a great impression on these negroid visitors by the imposing size and stature of their financial buildings, civil service infrastructure and entertainment edifices like the Wembley stadium, these visitors’ eyes glossed over; seemingly disinterested. Unbeknownst to their hosts, they were by now really eager to see what they finally verbalized as “the God House.” When they eventually did, Westminster Abbey, I believe, they asked a question none of the Brits could ever have contemplated: “Why is the God House not the biggest building?” For them, the centrality and prominence of faith needed to be expressed in the sheer size of the space allocated to it. For others the measure of prominence and centrality might be portrayed in location and to some, the material and financial worth.
Whichever way, the African is arguably ‘incurably religious’ and that centrality of faith must be expressed as such. For the African, and Ghanaian for that matter, spirit takes the first place, for nature, the state, and man are all spiritual (Abraham 1970, 50-51) and the temporal and the non-temporal are fused (52). Some have even gone to the extent of claiming, “The African is a radically religious person, religious at the core of his or her being. Africans’ communal activities and their social institutions are inextricably bound up with the spirit world. […] Africans seem unable to explain life and its mysteries without some reference to the supernatural” (Pobee & Ositelu II 1998, 9).
HOW WE GOT HERE
It is not surprising then that like the Thessalonians in the first century when the Ghanaian people also “turned away from idols to serve the living and true God” we have sought to incorporate the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ in our body politic. In fact, the original text of Philip Gbeho’s peri-independence national anthem (we still use his tune but the lyrics were changed after the first coup d’etat in 1966) were unequivocally to the Lord God of the Christian faith (who other faiths cannot bring themselves to call “father”):
Lord God our Father we pray thee,
Be thou our guide in all our ways,
May we unite together, proclaim the dawn of our new day!
Children of Ghana arise and uphold your cause
And blaze the trail of freedom far and wide,
O God our Father harken to our call
and bring us peace here in our fatherland.
When the president of the Republic of Ghana announced at the dawn of Ghana’s 60th independence anniversary in 2017 that he had plans to put up a national cathedral, “the God House” of the Ghanaian people if you like, I wasn’t excited. Initially. The intellectual in me (if I can claim that) sat on the fence to give this a deep think. When I asked in my August 2018 article, amidst serious brouhaha among the citizenry, whether this was a virtuous or vulgar venture I wasn’t kidding.
I will not repeat my thought processes and content then (you may revisit it here) but since undertaking graduate studies in world Christianity and missional leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary in the USA and at our own Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology Mission and Culture in Akropong, Akuapem, I have concurrently taken the time to research the matter and spoken with the real people at the helm and have become convinced that the National Cathedral Ghana venture is Godly, timely and defining in a way that I dare say, tafracher, even the President of the Republic himself who mooted the idea has no clue.
VISION IS PROGRESSIVE
According to His Excellency, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, his three compelling reasons for this cathedral are (I’m paraphrasing what I heard him say in my presence at the March 5, 2020 ground-breaking of the national cathedral): first, to thank, praise and honour Almighty God for sparing Ghana major calamity, including civil war and famine (unlike most of our West African neighbors who we’re no better than) but rather blessing us with peace and relative prosperity; secondly, to galvanize the 71% Christian majority towards united effort in national development and finally to redeem a personal pledge he made to Almighty God that if He helped him win the 2016 election after two unsuccessful attempts he would erect a national cathedral to His honour.
All of these are good, and in my opinion, in that order. But as a missiologist, one who sits at the intersection of gospel, culture, and the church, there is so much more going on in the world of faith and religion that makes the idea and timing of this cathedral so iconic, it cannot be a coincidence and certainly not ignorable. I seek to therefore elevate this conversation beyond partisan politics and above the utilitarian rhetoric, especially on social media, typically by an elite that are book-smart but may not necessarily be spiritually discerning and tend to be more secular humanist in outlook than they even realize. Of course, I write from a Biblical worldview with an unashamedly Christian bias. Everyone is biased; it’s only worse when one doesn’t know it or wouldn’t acknowledge so.
THIS IS OF GOD, THE MISSIONARY GOD
First of all, it is Almighty God who forms nations (Acts 17:26) and nation states, “people groups who recognize themselves as a coherent community with a political meaning, and are generally larger than tribe or clan” (Lyman Stone). The missionary God forms nations for His three-fold purpose to bring:
- Himself glory through the praise and worship of their lips and love and lives thereof,
- creation a blessing (especially human beings, who are made in His image and likeness) and
- evil to an end by vanquishing it and establishing His kingdom of righteousness, justice and equity.
The Christian God forms nations for His glory to be displayed in and through them to the extent that even at the end of time, when the new and heavenly Jerusalem is revealed, the nations bring their leaders and glory (from languages to whatever cultural idiosyncrasies) into the city (Revelation 21). What will Ghana(ians) bring?
I am one of those who interpret the name G-H-A-N-A as an acronym for God Has A Nation Ahead. There is so much yet to be actualized in this great land. The National Cathedral Ghana can easily become a Tower of Babel experience if it does not fulfill God’s three-fold mission delineated above. Those people who settled on the plains of Shinar and became Babel (‘a people of confused noise’) sought glory for themselves and not the Most High God (they wanted make a name for ourselves) and did not want to be dispersed to spread God’s glory and be a blessing to the whole earth. The moment our sense of nationalism overtakes God’s global mission and our pride gets in the way of His purposes, you can be sure this project and its people will be scattered and the venture aborted. To the extent that a National Cathedral advances God’s three-fold purpose on earth as it is in Heaven, it is worthy of support. “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?’ Jesus asks us like he did the first century Jews. Woe betides us if it becomes ‘a den of robbers.’ The National Cathedral Ghana is a significant missiological statement, in brick and mortar, that the Kingdom of God has more fully come in Africa and from here, Ghana as the geographical centre of the earth, will radiate to all the nations of the earth.
