The Church in Africa and the challenge
of Missions and Bible Translation

By Dr. Jonas Khauoe


Since I am fairly new at Wycliffe Bible Translation South Africa as a Board member,  I will share primarily about the Church in Africa and the challenge of missions. however, in my presentation, I will touch on the Bible translation because I see them as intertwine. It is naïve to talk about the Bible translation without considering the significant of church and the mission, they all play a vital role in fulfilling the Great Commission. It is the vision of Wycliffe Bible Translation international to have God’s Word accessible to all people in the language of their heart. 


The church arises to fulfil her mission and purpose according to God's plan to reach the lost people in the world including the Bibleless people. Conversely, the growth of the church in Africa is often contrasted with the infamous cliché: ‘but her Christianity is one mile wide and half an inch deep.’ One can argue that this phenomenon is observable in the church locally and globally. In this paper I will propose that unless the church teaches and leads the many thousands of new converts in transformational discipleship, the disconnection between belief and behaviour will persist, causing many to stall in nominalism.


A receiving continent.

Is Africa merely a receiving continent, in need of missionaries from abroad to share the gospel of Christ with millions of Africans? Indeed, this question may sound strange, considering that the Church in Africa is very nearly as old as Christianity itself. It cannot be said with certainty who first introduced the Gospel to Africa. According to the legend, it may have been Mark, or even the Apostle Thomas who first brought the Good News of Jesus Christ to North Africa. But whoever it may have been, the fact is that shortly after the Apostles had gathered in Jerusalem, the Gospel did reach Africa. This is plausible, given the fact that Africa became a refuge for Joseph, Mary and Jesus when they escaped the murderous persecution of King Herod. Furthermore, we read that the man who carried the cross for Jesus was from Africa – Simon, a Cyrene, from a place close to the present city of Tripoli. There was also the Ethiopian eunuch travelling in a chariot from the temple in Jerusalem to Africa and to whom Philip explained the Gospel. Consider also Apollos from Alexandria, the great evangelist of the early Church.


During the first centuries after Christ, the church in North Africa flourished. It did not only produce well-known theologians such as Clement, Athanasius and Augustine, but also established the famous school of theology at Alexandria and boasted a membership of hundreds of thousands.


However, the church in North Africa was unfortunately ravaged by heresies. Consequently it was divided and weakened to such an extent that the Christians were unable to resist the invasion of a strong new religion – Islam – when it was brought to Africa by the followers of Mohammed in 642 A.D. The once powerful African Church dwindled and almost died. For a thousand years, small minority groups of Christians battled for survival in a Moslem ocean.


Many years elapsed before a second attempt was made in the 15th or 16th century, when missionaries from Roman Catholic Portugal brought the Gospel to the west coast of Africa, to Angola, the then Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) as well as to the east coast (Mozambique) and the interior of Africa (to what is known today as Zimbabwe and Zambia). It is noted that the second effort was, however, hardly more successful than the first. The reason behind the unsuccessful attempt this time around was not because of the Islamic influence, but Africa’s own traditional religions which caused almost insurmountable problems.


The third attempt began some time after Jan van Riebeeck arrived at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. Now, for the first time, it was the Protestant Church that took the lead in evangelizing Africa. Missionary work soon gained momentum and attracted missionaries from many countries. Despite great hardships and loss of life, these men and women travelled to the remotest parts of southern, western and central Africa to preach the Gospel of Christ.


A Broad River

How widespread is Christianity in Africa? It is often noted that the Gospel of Christ is a broad river flowing through Africa. To say the least, the expansion of the Christian Church has been spectacular, particularly during the past few decades. During the 1980s we witnessed many remarkable breakthroughs, divine interventions and continued growth. The research report of Jason Mandryk provides the following interesting information about the rushing river through Africa:

