How do I Pastor a Congregation with no Internet Access?

Written by Dr Dennis Kilama, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Africa Renewal University

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many churches will not meet over the coming weeks. Therefore the global church is full of suggestions for how a pastor can shepherd his congregation using the internet as the tool to connect. But, for many in Africa, this is far from reality and not a possibility. Many are wondering, how does one continue to shepherd a congregation if one doesn’t have access to the internet? This will be a dilemma for most African pastors in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Internet coverage in most of Africa is minimal and the majority of the continent relies on other means to get information. According to the World Bank “Internet usage differs markedly by country within Sub-Saharan Africa. Whereas more than half the population uses the internet in South Africa, rates are closer to 30% in West Africa, and only around 10% in Central Africa.” Internet is a luxury. Few can afford it. This has prompted pastors to ask, ‘How can we pastor when we and our congregants have no internet access?’

No internet does not mean no more ministry

This is not a time for a pastor to withdraw and take sabbatical leave. Now is a time for the pastor to take a defensive posture to confront the dangers of false doctrine that could have long term effects long after COVID-19 is gone. Most of these doctrines are easily accessible in Africa on our televisions and radios and if our people are unattended these could be the only option available for our congregants. Indeed, many congregants left with no shepherding will feed on spiritual poison that could cause long term destruction, long after the pandemic has ended.

It is essential for pastors with congregations with limited internet access to ensure the following:

1) Restructure the ministry operations of the church.

This will include meeting with the core leadership team and decentralizing the pastoral care. It is essential that the pastor practice leading as a team and not as individual one-man leadership. Make sure each member is directly under some pastoral care and accountability. Ensure the continuous flow of the authentic ministry of prayer and the word while encouraging social distancing.

2) Record details of the status of each member.

Know the status of each member during this pandemic and how to support them. Most people in African churches live within a close geographical space that is walkable or accessible by public transport. It is important that a pastor practically groups members based on their place of residence.  This will ensure that at any one time a member can be easily reached by another church member to provide support for one another. It should be understood that social distancing is not relational distancing

3) Regularly use telephone communication.

Most people in Africa have access to a mobile phone – even if they have no internet. According to the United Nations the World Bank and African Development Bank report that in some African countries more people have access to a mobile phone than to clean water, a bank account or electricity. In these times this is going to be an essential tool of pastoral care through calling and sending SMSs to the members regularly. Information about  new developments on the spread of the virus, scriptures to encourage or updates on other church members that might need prayer or have thanksgivings can be passed on.

4) Reporting channels should be clear.

From the congregants to the leadership and from the leadership to the congregants. Lines of communication should be made clear to the members. Place pastoral care over the members in their different areas. Every 10 people should have a pastoral leader they can report to. Prepare material that they can use when the congregation cannot corporately gather. This could include a sermon outline, a bible study guide, and a children’s worksheet. These will inform the content of the study and scriptural reflections. And avoid the infiltration of false doctrines.

5) Recognize the needs of the members.

Point them to Christ as we give them hope amid the struggle of dealing with the pandemic. Provide opportunities and space for people to be supported in this season through pastoral care and counseling.

6) Refer any suspected cases of COVID-19 to the medical authorities.

There may be a temptation to undermine the precautions the World Health Organisation have given, assuming that cases of COVID-19 under our pastoral care can be ignored. This is irresponsible and we must refer these to the medical authorities immediately.

Now is the time to Shepherd

Even with no internet access, it is possible to shepherd your congregation in spite of social distancing. Through this we will come out of the pandemic stronger as a body of believers. This is not the time to withdraw from the sheep but to guard the sheep against predatory wolves that could attack in the absence of the shepherd.

 

Our Youth Can Lead

Written by Dr. David Fugoyo, Vice-Chancellor of Africa Renewal University

Most of Africa’s problems are related to leadership. “Everything begins and ends with leadership.” John Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Good leadership results in a healthy Africa; bad leadership results in a miserable Africa. But in many African countries, leadership is viewed as the prerogative of older generations. Youthfulness is associated with immaturity and an inability to lead. We believe our youth cannot lead.

Africa’s largest population is the youth. According to African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), “About 41% of the people in the continent are below 15 years old while another 19% are youth between 15 and 24 years old.” These statistics show that the youth constitute the bulk of the African population. Furthermore, with the projected growth of the African population, the percentage of the youth will almost certainly increase. Wisdom, therefore, calls for the utilisation and empowerment of African youth to lead.

