When a village lacks a wise person, even a fool can be a leader. (Bemba Proverb)

A focus group consisting of lecturers and post-graduate students from Orthodox, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Reformed, and Methodist traditions from across the Sub-Saharan countries of the African continent met to deliberate on the key ingredients in developing missiological formation guidelines from the perspectives of mission/theological students. They deliberated on how to translate the concepts of mission articulated in the WCC new mission statement into a study guide that facilitates theological, ministerial, and missional formation. According to Martin Conway, theological leadership formation must be equipped to respond to three global challenges: i) the presence of world religions in every major world city; ii) the setting of new economic goals and expectations; and iii) the challenges of climate change.1

Increasing new challenges facing people around the world require in-depth theological reflection. Some of these challenges include bad governance, politial corruption, public unrest, non-life-giving institutional religion, HIV/AIDS, power and migration, and the marginalization of people due to race, gender, or disabilities. All of these issues call into question how theological education can be renewed and reformed to facilitate the missional formation of leaders. What are the implications for the model of missional leadership needed to facilitate radical transformation in church and for society? What are the theologies of leadership that inform the expectations and implications of these broad themes? How are missional leaders to be formed in order for them to live lives worthy of their calling (Eph. 4:1)? The focus group argued that the traditional model of equipping church leaders must go beyond merely focusing on morals and ethics that are unconnected to how persons live within their local context.

The focus group from the University of KwaZulu Natal examined the new mission statement and affirmed that within the mosaic Sub-Saharan Africa, an old era has indeed passed and a new missional age has dawned. They concurred that the broad themes identified in the statement contain possibilities for creative contextual exploration. Missional students face the challenge of translating the concepts covered by the broad themes into language that can empower, equip, and speak life within the context of missional engagement. According to Isabel Phiri and Ester Mombo, when theological education is fully engendered, it provides an openness to all people without the male bias linked to ordination. The ultimate goal of the interdisciplinary education and team teaching at UKZN is to facilitate gender justice in leadership formation.2

Leadership formation must therefore be intentionally interdisciplinary and ecumenical, and must consider seriously the theological education shaping its development, examining whether the local congregation remains the primary agent of God's mission in the world. Within the African context, the group identified the issue of status linked to uncritical allegiance to political parties, ethnic groups, and tribal groups as a significant social impediment and a challenge that must be addressed for missional change to be fully realized.

The statement has introduced the subject of greed and love of money as a threat to transforming life. However, the statement has not dealt sufficiently with the power of money to corrupt the identity, vocation, and witness of missional leaders who are ill-equipped to deal with the addictive nature of mammon. In the missional formation of leaders, much more emphasis should be given to building strong character in dealing with money. The lack of public trust in Christian leaders is increasing as people lose confidence in leaders' capacity to be authentic. How does faith in mammon threaten the credibility of the gospel? How does the contemporary pervasive love of money contribute to socio-political problems in Africa? And in what ways can the church bear witness to an alternative handling of money for the common good?

The formation of missional leaders should aim at developing credible and just business ethics. The younger churches in the African context have embraced theologies of prosperity in reaction to the theology of the older missionary churches, which seems to equate faithfulness to God with a spirituality clothed in a lifestyle of poverty. The model of wealth acquisition linked to a conservative confession of faith embraces the neoliberal economic system that that informs their theological orientation. The perspectives of Jordan J. Ballor and Steven J. Grabill are pertinent in their critique published in Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness.3 This can be a viable tool in equipping leaders with strong moral and ethical stamina in advancing life-giving theological models of business.