  • Christianity has grown to become the religion of almost half of Africa’s population, and nearly two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa. From 1900 to 2010, Christian numbers grew from 9.1% of the population to 48.8%, and from 7.5 million to 504 million.
  • Evangelical growth has been even more spectacular. In 1900, evangelicals numbered 1.6 million 91.5%), but in 2010, they were 182 million (17.7%). This is nearly as much as all evangelicals in the Americas combined and is the largest evangelical population of any continent. African evangelicals are also increasing at a faster rate than any other continent.
  • Third Wave Pentecostal groups, strongly evangelical, have become a major element in the African Church. They emphasise the authority of the Scriptures, they focus on outreach, they are expectant of miracles, fervent in prayer and courageous against the powers of darkness. The redeemed Christian Church and Deeper Life Bible Church were both started in Nigeria and have planted churches in dozens of countries. Groups such as the church of Pentecost (Ghana), the Zimbabwe Assemblies of God, and others in Kenya, Tanzania, Cote d’Ivoire and elsewhere continue to grow and plant new churches.
  • A Number of countries experienced significant growth in the church – either large-scale church growth or breakthrough among previously unevangelized peoples. These include Ethiopia, Sudan, Benin, Nigeria, Algeria, Mozambique and Angola, to name but a few.
  • Prayer movements have a remarkable impact in Africa. The Global Day of Prayer originated in Cape Town through Transformation Africa and now involves tens, if not hundreds, of millions of Christians each year. The all-night prayer meetings of the redeemed Christian Church in Nigeria – called the Holy Ghost Services – attract an average of 500,000, but this is merely the most well known of many such meetings. The familiarity of Africans with the reality of spiritual warfare, and their willingness to faithfully put in many hours of intercession, are possibly the most significant factors in the remarkable church growth on this continent.
  • The mission force of African agencies and missionaries continues to grow and diversify. Lacking the established infrastructures and financial resources of the West, Africans find creative new ways to train and send church planters.


A Deep River

In Africa, as we have seen above, there are millions of Christians. However, how many of these are embracing Biblical values and principles and bear fruit to that effect? This question ought to cause sleepless nights. The figure of 504 million mentioned, includes the five main Christian streams that merge into one great river: Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Protestant, Pentecostal/Charismatic, and the wide variety of Independent (separatists) Churches in Africa. Conversely, these latter groups are often so far removed from the traditional churches and from what the Bible teaches that one may be justified in asking the question without being judgmental: could  they all still be considered  Christians?


It has become popular to describe the massive growth of Christianity in Africa in the last few decades of the 20th Century as being “one mile wide and one inch deep”. Conversely, some prominent commentators, especially those outside of Africa, tend to use this statement in a derogatory manner. As Africans, we should not mistake this phenomenon for a stigma, or for an indictment on us. Rather, we should consider it an appropriate and timely identification of Africa’s prevalent and crucial spiritual challenge. Uzo Obed asserts that this challenge became obvious when an African theologian tried to evaluate the impact on Africa of the 20th Century global church initiatives in accordance with the Great Commission. He observed that the continent experienced tremendous numerical growth and a multiplication of churches. However, he also observed that generally, the lifestyle of believers did not conform to the character of Christ, as would be expected with such a great increase in numbers. There is a poor level of spiritual depth. It is this incongruence that he referred to as a “one mile wide and one inch deep” phenomenon.


It is imperative that the Christian church should be on guard against attaching an exaggerated importance to numbers and against expanding too rapidly. While the Christian church thankfully rejoices over many thousands of converts, one cannot help wondering if the church is growing or merely getting fatter? Is spiritual growth and maturity in synchronization with the numerical expansion? If we are unable to teach the thousands of new Christians the true meaning of discipleship or a Christian attitude towards life, we may, within a generation or two, have a huge Church filled with nominal Christians, but with pagan hearts[1]. Therefore, we need to continually ask the question: how deep does this river of Christianity in Africa flow? Is it perhaps deceptively shallow? Is the giant still asleep?