AFRICA LEADS TODAY
Throughout history, God has moved the centre of his missionary activity: Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, Rome… He has particularly done so when His people lose mission vision. While the East was at the helm in the first 1,000 years after Christ’s ascension, the West led the missio Dei for the next 1,000 years in sheer numbers as well as missionary activity. In this 21st century, everything has changed. Missiologists the world over agree: The centre of gravity of Christianity has shifted from the Global North to the Global South i.e. to Africa, Latin America and Asia. For the first time, the top two continents with the most Christians are Africa and Latin America, breaking a 1,000-year record Europe held. I am in the throes of completing a book on how Africa has transformed from a mission field into a mission force.
The year 2018 was the first year recorded with more Christians in Africa than on any other continent. That is phenomenal, that a continent called ‘dark’ that had barely 9 million Christ followers at the beginning of the 20th Century would now have over 650 million in 2020! The places that have had their historic cathedrals are today slowest in Christian growth but have significantly deep roots. Shall the place leading the world in the Christian faith not have a place to celebrate it, symbolize it, embody it and consolidate it and from there be a launch pad to the rest of the world? I feel privileged to be alive to see a day no one could’ve envisaged a century ago! Let this cathedral stand for the dawning of this new era of African leadership of the global mission of God and symbolize the celebration of this epoch!
TO BE CONTINUED.
Part II continued here.
Abraham, Willy E. 1970. The Mind of Africa. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Pobee, John S., & Gabriel Ositelu II. 1998. African Initiatives in Christianity: The Growth, Gifts and Diversities of Indigenous African Churches; A Challenge to the Ecumenical Movement. Geneva: WCC Publications (Risk Book Series, no. 83).
My Unwholly Holy Initial Thoughts, Honest-to-God
‘To build or not to build?’ is more often than not a rather profound, mind-wracking, heart-churning, soul-searching question, be it for a young couple or a growing congregation, a thriving corporation or even an emerging country!
My initial reaction to the notion of building a national cathedral in Accra, Ghana was not that of excitement and welcome. No. It was a rolling of the eyes, a cynical “yeah right! another opportunity for sleek politicians to line their pockets with 10% kickbacks and oil their party’s campaign wheels.” The other thought was, “Really? In a country that is struggling to procure beds for the sick and school buildings for the young or even prevent needless deaths every year from perennial floods? Can this be a priority with our degree of poverty?”
Apart from the economic prudence and social justice angles, from a purely missiological lens I shuddered we may be treading the undesirable path of so-called ‘post-Christian’ Europe, ending up 100 years from now with beautiful but empty cathedrals only good for tourism or sale to condo developers, effigies of a dying spirituality.
Oh yeah, and there is the splendid basilica in Yamoussoukro next door, Notre Dame de la Paix, which I got to visit a couple of times during my one-year sojourn in Cote d’Ivoire as a United Nations peacekeeper. The grandeur of the edifice from afar and the sense of awe it evokes in the soul upon standing on those holy grounds left me schizophrenic how a nation with such a holy habitation would be at war or why this multi-million dollar erection is queerly perched in the middle of poverty and even backwardness. Apparently the papacy—John Paul II was the pope at the time—before agreeing to the 1990 commissioning of this expensive edifice in the midst of pauperism insisted that he would do this only on condition that a hospital be built in the vicinity of the cathedral (sort of to ease his conscience, I guess). As far as I know, then-president Félix Houphouët-Boigny acquiesced and that hospital was commissioned at that time but is still yet to be built, 28 years later!
That being said, my willingness to travel all the way from Montreal to Accra, at my own expense, to be part of a discourse organized by the National Cathedral Secretariat proved to me that my mind wasn’t completely closed to the idea. After taking pains to learn a wee bit more about the proposed project and spending some time last weekend in the United States with a former national head of a historical and significant Ghanaian church denomination, I am now almost won over. May I share why? (these are not his thoughts but mine)
1. More Than a Building
Part of my unease about hardware with no software, the case of Western civilization’s empty cathedrals but denying the power thereof, has been eased with the knowledge that this venture is a two-edged sword of both Cathedral-as-Infrastructure and Cathedral-as-Convenor. Those who say faith should have no place in the public space are ill-informed at best and naïve at worst. This is true and matters even in the West where the so-called post-Christian era has brought in its wake such a keen thrust towards secularism let alone in Africa where religion is life and life is religion, period. You can find loads of books and scholarly articles written about how culture and religion are inseparable in the African paradigm. The Cathedral seeks to facilitate conversations and critical public debates. There is one in the works, which I plan to attend, that has even garnered international interest. We have a lot to talk about, with so much faith and so little integrity, or so many churches but so much filth and poverty in Ghana. Then to act.
In this vein, I congratulate the National Cathedral Secretariat for not falling prey to what Jim Collins calls, “‘the tyranny of the ‘or’” but fully riding on the wave of “the genius of the ‘and.’” Not Cathedral-as-Infrastructure or Cathedral-as-Convenor but both/and. For my worry that we may be building concrete structures rather than investing in the actual making disciples of Jesus Christ, I say to myself, it isn’t either/or; it can, and indeed should, be both/and. For Christians who say our body is the temple of God so we need no other such national cathedral, may I again submit, it’s not either/or but both/and.
