Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Catering for men in Africa

Bob Roberts recently asked a question on his blog: What does a masculine church look like? He was asking this question because it seems that churches are not really focussed on men, and, as he correctly says: “Just having men in leadership roles doesn’t guarantee that at all.”
Up to now there has been 14 comments on this post (two from myself). In my first response I wrote: “This is arguably our biggest need in Swaziland (as probably in most of Africa) – if we can really reach the men and present Christ as an answer to them, I believe that Africa will change. But most churches have 90% (or more) women and children and church is seen as a feminine thing – for those who are not strong enough to care for themselves.”
In the rest of the comments nothing was said about this problem in Africa. If Africa is seen (as many do believe) as the place where the new revival is going to start and from where the world will be reached, then this problem will have to be acknowledged and addressed. After some further comments on the topic, I wrote the following: “The last three responses may be true in a Western culture but is not necessarily true in an African culture where, to be a Christian, has definite implication for one’s beliefs in cultural practices. We’re not speaking about church attendance only. We’re also speaking about a new life in Christ which means having to break with certain things of the past – and for most men the price seems to be too high to pay.”
Once again: No response.
In the Western world people are struggling to find ways to make church more attractive for men through the way of worship, the type of messages brought to them, the people (eg sports heroes) used in the church. In Africa the problem is hugely different. How do you convince men that they will be better off if they leave their old life and start a new life in obedience to Christ?
As far as I know this is a universal problem all over Africa. Where men come to true repentance, the family often follows them. But if men are not willing to dedicate their lives fully to God, the church in Africa will remain something for women and children.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008 - Posted by | Africa, Bob Roberts, Church, Culture, Mission, Swaziland, Theology, Women


  1. During a recent conference of pastors and church leaders, an African pastor from the Xhosa tribe mentioned that tribal initiation practices stood in the way of most African men not willing to become members of a church. The result was a very heated argument. He claimed that some aspects of the initiation would be demonic and the other Africans present claimed that he in selling out his cultural heritage. In private conversation he mentioned that he did not go to initiation school because of his personal belief and that subsequently he is seen as a boy and not as a grown adult by his tribe.
    I do not have any personal knowledge that would enable me to evaluate his remarks, but the question remains: could he be right?

    Comment by Pieter Steyn | Thursday, April 10, 2008 | Reply

  2. I’m not all that familiar with the Xhosa social customs (although they are also part of the Nguni tribe, the same as the Swazi people), but I would suspect that the man was correct in what he said. Someone once said to me that Western people have two things counting against them in their relationship with God: Racism and materialism. People from Africa struggle mainly with cultural traditions which keep them from having a living relationship with God. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, April 10, 2008 | Reply

  3. Actually while you might have made this obvious and clearly stated (t)here, this is the same problem the North American church faces. This self-reliance and unwillingness to embrace the transformational power of Christ is holding back the development of the church in all aspects. Simply grafting on sports celebrities or comic-book superheroes to the prevailing model is not the solution at all. Lots of men can see right through the shallowness of that.

    If you’d omitted that your perspective was African, and thus ‘foreign’, your comments probably would have gained more traction. (North) Americans have a hard time seeing foreign as relevant, which is silly and detrimental, but unfortunately true.

    Comment by brad | Friday, April 11, 2008 | Reply

  4. I’ve just been on the Glocalnet blog again and because I had “pinged back” to it in my original post, my full post was shown on Bob’s blog and he responded in the following way:

    Arnau – I agree with you – the problem with many here is that they see these issues as nuances of our “era” instead of potential global responses. It’s time for the church in the West to wake up – for good and bad – the church globally is about to define us – if not already.

    If I understand both you and Bob Roberts correctly, then you both agree with each other and you both agree with me as well! Thanks for that.

    You have to keep in mind that I am sitting in the middle – coming from a Western background and having my roots in the Dutch Reformed Church (which, for all practical purposes is still a Whites Only church in post-Apartheid South Africa) and then being a member myself of the Swaziland Reformed Church (of which my family members are the only White members!) In any case, the predominant feeling amongst the White Christians in South Africa is still that they have no need for non-White Christians. So we are all struggling with the same problem.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Friday, April 11, 2008 | Reply

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