In spite of the gloomy picture of the African continent as outlined above, it is a fact that cannot be disputed that there are millions of believers in Africa who understand the true meaning of being a Christian, men and women who have not only heard the gospel, but who have also made it a part of their own lives, people who have learned to spread the Word of God and to bear witness to it, even if their methods differ vastly form others. It is noted that the entire generation of believers, theologians as well as laymen, have devoted their lives to the development of an indigenous theology – a theology that complies with the demands of a church that is not a transplant, but that has grown from the seed that has been sown deep into the African soil and has taken firm root in the life of our continent. It is not only the graves of white missionaries that are found all over Africa. Many more black Christians have been equally willing to pay the ultimate price: to be persecuted, to sacrifice peace and possessions, to suffer banishment, to die rather than disobey their Lord. One case in point is the tragic but also triumphant history of Arch-Bishop Janani Luwum of Uganda who died a martyr’s death in the centenary year of his church in 1977. This was one voice from a vast number of voices speaking out for Christ in Africa. There is no single country in Africa that has not produced its martyrs for Christ. 


A Lively River

Now let us look into the final characteristic of the church in Africa – a characteristic that is, at the same time, an essential mark of the true church. The church in Africa is a living river that cannot be stemmed. It is a dynamic church, geared towards fulfilling the Great Commission, a church that has accepted the spreading of the gospel as its first priority. Africa is not only a receiving continent. It is also a sending continent. The days of missionaries having exclusive white faces are fortunately well behind us. Before even trying to establish the number of missionaries from African Churches working in neighbouring countries or in other areas of the world, one has to recognise the vast number of unknown ‘missionaries’, men and women working at the community level, leading literally thousands to Christ each year. This affects the work of all sections of the Church: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal/Charismatic, Independent, sophisticated urban congregations as well as village churches, etc.  


Mission vision continues to be strong in Africa as the nations send out a disproportionately high number of missionaries. Mandryk provides us with the latest data in 2010: South Africa’s commitment in the past was notable, with internationally known agencies such as Healthcare Christian Fellowship International with its worldwide ministry Africa Evangelistic Bond, Dorothea Mission, the Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk and more recently African Enterprise. Local Apostolic Faith Mission and many charismatic churches have new mission initiatives. Operation Mobilization and Youth With A Mission have done much in training and sending out young people in South Africa and beyond.


For example, Wycliffe South Africa is at an exciting stage of new initiatives that embody the spirit of vision 2025: that by the year 2025, Bible Translation and strategies for culturally relevant Scripture access will be in motion for the remaining 2,040 language groups of the world. It has been heart warming to see many different people interested in joining their skills to the vision 2025 workforce. People like accountants, editors, web designers, electrical engineers, architects, etc. We belief that through these skilled people, God is going to accomplish this effort and many people will have an opportunity to read the Bible on their own language.




God’s dream for the church is to get involved in completing his mission of restoration, of making everything new and of gathering a people from every tongue, nation and tribe. He has commanded the church to make disciples of all nations, and the important part of that mission is ensuring that every least language group gains access to God’s Word in a language and format they can understand. It is therefore essential for the church to understand the following elements that I will discuss below: God’s mission, the mission of the church, the biblical mandate.


God’s Mission

Mission Dei, a Latin phrase meaning ‘Mission of God’, refers to the divine plan to redeem sinful humanity. Mission can have no other starting place than in the very heart of God. It does not originate in the church or in compassion for the lost and needy; rather, it originates in God’s own desire to save humanity, which was set before the foundation of the world.


The mission of God is the central theme which unifies the revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures. It is developed in many motifs, most notably in the concept of ‘the kingdom of God’. This kingdom, which is both present/already, and yet still to come, refers to the reign of God in and through history. It is realised through the covenant relationship between God and his chosen people, a people always viewed in Scripture as being redeemed and called to serve as God’s instrument for the proclamation of salvation to the nations. This unifying theme proceeds from the prophetic expression of the Old Testament to the fulfilment of that expectation in the New Testament in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the promised Saviour of the world.


There is church because there is a mission, and not vice versa. Simply put, mission is primarily God’s work on earth (missio Dei), in which he in his infinite grace involves his church (mission ecclesiae). Mission is not an addendum to the doctrine of the church. It flows, rather, from the doctrine of God and reveals his eternal purpose for the salvation of lost humanity. It is related to the doctrine of Scripture in that it constitutes the unifying theme of Scripture. It is the reason for Christology, in that Christ came to provide the atonement which makes mission possible. It is central to the church’s reason for being and is the motivation for its horizontal ministry in the world. There is, therefore, no separate theology of missions distinct from that of the church. The church was specifically mandated by Christ prior to his ascension, and it was purposes in the plan of God which was set before the foundation of the world.