2. Just the Land
One of the most important things I have learnt about this project is that the government is only providing the land. None of the money for the proposed cathedral will be taxpayers’ money. The Christians who believe this will be honouring to their God are expected to put their money where their mouth is. That eases my concerns a bit, as a sort of secular state (that’s a fallacy; plus we should perhaps revise our stance on annually facilitating pilgrimages to Mecca on taxpayers’ money).
There are enough Christians and more than enough Christian cash to put up this building. Between a mere two denominations, say the Church of Pentecost (have you seen their conference centre at Kasoa?) and Lighthouse Chapel alone (go and see their Anakazo edifice in my hometown, Mampong-Akuapem), this is easy-peasy.It will be great to see the unity of the body of Christ in Ghana around this one national vision and mission.
As a budding missiologist, such a monument of the Christian faith is of much interest to me as a symbol of Christianity on a continent which only 100 years ago was considered ‘savage,’ ‘dark’, ‘primitive’ and ‘heathen.’ This year, 2018, is the first time in the history of the world, actually, that Africa has been billed as the continent with the most Christians in the world! Perhaps a national cathedral in Ghana, a major player in quantity and quality of Christianity on the continent, may be a worthy monument to mark this new era, to the glory of the God of Africa too.
3. Priorities and Prime Time
It seems like the only good time to build a national cathedral is after there is no poor person in Ghana, a perfect doctor-patient ratio, Malaria has been eradicated, everyone has a job or is in school… in other words after all our problems are solved. In that case, there will never be a good time to build a national cathedral then; not even a house of parliament or a national sports stadium.
The people of Israel, in the prophet Haggai’s day, kept saying “The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.” God was upset and queried: “Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins?” In this case, there isn’t even a national cathedral yet, in the first place, but many of us have two, three or more real estate properties. Now, this is what the LORD Almighty’s exhortation: “Give careful thought to your ways.”
This issue can really be a chicken-or-egg-which-comes-first one. Do we prosper first and then honour God with a national cathedral or do we honour God with one first and prosperity ensues. In the context of Haggai, God has no doubt which comes first: “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.”I will suggest you read the whole chapter here.
We may be saying that when all is well with us we will build a national cathedral for God’s glory; he might be saying, until you build me a national cathedral for my pleasure, honour and glory nil will be well with you.
4. Poverty as an Excuse
Smack in line with the above argument against the national cathedral is the argument about poverty in Ghana. Poverty around is not an excuse for not giving God our best. That is the whole concept of the widow’s mite. That being said, we must put on record that nobody has done more work in alleviating poverty, building hospitals and schools like the Church (Body of Christ) in Ghana. The Church has done enough for society to be worthy of a single ecumenical cathedral at her own cost! Aaba! Even then, this is not just a monument but a practical, functioning construction for the use of the State!
It will be interesting to research how much the Church has contributed against how much even government itself has done in bringing dignity to the lives of Ghanaians. If I may be permitted to be so crass I would dare say that perhaps the Church deserves a national cathedral even more than the government deserves a Jubilee House! Can the Church in Ghana do more? Sure! But even then the Body of Christ in this country has already done more than enough to bless Ghanaians of faith or no faith with education and healthcare, peace and prosperity, civics and commerce, ideas and industry, to deserve one national, non-denominational, inter-denominational edifice to the glory of this God of theirs!
Read some history! It is because of the Church that our local languages like Twi and Ga are written today. The first seeds of cocoa, Ghana’s export lifeline, were brought into the country by the Church; not Tetteh-Quarshie. Even our very independence from colonial masters was to a significant degree catalyzed by the work of the Church. The erudite Kwame Bediako asserts that “a number of educated Christians who had a clear self-consciousness as Africans and Christians and who were alive to their intellectual responsibility to their society” was “as a result of the impact of missionary Christianity on our people.”*
There was poverty in Ghana when we built Parliament House and the National Theatre and the Accra International Conference Centre and Jubilee House. “The poor you will always have with you.” We will come back to who said that and in what context shortly. That is not to say we be cursory or even fatalistic about poverty in our developing country and not do much about it; what is meant is that if we’re going to use poverty in society as a barometer, we will never build anything celebratory or symbolic except hospitals, schools, roads, prisons and such.
5. When Extravagant Worship is OK
Also related to the above is the fact that many shouting, “this is extravagant, oh so unnecessary when we have the poor,” actually don’t care a hoot about the poor! Ghana’s woes stem from that same educated middle and upper class. They remind me of Jesus’ treasurer, Judas.
If anybody loved and cared for the widow, orphan and poor it was Jesus. Yet on this one occasion when a woman with a past decided to pour her expensive jar of perfume on Jesus, he did not stop her. Everyone else thought this was a waste or rather extravagant at best (it was worth a whole year’s salary!) but Jesus thought it was the coolest thing ever—whole-hearted worship, giving God one’s very best.
The ‘everyone’ included Judas Iscariot, who was audacious enough to open his big mouth to say this perfume could’ve been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. He said that because he was a thief and wanted to help himself to additional cash in the kitty, yes, but more importantly Jesus made it clear that there is a place for pure-motived, no holds barred, deep-felt extravagant worship even in the midst of poverty. It was in that context that Jesus shockingly revealed that “the poor you will always have with you.” After investing the equivalent of all the cathedral project money into poverty alleviation programmes as church and government have done for decades, we shall still have poor people in our midst.