The new mission statement makes the experience of purposeful living the central operating principle. However, within many contexts of contradiction, the most pertinent challenge faced by missional formation is the question of the meaning of life. Namsoon Kang suggests postcolonialism as a discourse of resistance and liberation in theological education.4 She argues that one cannot write a kind of “universal” perspective for theological education in “World Christianity because of the questions of identity and subject-hood, authenticity, representation or interconnectedness of power-knowledge.”5 The late Prof. Steve de Gruchy argues for learning from engaged praxis because missional practice generates new ideas and frontiers for theology.6

  1. Breath of Fire: Transformative Spirituality.
    The African context is one that is permeated with many spirits. The pervasive existence of life-denying realities invites people to seek authenticity in a world of many spirits to facilitate the experience of life in all fullness. However, in certain instances, the very quest for wholeness in the spiritual world has at times been used by the powerful as a tool to deny life. The question follows: What approach is needed for transformative spirituality to be truly transforming?
  2. Salt of Earth: Mission from margins.
    The African context embodies many communities that long for peace, reconciliation, and justice. Political- and economic-induced conflicts have devalued the sacred worth of each person. Missional formation must therefore focus on the re-sacralization of life. This calls into question blind allegiance to one's identity, ethnicity, or tribe because this can also lead people to embrace forces that deny life. One must be aware of the increasing contexts of cynicism linked to people's loss of confidence in political liberation movements. Their experience points to re-institutionalized liberation that oppresses and the marginalization of the “other.”
  3. Water of Life: Speaking the truth in love and listening to the truth in love (evangelism, gospel and culture, inter-faith dialogue).
    Enculturation of the gospel with the mosaic African context has implications for the formation of missional leaders. The diversity of cultures that embody different spiritualties of people are further affected by dominant global forces of culture. A key question arises: In the midst of such diversity, what constitutes the minimum levels of unity required? How does one keep in tension a gospel that affirms and transcends culture?
  4. Wind of Change: Mission and ecclesiology.
    Who sets the agenda for the church's mission? Missional formation recognizes that the missio Dei is greater than the loyalty to denominational and local identities. The pressing missiological challenge is how churches today can celebrate differences whilst remaining faithful. The ecumenical/evangelical divide of theologies is a kind of political construct that has passed its date of relevance. In what ways can ecumenical engagement among churches strengthen encounter with other religions and remain faithful to the mission of God? Are there new models of ecumenical engagement that are more life-oriented in the context of the mission of God?
  5. Feast of Life: Mission as an invitation to the feast of life.
    Mission draws from contextual indigenous knowledge systems. How can God's love and justice be proclaimed to a generation living in an individualized, secularized, and materialized world? How can the feast of life be experienced and realized within the context of life's contradictions and daily ambiguities? It is here that a quest for a just and peaceful “present,” and not future, becomes meaningful in understanding mission as an invitation to the feast of life. In the African context, the concept of feast as a ritual celebrating life permeates every stage of human development and social being-ness. Accordingly, life is characterized by feasts of birth, rites of passage, and even the celebration of death as a feast of crossing over into another model of existence. In such a context, mission as an invitation to the feast of life has to focus on what it means to belong to the God of love and justice.
  1. 1

    Martin Conway, “Key Issues for Theological Education in the 21st Century,” in Handbook of Theological Education in World Christianity, ed. Dietrich Werner, David Esterline, Nansoon Kang, and Joseph Raja (Oxford: Regnum Books International, 2012), 25.

  2. 2

    Isabel Phiri and Ester Mombo, “Women in Theological Education from an African Perspective,” in Handbook of Theological Education, 59.

  3. 3

    Jordan J. Ballor and Steven J. Grabill, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Christian's Library Press, 2010).

  4. 4

    Namsoon Kang, “Envisioning Postcolonial Theological Education: Dilemmas and Possibilities,” Handbook of Theological Education, 31.

  5. 5

    Ibid., 33.

  6. 6

    Steve de Gruchy, “Theological Education and Missional Practice: A Vital Dialogue,”Handbook of Theological Education, 44.


  1. Top of page
  2. Biography
  • Rev. Dr Roderick Hewitt is academic leader for Theology and Ethics, and Senior Lecturer in the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He has served as a pastor in the United Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and as executive programme secretary and moderator of the Council for World Mission.