The struggle to define mission was fostered by the International Mission Conference at Willengen conference where a Trinitarian base for mission began to be asserted with a focus on God and not the church. The missiologists who attendant the conference concluded that mission aroused from the nature and character of God. It is, therefore, not an activity of the church in the first place, but mission is part of God’s attributes. Mission is primarily the Triune God, Creator, Redeemer, and sanctifier reaching out for the sake of the world, a ministry in which the church as church is privileged to participate. Mission arises from God’s sending love. This is the deepest source of mission. 


The mission of the church

The church’s mission is to be church: ‘God’s people, Christ’s body on earth, living his (Jesus’) life. God’s mission is the starting point. The church is the continuation, in a different way, but in God’s name, of God’s mission. The church is a missionary people. The church finds its identity and purpose in nothing else than her obedience to her calling. Ecclesiology is only a footnote to missiology. The church has only one task: mission. To know what mission is, is to observe God at work in the world –through history, but also today, especially through the good things his church is doing. But mission is definitely not restricted to what the church is accomplishing. The church sets forth God’s eternal purpose to create, through Jesus Christ, a new society which stands out in bright relief against the sombre background of the old world.


Jesus invited His disciples – also His followers at the beginning of the 21st century – to join him in his mission, to be change agents of his love and reconciliation in this world. Furthermore, to make sure that the Bible is accessible to all people in the language they understand the best. It should be noted that to participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is the fountain of sending love.


Mission understood as God’s mission does not exclude the mission ecclesiae, that is the mission of the church. Rather, it should be noted that the missio Dei avails itself of the mission ecclesiae; the former leads to the latter. The main reason for the existence of the mission is the church. It is widely accepted by noted missiologists and theologians that practically speaking, church and mission can never be separated, that the one cannot exist without the other. Mission is at the heart of the church’s life: rather than to be seen as one aspect of its existence, it is indeed defining its essence. Furthermore, the church is by nature missionary to the extent that, if it ceases to be missionary, it has not just failed in one of its tasks, but it has ceased to be the church.9 It is noted that, theologically and practically speaking, church and mission are inseparable; one cannot exist without the other. It however took many centuries for the church to rediscover this biblical truth, namely that it was the essence of the church and not of other organizations or agencies to be involved in missionary endeavours.[2] Indeed, mission is the vital task of the entire church.  


Biblical Mandate

Most Christians believe that a basis for worldwide mission can be found in isolated parts of the Bible, such as the ‘Great Commission’ passage in Matthew 28:16-20 (important as that is). In actuality, mission is much more fundamental to all of Scripture. God’s worldwide purpose is, in fact, the basis for the entire biblical revelation.


If God had not purposed to redeem mankind, there probably would have been no need for Him to reveal himself through the biblical record. In fact, apart from God’s redemptive mission, there would have been no chosen nation to trace throughout the Old Testament, no Messiah to expect, and no crucifixion or resurrection to proclaim. As we study the Bible, we read that there is but one living and true God, the Creator of the universe, the Lord of the nations and the God of the spirits of all flesh. Some 4,000 years ago he called Abraham and made a covenant with him, promising not only to bless him, but also through his posterity to bless all the families of the earth (Genesis. 12: 1-4).


Without the Bible, God’s mandate to reach the whole world would not only be impossible, but actually inconceivable. It is the Bible that lays upon us the responsibility to evangelize the world, gives us a gospel to proclaim, tells us how to proclaim it, and promises that it is God’s power for salvation to every believer. It is moreover, an observable fact of history, both past and contemporary, that the degree of the church’s commitment to world evangelization is commensurate with the degree of its conviction about the authority of the Bible.