6. In the Hearts of Kings
Leaders like to build—figuratively and literally, people and things, systems and structures. I have heard “The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases” quoted in untoward circumstances when Christ followers want to see a heart-change of sorts of someone in power regarding some policy and such. But if the Christian God does direct the hearts of leaders of nations, could it be that it is he who has put this desire in the heart of the Ghanaian president? That desire to build for God was put in world leaders like Darius, Cyrus, Nehemiah, Solomon… dare I say Houphouët-Boigny? Could it be that this desire has been implanted into the heart of Ghana’s President by God himself?
7. Might Not Be the One or the Time
Inasmuch as I just spoke to the notion that a leader’s desire to do something great for God is a fact of life and of history it isn’t always acceptable to God because it might not be for them in particular to do and/or the timing may not be right in God’s scheme of things.
The great Jewish king David loved God and once said to himself, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” A prophet called Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.” That night, the LORD appears to Nathan and asks him to go back to David and disappoint him. Fascinating! Check out the full story here.
A national cathedral for Ghana may be a good thing, but depending on whether it is God’s will, especially vis-à-vis his timing, it may not be a pleasing and perfect thing in his sight. David rescinded; but provided all the resources for the one appointed and anointed to build that national cathedral to do so at the future perfect time—his heir and son, Solomon.
A Holier Conclusion
For Christians, the question to ask is if such a national cathedral in Ghana will bring glory to God at this time, be a blessing to people at all times and in any way deal another punch to evil to make the righteousness, love, joy, peace, and power of God’s kingdom more established on earth as it is for all time and all eternity in heaven. Will other nations travel from near and far to come and see this edifice and leave breathless in wonder—like the Queen of Sheba when he visited Solomon and his national citadel—that the God of Ghana is great and most greatly to be praised? At the same time, will the beauty and glory of our everyday lives (not just when we’re suited up for church but at Makola and the government ministries) match the magnificence of this national cathedral? As for where to site it as well as the maintenance culture and costs, that is another conversation.
Personally, I would like to give this national cathedral a chance. I am very close to echoing the response of city officials to Nehemiah’s national building proposal, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build.”
*Bediako, Kwame. 2014. Christianity in Africa: The renewal of a Non-Western Religion. Akropong-Akuapem. Regnum Africa.
When I attended the University of Ghana Medical School (UGMS) I always thought the posture of most of my lecturers and professors was not only authoritative but even rather condescending. Now I know why. We were not exactly ‘kids;’ in fact, some of us were even married and such, and yet one of Knowles’ six core adult learning principles (Knowles 2015, 6)—prior experience of the learner—was being violated again and again.
Contrary to Lindeman’s foundation that “the resource of highest value in adult education is the learner’s experience” and that “experience is the adult learner’s living textbook” (20) we were rather treated as neophytes with not only nothing in our heads but nothing in our hands to offer either. I have been wondering whether any of the designers of our curriculum knew, considering their ‘sage on stage’ approach and ultimate ‘punishment’ of examinations that “authoritative teaching, examinations which preclude original thinking, rigid pedagogical formulae—all these have no place in adult education” (20).
Considering how deeply wounded my medical education experience has left me, and now understanding why from the principle of “prior experience of the learner” being violated, I resolve never to treat any adult learner the way I felt mistreated in my future design of educational programmes.
Taking the advice of Lindeman, this principle implies that in programme and/or lesson design “none but the humble become good teachers of adults” (21). It is a beautiful thing to see the experience of the adult learner esteemed so highly, even at par with the teacher’s knowledge! “In an adult class the student’s experience counts for as much as the teacher’s knowledge. Both are exchangeable at par. Indeed, in some of the best adult classes it is sometimes difficult to discover who is learning most, the teacher or the students” (21-22). Wow!
Knowles, Malcolm, et al. 2015. The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
In medical school this wasn’t one of the diagnoses I was taught I could make but on the other side of the doctor’s desk, this may be an even more dire diagnosis than a clogged gut.
MAINLY MEN; BUT NOT ONLY
Last Sunday, in a suburban church in Montreal, this was the summary of the middle-aged chap who shared his life-long struggle of dealing with his past: “I don’t do emotions.” Me too! Well, no more.
In many world cultures, that is the manly thing to do; it is macho. Some women try it too 🙂 In fact, in my own language, there is a saying that, “Obarima nnsu;” to wit, real men don’t cry. Even as a little boy growing up in Scripture Union circles in Accra, I always knew there was something wrong with that statement because I considered no one more manly that Jesus Christ yet he wept. Ever since then, I haven’t had a problem with weeping (you probably have seen me weep!) but errm… not done so well with a whole range of other emotions.
FACE, FIGHT OR FLIGHT?
I still remember my rather unemotional response to one of my staff’s emotional appeal when he said, “I feel…” My immediate response was, “Good thing that it’s only a feeling; but what do you think?!…” I don’t need to tell you that conversation didn’t go very well after that.
The Lord has been particularly convicting me of my emotional immaturity since the beginning of this year. Prior to that, I was the kind of leader Ruth Haley Barton would describe in Parker Palmer’s words as having risen to leadership based on “extroversion, which means they have a tendency to ignore what is going on inside themselves. These leaders rise to power by operating very competently and effectively in the external world, sometimes at the cost of internal awareness… but the link between leadership and spirituality calls us to reexamine that denial of the inner life.” (Barton 2012, 44, emphasis mine).
