Spring 2016

Bivo on the African Continent

Ministry challenge but tremendous potential

by Pastor Nubako Selenga

In the majority of African nations, missionary work was established in rural and remote communities. Pastoral training, therefore, prepared African church leaders to work in those same rural, mostly monocultural contexts. As rural-to-urban migration has grown, it’s become necessary to plant more churches in the urban centers.*

In rural communities, church workers might have sufficient supplementary income from a garden or through relatives who are willing to share their crops. In the urban context, however, no gardens exist and family support is fragmented. Nearly 70 percent of those who pastor must be bivocational. If the pastor’s wife has a sufficient level of education, she might be able to work or start a small business to supplement their income.

Church workers who once served in rural economies with subsistence-level pay are finding it difficult to adapt when they move into an urban economy, with its higher expenses for electricity, water, health care and more. Every month in these congregations, it’s common to set aside one Sunday when church members give practical gifts—such as sugar, milk, soap, fish and clothing—for the pastor’s family. This means of assistance is now seen in many different churches in Kinshasa.

Across Africa, we’ve seen bivocational work take one of two routes in that challenging urban environment: active engagement or passive income.

Active engagement is where a church leader holds a full-time salaried job and then volunteers his time for church work. Passive income is where a church leader owns a business that is managed by another competent person, with the church leader providing either capital or governance.

Bivocational church planting is growing in Africa’s cities, but the church needs to find creative ways to fund all pastors adequately.

The best example I’ve seen of active-engagement bivocational ministry in the city is that of the Redeemed Christian Church of God of Nigeria. Under their deliberate bivocational strategy, church leaders send out professionals in teams of 10 families to plant new churches. These professionals work and earn a living in the new community and share pastoral responsibilities—so that no one of them shoulders the full burden of running the church, nor does the young church bear the burden of paying for quality leadership. Engaging with the community through business or the provision of services gives these church planters credibility and relevance.

The best example of passive-income bivocational ministry is that of the Methodist Guest House and Conference Centre in Nairobi. A business manager is given autonomy to run the guest house, while the local church and pastors participate as shareholders, with income from the business funding their ministry. This can work with other mission agencies and other types of business. Pastors can remain undistracted in their ministry while competent managers employ their unique giftings and substantial investment of time. The dangers of this approach, of course, are that a church could strangle the business by starving it of capital needed to grow or by assuming an unnecessary control of the management.

Bivocational church planting is growing in Africa’s cities, and that’s a good thing. But the church needs to find creative ways to adapt so that all bivocational pastors can be resourced adequately and in healthy ways. These bivocational models hold tremendous potential to advance the Kingdom of God in a context where many ministry challenges are tied to poverty, African worldview and growing opposition to the gospel.

*EFCA ReachGlobal/ReachAfrica is active in more than 23 countries on the continent. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the author lives, 85 percent of Evangelical Free Churches still exist in rural settings.

Pastor Nubako Selenga has served as director of ReachAfrica since 2007 and lives in Kinshasa, DRC.