Our mandate for world evangelization, therefore, is the whole Bible. As Stott writes, it is to be found in the creation of God (because of which all human beings are responsible to Him), in the character of God (as outgoing, loving, compassionate, not willing that any should perish, desiring that all should come to repentance), in the promises of God (that all nations will be blessed through Abraham’s seed and will become the Messiah’s inheritance), in the Christ of God (now exalted with universal authority, to receive universal acclaim), in the Spirit of God (who convicts of sin, witnesses to Christ, and impels the church to evangelise) and in the Church of God (which is a multinational, missionary community, under orders to evangelize until Christ returns). Therefore, the church’s mandate to the world evangelization is biblically centred (sola scriptura) – see also Ps 67.


Furthermore, the church needs to be totally submissive to the Bible as God’s final revelation, and affirm her love for the Person it reveals, the story it tells, the truth it teaches, and the life it requires. We need to love God’s world and all that He has made. This includes among other things: caring for the creation, loving all peoples and valuing ethnic diversity, longing to see the gospel embedded in all cultures, loving the world’s poor and suffering people, and loving our neighbours as we love ourselves etc.


Holistic understanding of mission

The word holistic (stemming from ‘holism’, the philosophical notion that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’) is perhaps not a very satisfactory epithet to apply to the Christian mission.15 Yet it is intended to emphasize that authentic mission as a comprehensive activity which embraces evangelism and social action, and refuses to let them divorce.


It is important to note that the idea of holistic mission possesses deep biblical roots. This is not a human being’s concept or that of missiologists. In both the Old and New Testament, we read about the significance of a holistic approach. In the New Testament, for example, we see from the Gospel of Luke that Jesus’ personal example and teaching does not draw a distinction between the religious, political and economic life, which others do as we noted above. For example, Luke’s description of Jesus’ development as a young man includes the notion that Jesus was growing physically, spiritually, mentally and socially (Luke 2: 52). This is one of an excellent example of a topic under discussion.


As we read through the New Testament, we realize that Jesus was concerned about the wholeness of life. For example, the image of the Good Shepherd is instructive in this regard: ‘The thief comes only to steal and to kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10). This quotation alluded to the fact that Jesus’ intention was to give life in abundance to people, which should be the present day mission paradigm. These verses, and others in the New Testament, provide a clear picture that Jesus ministry was holistic: apart from saving the souls of people, he also liberated them from the evil exploitation which was prevalent in his contemporary world.


It is imperative to view the Church’s missionary endeavour to the world more accurately. Bosch argues that ‘since the nineteen-twenties, when the concept of ‘comprehensive approach’ in mission began to develop, there has been a recognition that mission is more than proclamation ... the development of a more comprehensive approach to mission led to the most adequate formulation that the ‘total mission of the Church should be viewed from biblical concept martyria (witness), which can be subdivided into kerygma (proclamation), koinonia (fellowship) and diakonia (service)’. The Willingen Conference (1952) concurs with this view and further stated that witness ‘is given by proclamation, fellowship and service’. However, Bosch, Kritzinger and other missiologists, add another dimension: that of Leitourgia, liturgy, or the encounter of the church with her Lord or rather the public worship service of God.17 More will be said about these rubrics below. 


Whenever we consider the kerygma, koinonia, and diakonia as the three elements of witness, we should be careful not to dissect them in such a way that witness loses its integrated, holistic dimension. There is a tendency to juxtapose the word and deed elements into distinct, separate and self-sufficient concepts. God’s word is a ringing deed and his deed a visible and tangible word. The images used in Christian community in Matthew 5: 13-16, do not allow us to ‘establish which of these refer to the Church’s kerygma and which to her diakonia’.


Figure 2.1 (Kritzinger 1988:35)

It is said that the ‘Great Commission’ (Matthew 28:18-20) in word and the ‘Great Commandment’ (Matthew 22:39) in deed, resemble the two blades of a pair of scissors as pictured above, which operate in unison, held together by the fellowship, which likewise is not a separate part of the Church’s task, but rather the axle which keeps the word and deed together.  At times in the church, word and deed are played off against each other as if there can be an either/or choice. But the truth of the matter is that they cannot function separately, just like the blades of the scissors need each other. Furthermore, they need to be fastened to each other by the pin, in terms of our analogy, the fellowship. In the same way, God’s mission of word and deed cannot be fulfilled without the energizing power of fellowship between the person and God and human beings and other human beings. All these do together and they cannot be separated, this is the way how the awakening sleeping giant should combat the split view in her missional approach.   