In fact, I might never have picked up a book like Peter Scazzero’s The Emotionally Healthy Leader because hitherto the word ‘emotional(ly)’ anywhere put me off. But for Dallas Willard and Scazzero, I had never thought of my emotional life as specifically needing to be discipled! I certainly did not have the theological, mental or practical framework for that!
Scazzero astounded me and totally destroyed my perception of what spiritual formation consists of when he emphatically stated, “it is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature!” (Scazzero 2015, 17). Gordon Smith drove the dagger deeper into my heart when he confirmed that “what is happening to us emotionally is not secondary to our spiritual experience, but may actually be—pun intended—the heart of the matter” (Smith 2014, 27).
And whole squadrons of the ancients agree, that “few things are so crucial to our growth in faith, hope and love as our capacity to be alert to the emotional contours of our lives” (28). Smith then adds another dimension, that not only are my emotions an area to be discipled for sure but they are also indicative, a dashboard sign, in the sense that “the depth of our hearts reflects the depth of our emotional lives; nothing so captures the inner recesses of our beings as what is happening to us emotionally” (28). In fact, St. Ingatius exhorts that we check for feelings of consolation and desolation in the Examen.
For all those as emotionally constipated as I used to be, we need to decide now: are we going to face our emotions, fight them or flee?
DENIAL, DISTORTION & DISENGAGEMENT
I could give myriad reasons (in addition to the couple above) why being emotionally aware and emotionally expressive in a healthy way is non-negotiable in life and leadership but just take a moment to consider why Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, in The Cry of the Soul, find this paramount:
“Ignoring our emotions is turning our back on reality; listening to our emotions ushers us into reality. And reality is where we meet God…. Emotions are the language of the soul. They are the cry that gives the heart a voice…. However, we often turn a deaf ear—through emotional denial, distortion, or disengagement. We strain out anything disturbing in order to gain tenuous control of our inner world. We are frightened and ashamed of what leaks into our consciousness. In neglecting our intense emotions, we are false to ourselves and lose a wonderful opportunity to know God. We forget that change comes through brutal honesty and vulnerability before God.”
THE DOCTOR’S DOCTOR
So where do we go from here? Personally, I have not only devoured Scazzero’s The Emotionally Healthy Leader but also led my entire ISMC national leadership team and still taking the fourteen country CEOs of The HuD Group through it chapter by chapter. At ISMC’s recent biennial national staff conference in Montreal, there was a daily ‘Emotionally Healthy’ segment (spirituality, relationship, leadership). In fact, the picture you see above was taken in May 2017, when Anyele and I had the privilege of joining the authors, Peter and Geri Scazzero, at their conference in New York (together with the CEO of The HuD Group Canada and his wife). I’m still learning and eagerly walking with a few others through Emotionally Healthy Spirituality over the next few months.
Having gleaned from Smith that “the genius of good [spiritual] direction is that we probe together, director and directee, and attend to the emotional wake that is left by the myriad of experiences we have had or are having” I have begun a search for a well-fitting spiritual director, apart from the amazing mentors, accountability partners, counselors and coaches I have in my life. And a good practice, encouraged by my wife, has been to “name my feelings,” because “what you name you can tame.”
How about you? Could you too be suffering from emotional constipation? What may God be calling you to do about it? Take a personal Emotional Healthy Spirituality assessment here. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to admit your state of emotional immaturity or bankruptcy, because hey, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.”
Other Works Cited
Barton, Ruth Haley. 2012. Pursuing God’s Will Together. Downers Grove, IL: IVP.
Scazzero, Peter. 2014. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Scazzero, Peter. 2015. The Emotionally Healthy Leader. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Willard, Dallas, 2002. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
There is a huge intersection between leadership principles in the corporate world and the church. But the former has its limits. It stops at the junction of the cross, if it isn’t willing to go that route of ‘cross leadership.’ Here’s how.
Note: the following write-up is adapted from an Integrative Paper of the works of Lingenfelter and Bosch (see ‘works cited’ below) submitted to my Fuller Seminary Masters in Global Leadership Class.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
For years I’ve learnt, practised and taught corporate leadership principles, in a variety of fields from medicine through media to the military. So when Sherwood Lingenfelter respectfully acknowledged Banks and Ledbetter’s description of leadership and yet asserted that it is “inadequate for Christian ministry” he got my attention! Why would he say that?!
In fact, the exact quote is as follows: “Banks and Ledbetter go on to define the characteristics of leadership in terms of vision, setting direction, monitoring trends, and motivating and inspiring people to follow. Their insights are helpful as we seek to answer the question, what is leading? Yet secular and business perspectives on leadership are inadequate for Christian ministry” (Lingenfelter 2008, 16, emphasis mine).
Professors Lingenfelter and Bosch are both academicians with immense cross-cultural leadership praxis. Dr. Sherwood Lingenfelter, an American anthropologist is provost emeritus and senior professor at Fuller while Dr. David Bosch, who died in a fatal car accident in 1992, was a South African missiologist and professor at the University of South Africa.
Lingenfelter has a five-fold goal for his book (Lingenfelter 2008, 8-9) with the bottom line being the establishment of covenant relationships for effective cross-cultural leadership. Bosch seeks to define what spirituality is, particularly challenging the notion that it is ‘otherworldly’ rather than ‘on the road’ (Bosch 2001, 9-13), when really “being spiritual means being in Christ” (13).