Culturally, youth are not leaders until they are fully grown up or mature. They are leaders in making. Their leadership opportunities lie in the future. But in this article, I will urge the involvement of the youth in leadership. I have worked among the youth for many years and witnessed many gifted youths who are mature and capable of leading.

JESUS AND LEADERSHIP

The man Jesus was a youth! Many times the religious leaders opposed Jesus because he was young. He did things expected to be done only by older people, the community’s elders. On one occasion the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things…who gave you authority to do this?” (Mark 11:28). In the context of the day, only trained religious leaders (or older people) could do the things of God. Having a young man teaching people about God was more than unacceptable. It was unimaginable. But Jesus broke this custom.

But In John 3 we learn that Nicodemus saw a different quality in Jesus and his teaching. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a religious expert. Yet he opted to visit Jesus at night. People could have criticised him; his colleagues might have disqualified him. But the story of Nicodemus and Jesus teaches us at least two lessons in relation to youth and leadership.

1. Youth Can Lead

Rabbis were teachers. They were well trained in the affairs of religion and culture. They were respected leaders in their communities. Nicodemus recognised Jesus as a rabbi (John 3:2)—a respected leader. Furthermore, he confessed that Jesus had come from God. Nicodemus confessed this not because he believed Jesus was God. Such recognition only comes later in the Gospel. Nicodemus said what he did because of what he saw Jesus say and do. He was convinced that Jesus was a leader.

2. Youth are Qualified to Lead

Young age is not tantamount to lack of ability to undertake the tasks one ought to undertake or accomplish. Jesus knew something important which Nicodemus did not know. Nicodemus had no idea what new birth meant. He asked Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old?” (John 3:4). The young Jesus explained to him what he did not know—the concept of new birth. When Jesus was young, he argued with the teachers of the law (Luke 2:41-48). Luke reports that, “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47). According to Luke, Jesus answered the teachers of the law well because he had the understanding of the law.

In the same way, Jesus taught Nicodemus things Nicodemus did not yet know. Nicodemus knew God religiously, but Jesus led him to the knowledge of God so he could have personal relationship with God.

AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE YOUTH

Believe in Yourself

Believing in oneself generates energy for greater achievements. The youth need to believe that they are able to lead. They need to study profiles of other youth who have led successfully. Paul encourages Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers” (1 Timothy 4:12). Youth doesn’t disqualify, just as age doesn’t automatically make one learned and capable. Rather, the measure of a leaderis character and maturity. “Set an example.”

If the youth continue to think they cannot lead, they will not lead at all. The youth should refuse to accept the axiom that they are unable to lead because of their age. God does not look down on the youth. This should encourage the youth to believe in themselves.

Engage in Leadership

But merely believing in oneself is not enough. Action is required. Paul trained Timothy and provided leadership opportunities in the church. Timothy was a youth. Yet he was a leader in his church, in the challengingly cosmopolitan city of Ephesus. Therefore, youth should seek and get involved in leadership. We might go as far as saying: there is no leadership position that the youth cannot hold. So let the youth persist in leading. With time, the society will accept the leadership of the youth.

HOW TO SUPPORT YOUTH IN LEADERSHIP

Offer Encouragement

Youth need encouragement from their respective communities. Youth are yearning for words of affirmation. They need to hear that they are able to do great things for the betterment of Africa. Words of encouragement can cause the youth to do what they have not imagined they might. The story is told of a young African man who met a snake on the road to his home. But he fled in fear from the snake. When the neighbours saw him run, they shouted: “You can kill that snake. You are strong.” Hearing this, the young man grabbed the snake by its neck and tore it into pieces. That’s the power of encouragement.

Train and Trust the Youth

Leadership requires training. Youth need training in all its forms. They need education, they need mentoring and coaching. The communities in Africa must prioritise the training of the youth in leadership. This could be through sessions, community discussion, school curricula, etc. African communities need to trust the youth more. There should be no fear that youth will misuse leadership or mislead the people. Africa ought to trust her youth and entrust them with more of the responsibilities tied to leadership.

OUR YOUTH CAN LEAD

There are arguably more distractions today than ever before. Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp allow teens – as well as everyone else – to waste hours weekly. But the youth have an active role to play. So let us not affirm the growing habits of mindless media consumption. We need leaders. And we cannot wait for 15 years for the youth to meet our respective cultures’ age requirements for leadership. Checking ourselves we must also exhort the youth, whom God does not disqualify because of their age. We must, therefore, encourage the youth to have forums to discuss leadership related issues. I strongly recommend that the communities in Africa encourage and give leadership opportunities to the youth. The youth need mentors, they need education, they need support on top of knowing God their Creator.