In studying the Bible, there are other images of Jesus in the New Testament which portray him as someone concerned about the comprehensiveness of life. He combined the word and deeds in his ministry. For example, the image of the Good Shepherd is instructive in this regard: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I come that you may have life, and have it in abundantly” (John 10: 10-11). This Scripture describes briefly Jesus’ intention to give life in abundance to people, and this should serve as a reminder to the Church in our time. The New Testament describes Jesus’ ministry as the liberator of human kind from the world of exploitation and oppression. It is said that in the Jewish religion during the time that He lived in this world, everything was prescribed and determined, first with relations with God and then relations among human beings. Conscience felt itself oppressed by insupportable legal prescriptions. Jesus raises an impressive protest against all such human enslavement in the name of law.


I suggest that the time has come that all biblical Christians should do away with the split gospel. The tragedy in the dual thinking of the gospel as is often the case, is that both sides were right and both sides were wrong. Evangelicals were right about what the gospel was concerned with, and wrong in what they felt was not the gospel’s concern. The gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus taught, built on the entire teaching of God to Israel through Moses and prophets, was a message that dealt with sin and salvation, with heaven and hell, with prayer and spiritual warfare. The liberals were accurate in that it was also a message of God’s desire for justice in government, equity in economics, the righteous use of politics, science and technology, communication, family, the arts, and all of life.  Both parts are indissolubly bound together, and if you lose the one, you lose the other.


Having made this point, it does not imply that we should have to check that every fragment of witness contains all the necessary elements of mission. Then we would not be practicing the ‘theology of balance’. For example, the New Testament mentions a variety of gifts: healing, prophecy, knowledge, service, and so on.  Consequently different Christians play different roles in the Body of Christ. The Good Samaritan did not preach to the victim of the robbers. He played the part of pouring oil on his wounds. This is what the situation demanded. Somebody who is hungry needs food, while a thirsty person needs water (Matthew 25:35). Stott also emphasized the significance of the comprehensive mission of the Church: ‘authentic mission is a comprehensive activity which embraces evangelism and social action, and refuses to let them be divorced’. His concern to bring evangelism and social action together as equal parts of mission has been influential for many years. He holds that evangelism and social responsibility should not be separated; in fact, he believes that Christ sends the Church into the world to witness and to serve, therefore, the mission of the Church cannot be limited to the proclamation of evangelism.


The following figure illustrate the comprehensiveness of missional approach:

Figure: 2. 2 (Kritzinger 1988:35)


The prism pictured above may represent the real world. When the united beam of white light (the totality of mission) strikes it, normally the light is broken up into its constituent colours. The prism helps us to distinguish between the colours, but these colours should be seen for what they are: inextricably part of the one light beam. Mission is more than the sum total of the constituent parts, it should be viewed as being comprehensive.


Wycliffe South Africa’s Challenge

The issue of holistic approach in mission has caused Wycliffe South Africa to realize that there is a felt need in SADC countries for help and to come alongside minority people groups. The cry for help may be in context of health challenges, economic disadvantages, and shattered cultural and family values. Sometimes it is a quiet cry of lost hope and most of these people still have not been able to connect with the value of the Scriptures in their heart languages.


Wycliffe RTS feel that they exists to come alongside these language communities, as well as any relevant national and global partners, to provide culturally appropriate and relevant access to God’s Word and employ strategies to allow God’s Word to flourish in these communities. This includes providing assistance in translation of the Bible, Scripture storying, and other relevant materials in culturally relevant communication art forms to meet the needs of the community.


Services Provided

Wycliffe RTS provides the following services in their mission endeavours:

  1. Partnership services: Strengthening regional Bible translation and oral Scripture networks; facilitating and supporting national initiatives; advocating inclusive partnerships and comprehensive inter-organisation planning process.
  2. Consulting services: Scripture engagement training and consulting, Bible translation training and consulting; storying; orality – as well as print-based approaches; language surveying and needs assessment; and church-, NGO-, government-based language development (dictionaries, etc).