WHY WE FIGHT AND FAIL–AND THE WAYS OUT
I briefly explain four key reasons Dr. Lingenfelter gives for the conflicts and failures people often face in ministering and leading cross-culturally. First, Lingenfelter argues that not only is building mutual trust within a united relational community the first characteristic of leading (Lingenfelter 2008, 16-17) but that “transformation of teams into covenant missional communities” (9) is a sine qua non. This comes before vision, strategies, goals or task-focused projects (167). A leader ought to prioritize the creation of a covenant community in which team members commit first to one another as people of God and then to working together as one on the mission of God (26). When this is not prime and proto, we set ourselves up for fights and failures in cross-cultural ministry and leadership for sure.
Forming this covenant community is crucial because as Bosch says of an ambassador, “he is a personal representative of his government, the very embodiment of the one who sends him” (Bosch, 43) so are we first and foremost the body of Christ. No doubt, “there are the problems of forced togetherness with incompatible personalities…” (44) yet at the same time “our relationships are then guided not by logic but by the illogic of love that flows from grace,” (Lingenfelter, 50) for how else shall we “be able to transmit these intimate experiences of the love and grace of God to other people in any other way than by walking this road with them”(Bosch, 69)?
Lingenfelter’s recommendation is that this covenant community is built through relational engagements which inspire the confidence and trust of team members, just like Jesus did (Lingenfelter, 17). Another great way to do this is through transformational worship (170).
Secondly, conflicts and failures of cross-cultural ministry and leadership arise as a result of conflict of values (Lingenfelter 2008, 69) since “all Christian leaders, regardless of their cultural background, carry their personal histories and cultural biases with them wherever they serve” (15) even if unbeknownst to them with unintended consequences of disobedience and ineffectiveness (9). The way out starts by humbly positioning oneself as a learner, to understand one’s own values as a culture-bearing person then investing time and resources to learn and understand the contrasting values of others on the team, and ultimately to learn how to add to one’s cultural repertoire to be effective in cross-cultural ministry (Lingenfelter, 7-8, 26). This is primarily achieved through dialogue, conversation after conversation (165-167). The good news is that “the Bible gives us principles for living that transcend both our human sinfulness and the prison of our culture” (9), the most pertinent and foundational for other values being Jesus’ expectation of those who want to follow him in the work of the kingdom to deny themselves and take up their cross daily first (48-49).
Thirdly, lack of or loss of a sense of vision and mission is another major problem (Lingenfelter, 164). For starters, “when the wonder of the kingdom of heaven” is not unfurled and clearly elucidated none will be “willing to leave everything and follow” (17). Even then in popular parlance, “vision leaks.” The solution? Repeated attention and intentional renewal of vision, mission and/or values (164). Even, “Paul’s spirituality was… renewed again and again from within” (Bosch, 20).
The final ‘thorn in the flesh’ of cross-cultural ministry and leadership is the issue of power. Since “…all people are inherently “power seekers,” …team relationships will be fraught with struggles for power and control” (Lingenfelter, 26). The way out is biblically based, Christ-centered, power-giving leadership (9) which is quite content to be rejected and discredited as “unknown men” (Bosch, 20), vulnerable (65) and has “the courage to be weak” (75), “…living in a gentle tension between giving ourselves in full surrender to our fellowman, yet at the same time enjoying the peace of the Lord” (23).
THE NUMBER ONE CURE
The prime solution, which cuts across all the array of cross-cultural ministry and leadership problems and failures, is the cross, “the defining metaphor for leadership given by the Lord Jesus Christ” (Lingenfelter, 168). Bosch concurs, with his “third way” assertion (15); albeit not a “domesticated cross with a handle” (32). This means denying ourselves and sacrificing some significant aspect of our ministry, for our brothers and sisters (Lingenfelter, 169). Here, the act of taking to time to worship God at the cross and surrender (170), especially in the midst of debriefs (88), makes it all happen.
The first issue of intentionally building covenant communities really struck a cord with me. The weakest thing I saw (and it had even been researched and documented) coming into my new role at International Student Ministries Canada four years ago was an absence of strong leadership that cast clear vision for the mission and the wider body of Christ. Having been gifted in this area I came on with full force doing just that, only to find resistance in some quarters all the way to mistrust in others. Although I did a fair bit to relate to and consult with as many staff as possible I now know it was not only enough, but may have even been perceived as just a means to my real end—vision—not relationship for its own sake.
Now from Lingenfelter I know better, that even before vision comes a full-on covenant commitment to nurture covenant community. That is my number one job as President of this strategic cross-cultural mission, and I am more intentionally pursuing that with my national senior leadership team first. I particularly would want us to make worship at the cross central in this pursuit of an effectual, united, covenant community of mutual trust.
True, there is a huge intersection between leadership principles in the corporate world and the church. But the former has its limits, especially if we are to effectually lead cross-culturally. It stutters and stops at the junction of the Cross, because more often than not corporate leadership is not only unwilling but even unable to go that route of ‘cross leadership:’ the vision of the cross, the way of the cross, the attitude of the cross. It is a that to take up Christian leadership is to take up one’s cross.
Lingenfelter, Sherwood. 2008. Leading Cross-Culturally. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
Bosch, David J. 2001. A Spirituality of the Road. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.
On 16th March, 2017, I turned 39. I give thanks and praise to God! Yet barely 24 hours prior I was a little discouraged. No, not a midlife crisis 🙂 My disappointment came from discovering a negative CAD 4,839.01 hole in my ministry account. I’ll tell you why.
