In our theological training in Kenya, we try to cover evangelism in our curriculum, but we do not offer a course about evangelism as such. Rather, it is implied in various segments of different courses, especially in Christian education.
The reason for the lack of training goes back to the 1920’s and the East Africa revival. At that time, it was important not only to go to church but also to be able to testify about Christ and what Christ had done to you. It was also important to be able challenge someone else to accept the same Christ. As a result of this history, there is an assumption in the Kenyan church that you do not need formal training in order to evangelize. To evangelize is to tell people about Christ, a Christ whom you have experienced. So a priest should know that already. If you have received salvation, then you are able to talk about it. Conversely, if you need training, then maybe you do not really have faith!
This approach has its weaknesses, of course. I want to say that evangelism is a process. If someone comes to Christ instantly, praise the Lord, but if it takes a year, praise the Lord. People are not ready to say things like, “For ten years the Lord was working in me before I came to faith.” Ten years is too long: the Lord should work more quickly than that! Too often our students want to plant now, to grow now and to harvest now. To me, that is taking the place of the Lord! Tell people the message, certainly, but let the Lord work. Thus training should discuss what salvation is. What are the biblical models of salvation?
There is only one basic model for evangelism in Kenya, and that is the crusade model. Yet crusade evangelism is a time bomb. It has already become a joke. But it is so hard for our students to accept that. I tell them, Yes, that is one method, but can you also take the Jesus way, that one is as important as a hundred? How do you tell the students, what you are going to be doing in the parish is also a model of evangelism, you are also having an impact on people. We should be saying to our pastors that this model of daily, undramatic faithfulness is also biblical, and this model also has results.
The whole idea of a one-to-one discussion about faith-that is so difficult for them to take. When I tell the students not to “harass people for Christ”, I say why don’t we sit over a cup of tea and discuss some issues of faith? Maybe that is where we need to be training our evangelists.
I think we also need to provide more training for the laity rather than rely on these three years of ministerial training, because often the laity actually run the churches. So it is they who need the training. My question is how lay people can be empowered, how the evangelists can be equipped. In some Anglican circles, people have got into Theological Education by Extension (TEE) which works well when you have a class going and when you have people who can read. So that is part of the answer.
But there are lay evangelists who are not content to be lay evangelists. For them, ministry is a kind of back door to ordination. The Anglican hierarchy is still problematic. We still suffer from notions of who is really important: the lay woman is right at the bottom, then the lay man, then the evangelist, the deacon and the priest, and then the bishop above everybody. Biblical patriarchy, Western patriarchy and African patriarchy have formed a very solid rock! Even among those who are ordained, men and women are regarded differently. What defines them is not the training they have had, whether as priest or deacon or evangelist-it’s their gender. So there are systemic problems as well.