It is encouraging to see how God is using Wycliffe translation in a more comprehensive way. They also focus on community development, literacy development and church partnership as already mentioned above. However, whether Wycliffe focuses on the welfare of the people or cultural changes, it should be noted that the good deeds are not a mere addendum to missionary endeavours, but should form an integral part of the present manifestation of God’s kingdom; they point back to the kingdom that has already come and forward to the kingdom that is yet to come.


The Need for incarnation

 The so-called tabula rasa practice in Africa was characteristic of mission in the 19th century; it held the view that non-Christian culture could never be a preparatio evangelica (preparation for the gospel – fertile soil for the gospel seed to grow in) and therefore, had to be destroyed before Christianity could be built up. This view point amounted to denial of the incarnation. However, the issue of the incarnation aspect of mission reminds us of a non-negotiable gospel of Christ, communicated in the simple, and specific cultural situation of the people it intended to reach. It is remarkable that even some African theologians were often worried about the usage of such terms as indigenization and enculturation, which basically meant ‘incarnation’. Some hold the view that the secret behind the Africanization of Christianity is the work of Satan himself, the spirit of the Anti-Christ. Furthermore, others argue that if natural culture and religious customs are acceptable to God, why did Christ send his disciples to preach the Gospel to every creature in the uttermost parts of the earth? Based on these critiques it is obvious that some theologians and Christian leaders represents the fear of living in the spirit of incarnation and are ignorant of “incarnational” aspects of mission. 


This paper has indicated that mission should represent the gospel within the cultural context of the target place, in order to provide the conditions in which ordinary people’s experience of faith can become more significant for theological reflection, including their understanding of Scriptures. According to (John 1: 14 ASV), ‘And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us… full of grace and truth’.  Here we read that Jesus Christ took on human flesh and blood, and He became a real person, affirming God’s identification with human culture.


Importantly, practicing “incarnational” mission would mean among other things: learning the cultures into which we are sent; learning to think how other people think, what it feels like to be part of their world and culture; and how to communicate on their terms and context etc. It should noted that incarnational is not only the translation of the language of the people, but it also implies the learning of the culture, to live among them, eat their food, etc. so that the preaching of the gospel will be accepted and understandable by the people we are reaching for Christ. It is further noted that incarnation includes: understanding the language, philosophy, psychology, politics, economics of each situation and generation, before we can boldly and meaningfully communicate the gospel to unreached and unengaged peoples group.


Similarly, missiologists contend that the church must live, think and operate within a context. Her mode of existence must be compatible with it. Within the societal structures, the church must offer an alternative ideal – serve and represent God faithfully. Importantly, the church must clothe its message and formulate its theology in terms of the thought structures of modern man. It must be understood; it must speak to the people on their own wavelength. The church’s actions and what it does must be done in a way that can be understood and have significance to all people, irrespective of the educational status, including the children



Bosch, D J 1980. Witness to the world.  London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott.

Bosch, D J 1991. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission.  Maryknoll, NY.   Orbit  Books:  

Khauoe M J 2011. The Awakening Giant: The African Church and its calling to mission. Wellington, South Africa. Christian Literature Fund.

Kirk, J A 2000. What is Mission: Theological Explorations. Minneapolis. Fortress.

Kritzinger, J J 1988. The South African Context for Mission. Cape Town. Lux Verbi.

Kritzinger, J J, Meiring, P G J, & Saayman, W A 1994. On Being Witnesses.     Halfway House, JHB. Orion.

Kritzinger, J J 2000. Mission in the New

Factors influencing extensive personal witnessing
and increasing the missionary commitment of the church

By Dr. Frans Hancke



Part One: Comprehensive personal witnessing


Witnessing (marturia) materializes through preaching (kerugma), servanthood (diakonia) and mutual fellowship (koinonia). These elements can and should not be separated, but must be continuously integrated to obtain a holistic view of witnessing. Witnessing is behavior, words and actions as well as a physical and emotional presence. When witnessing is for example done by means of preaching, the words should be affirmed and supported by a lifestyle that is in harmony with the words. Witnessing can and should never display a methodical approach, but the form it takes should be determined by the current situation or circumstances (situational witness).