THANK YOU FOR 38TH
All thanks and praise to God, last year around my 38th birthday we launched a campaign to raise $10,000 between March and June for all the Lausanne Movement assignments thrust upon me in 2016. And guess what? WE DID IT! Thanks to people like you, we raised slightly more than the $10k target and I was not only able to fulfill all the Lord’s tasks in Europe (Czech Republic), North America (US/Canada), Africa (Ghana), Asia (Indonesia), and Latin America (Panama) but was even able to do a couple of these missions with my dear wife and partner for life, Anyele. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! The seeds sown from those initiatives are still blossoming and bearing fruits.
As I enter my 40th year of life this week I’m already thinking LEGACY—how you and I will be remembered after we’re long gone. How will our lives continue on, even though we are dead? Martin Luther King Jnr. died at 39, at my age today, shot in the jaw while readying himself to lead one of his characteristic civil rights marches. What if Luther King had said, “Life begins at 40?” His short life but long legacy is still celebrated today, decades later, all over the world.
For a 40th year legacy project, my aim is to raise CAD 40,000 ($4,000 for every decade of my life) over the next 24 months, from 16th March 2017 to 15th March 2019 for what I believe is the greatest legacy you and I can ever leave: godly, effectual global servant-leaders deeply transformed to transform nations and generations. This means raising only CAD 1,667 each month for the next 2 years. Will you contribute to the President’s Scholarship for Global Leadership?
One of my favourite leaders, Peter Scazzero, author of The Emotionally Healthy Leader, puts this task bluntly: “We must train the next generation for leadership. The world population is now 7.2 billion people. It will be 8.5 billion in 2030 and 9.7 billion people by 2050. Think about that: We will add 2.5 BILLION people in the next 33 years! Who will be the apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists to equip these additional 2.5 billion people?” And to think that even today there are 3.5 billion people in our world still to be transformed with the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Each of us will need to reevaluate our lives and adjust our “wineskins and priorities to meet this acute need.” WHO will you contribute to this task?
STARTING WITH ME
I am offering the ‘second half’ of my life as a living sacrifice to God and you for this task. Half of this CAD 40,000 will be an investment in Yaw Perbi towards academic rigour, deeper spiritual formation and reflective praxis so I may ‘reproduce after my kind’ for the task unfinished.
It has been nine years since surviving that fateful accident in Cote d’Ivoire (above) after which I felt the Lord calling me to fully devote my life to preaching the gospel and raising younger leaders. And “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” Thus far, there has been no formal academic training in theology, missiology or leadership. There surely has been a lot of on-the-job learning and doing from a place of clear calling, vision and pure passion. It is now time for critical reflection of self and praxis, solid biblical theological training to undergird my call and academic rigour to complement what is already natural and supernatural about this calling.
AM I WORTH THIS INVESTMENT?
So, a few months ago I took the plunge and was accepted into the prestigious Fuller Seminary’s Master of Arts in Global Leadership. Having been pouring and pouring into others, it was refreshing to put together a comprehensive Learning Plan for myself. It has been a rich soul-searching experience for one who is more of a doer than a reflector. My transformation is affecting everything about me including slowing down for loving union with Jesus and leading out of the strength of my marriage. The organisations I lead are on the path of deeper discipleship and emotionally healthy leadership as a result.
And you know an investment in Yaw Perbi affects tens of thousands more. Only last week, a reflection I did on “When Life Doesn’t Make Sense” based on some of my MAGL learning so far reached over 30,000 people on FaceBook and over 26,000 hits on my personal website! You decide; if investing $20,000 in me is worth it or not. With the aforementioned example alone, that’s less than $1 investment per person impacted!
QUALITY EDUCATION IS COSTLY
Fuller is no doubt ‘the Harvard of seminaries,’ with a 70-year record of producing great leaders of our time like Rick Warren. With 4,000 students enrolled online and on 7 campuses from 90 countries and 110 denominations, Fuller is the largest multidenominational seminary in the world!
A course at Fuller costs USD 1,200; it isn’t cheap. I have negotiated a deal for ISMC so that any of our staff could get a 30% discount, bringing this amount to USD 840. Unfortunately, the drop of the Canadian dollar to the US dollar by about 30% sends us back to paying nearly the same USD 1,200 still. The MAGL consists of 9 core courses taken in sequence with the rest of my cohort from around the world and 9 electives, resulting in a total of USD 15,120 or CAD 19,656 (not counting books and travel and lodging expenses over the two years).
So far, I have invested nearly CAD 5,000 having taken 3 courses (including one on-campus session) and scored A+ in each! Praise God! That largely explains the gaping -$4,839.01 hole in my ministry account from which I serve the cause of international students globally and from which I get paid!
THE ASK—A GIFT THAT KEEPS GIVING
The other half of this legacy project is to provide SEED to invest in other staff and international students towards their leadership development including setting up a Global Leadership Incubator and a Leadership Institute. The task unfinished is great and urgent!
I invite you to give to the President’s Scholarship for Leadership. If 17 people sign up to give CAD 100 monthly we’ll meet the full target in 24 months. You may also decide to sponsor me for a whole course (CAD 1,200). If you have access to a foundation or other scholarship scheme that can offer grants of multiple thousands of dollars that will be awesome too. Please let me know.
Whatever you do, please make some contribution to the day of my birth and the birth of many multiple global leaders as a result–a gift that keeps giving towards the task unfinished.
Thank you for investing in hundreds of thousands of lives to begin and flourish before 40! Give HERE.
What if it’s really NOT “a man’s world” as much as we think and neither is God a He?