 Part Two: Influencing factors

The perception of the witness (martus) of the concept of witnessing (marturia), the Church and the Kingdom, has a decisive influence on his witnessing. This aspect has to do with the content (what?) of witnessing and can exercise an accelerator or retardant effect on witnessing.

The influence of the context (where?) within which witnessing can occur can hardly be underestimated. Context is provided by including factors such as worldviews, socio-economic realities, demographics, geography, culture, politics, lifestyles, traditions, images and even suffering and persecution.

The person of the witness (who?) has a decisive influence on his witnessing and may contribute to the prevalence of Factor Beta. This refers to aspects such as the believer's understanding of who God truly is, how focussed on God his orientation, how well fundamental Bible truths such as the missio Dei are reflected in his behavior and attitude towards witnessing, personal relationship with God, spirituality and discipleship.

The transfer (how?) of witnessing has a decisive influence on its effectivity. The community of faith of whom the witness is part of, is one of the influences discussed here. This implies that leadership, membership views, doctrines, strategies, structures and opportunity typical areas which are accelerating or retarding effects, can arise. The transfer of witness happens through the Church as medium - whether it is through the more formal, structured or institutionalized body, or through informal and unstructured opportunities offered to believers. The individual as witness can not be separated from the body of Christ. Even when witnessing takes place in an informal, non-intentional or personal way, the witness still represents the community of believers that we call the Church.

The purpose (why?) of witnessing has a fundamental influence on the shape it takes and on the final effect or result. Christian witnessing is fundamentaly about God, His honor, His praise and His glory. When other motives become part of it it will necessarily have a retarding effect on witnessing itself and it is nothing less than self-serving propaganda. The intension of witnessing is that every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will confess that He is God! (Cf. Romans 14:11 and Isaiah 45:23).


Part Three: Increasing the congregation's missionary impact

Discipleship can be a major contribution to counter the retarders of witnessing and therefore the effect of paralyzing Factor Beta. No wonder that a significant number of theologians sees discipleship as the theme of Jesus' ministry as Matthew describes it. This is his version of the gospel that stresses the kingdom perspective of Jesus' ministry. He emphasizes that the Kingdom has to do with imitating, but even dying. This perspective highlights that discipleship implies changed lives, changed priorities and changed world views. Through discipleship programs believers are equipped for their ministry in God's Kingdom. It involves the mentoring of members to be mature followers of Christ. Through mentoring they will mature in a holy lifestyle and service. They develope Kingdom-based priorities and thereby form an "alternative" testimonial community of God's people in the world. To be true disciples implies a day-to-day living relationship with God. This means following Jesus’ example and to be willing to change more and more to be the likeness of Christ. Such a relationship reveals more of His love, goodness, mercy, care, encouragement, commitment and leadership in the life of the witness. Discipleship involves teaching, equiping, mentoring and modelinging what it means to be a follower of Christ. It has to do with a life controlled and empowered by the Spirit of God, it means the crossing of boundaries, entering the world in such a way that the witness fulfills a transformative role on behalf of the King of the Kingdom.

A true understanding of Biblical discipleship and the consequently powerful impact on equipped witnesses may have revolutionary consequences, not only for the church, but ultimately the world. Discipleship will lead to the development of Biblical worldviews, healthy and balanced understanding and interpretation of context, a Kingdom perspective of realities such as nationalism, traditions and culture. Discipleship will transform lifestyles and lead to fresh insights on what it means to be Church. Discipleship can fill believers with lively enthusiasm and a commitment to work along with the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world!

Leadership development is another strategy that may have a phenomenal effect on Factor Beta's appearance. It is the leadership of the Church who should take initiative, responsibility and ownership to equip believers for their ministry (Eph 4:12) and to be witnessing disciples. Without dynamic and visionary leaders, the Church will still experience the oppressive terminal effect of Factor Beta.

Finally: Expectation

The diagnostic and remedial model developed in this research ought to strategically indicate direction and support the Church to oppose the crippling effects of Factor Beta. This should contribute to stimulate increasing personal and collective witness that may lead to the development of that critical mass needed for a global mission to achieve acceleration. The result may be that true believers and true missional churches may make a significant difference in the world.