This is the morning after. I woke up yestermorning in love another woman. And I didn’t even realise till much later after sunrise when both people and birds alike began to tweet that the day was special: International Women’s Day (IWD). Just as well!
In my readings that morning—which had nothing to do with IWD but an attempt at chipping away at some assignment from my Master’s programme—I was impressed by Deborah. I fell in love with her. For those who think multi-tasking and role conflict is a (post)modern phenomenon, think again. Debbie was leading Israel as a prophet, a wife, and a judge (she reminds me so much of Ghana’s first and only female Chief Justice—ayekoo, Auntie Georgina! another mother of mine). By the way, those who use the Jewish Bible to veto women’s right and female leadership might need to be reminded that those same Jewish people in the 1960s elected a woman, Golda Meir, as their fourth prime minister. Incidentally, there’s something about March and women—she was elected on March 17, 1969, after serving as Minister of Labour and Foreign Minister. A feat the United States of America wouldn’t, or rather couldn’t, do with Hillary Clinton in 2016.
But I digress. Back to the woman I fell in love with yesterday, Debora. Not only were the masses going up to her to have their disputes decided, when she would send for prominent men like Barak (not Obama—but could very well be if she were living today), they would show up and she will command them what to do (I can see some men squirming already).
WHEN A MAN ___ A WOMAN
What did you fill in the gap with? Did you say, “When a man loves a woman”? If you did, I’m not surprised. There’s hardly a romantic song more popular than that Michael Bolton hit yet as I read about my newfound love this International Women’s Day I wondered why When a Man NEEDS a woman is not sung much? I don’t know if anyone has put a tune to lyrics like that (educate me!) but the Barak fella I was telling you about, wouldn’t even go into battle without Deborah! She was that powerful.
Despite a clear instruction from God to the warrior, hear his plea to Deborah: “If you go with me I will go, but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” Although “When a loves a woman” seems to be such a complimentary song to the fairer sex, I dare say, “When a man needs a woman” would be even more honouring. Especially, when it has nothing to do with romantic butterflies in the stomach! Surely, there’s more to a woman that eros? Was Barak a weak man or a wise man? We’ll soon find out.
I have a thing for women. And it seems I’m in good company. God too. Time and space won’t allow me to run through all the ways women are honoured throughout Scripture but what if I told you God was a She?
During IWD I had thought of throwing a social media challenge to dare all my friends to refer to God as She yesterday, only yesterday, to see their reaction. Maybe another day, DV. The first time I heard someone refer to God as ‘She’ I fumed! There must have been smoke coming out of my ears and nostrils! But stop to think about it for a moment.
Incidentally, while I was tossing and turning this thought about in my mind I received the latest publication of a Jewish organisation whose board I serve on with the same issue being addressed. Rich Robinson began his Jews and Gender article by sharing a jabbing story.
“I took a class in theology once, the kind where the professor had an exotic (to an American) Scottish brogue and brought a unique viewpoint to nearly everything. The day came when someone asked him, “Why is God always described as ‘he’ in the Bible? Why isn’t God ‘she’? How come God isn’t female?”
The Professor thought for a moment and then gave a succinct two-word answer: “He is.”
Wow! It is true that while more often than not God is typically depicted in masculine terms (father, king, warrior, bridegroom) there are also several places in Scripture where God refers to Himself in female terms. For example, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you…” (Isaiah 66:13). How about this one, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you…” (Isaiah 49:15-16).
Sometimes you have God as both father and mother in the same breath, like “You were unmindful of the Rock that fathered you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth [mothered].” (Deuteronomy 32:18) Another masculine and feminine imagery of God together in the same space is this: “The LORD goes out like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his zeal, he shows himself mighty against his foes. For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant” (Isaiah 42:13-14). I will suggest you read Robinson’s the full article here. It just might shift something in you.
While (post)modern feminists, fundamentalists and theologians debate these gender issues, I find it interesting that my dear (and only) wife’s tribe in Ghana, West Africa, the Ga people, have for ages rightly referred to the Almighty as “Ataa Naa Nyomo,” Ataa (male) and Naa (female). Translated, “Father-Mother God.” Ironically, Prof. Mercy Oduyoye states, “The older understanding of God as both male and female…has been lost in modernity.”
SO GOD IS A WOMAN?
So is God a man or woman? Is He bisexual? Or is He all the 58 genders on Facebook (I bet you didn’t know that!)? Two things: First, God is God. He is beyond gender. But secondly, God created mankind is in His own image—male and female. It takes both genders to properly display God’s full image and glory. One gender is woefully inadequate to express God’s image; just as one race is grievously insufficient to display His full picture.There are strengths male men have
As with all personalities and groupalities, when it comes to gender as well there are strengths that male men have that female men don’t and vice versa. When we get into the fights about who’s better or weaker, we miss the point. Some people’s left hand is weaker or less dextrous than their right; for others (like my mother and sister), it’s the opposite. But all of us will agree that we’re better off with both. And o, even to be ambidextrous!
MAN ENOUGH; GOD ENOUGH
Today, I honour all the women in my life for making me a fuller man—my wife, my sisters, mentors, mates, mentees and co-workers. As for my mother, I wouldn’t even be a man at all—not even born in the first place—but for her. Every man came from a womb-man. And for those women who are still underpaid, be assured, the day will come when those who undermine you will be payed back their due and more.
I am man enough to say I need a woman. And you? Are you woman enough to say when you need a man? As for God, don’t worry about Him. He is God enough to stomach all our gender nonsense. Again you ask, “Is God a female?” “He is.”