How Big is Your God, Really?
When J.B. Phillips wrote his book, Your God is too Small, the follow-up question was, "How big is your God?" I am still asking that question in my own life.
In January, the former Archbishop and Primate of the Church of Uganda died and was celebrated. His funeral was not only a national event, it was an international marker of the amazing changes in Africa, especially within the Anglican churches of Africa. The Rev. Dr. David Goodhew has outlined some of the facts in his article The Living Church-Covenant. The Church of Nigeria continues to explode, as do the Churches in Uganda and Tanzania. The Church of South Africa however is not keeping up with population growth. The Churches in Burundi and the Sudan struggle with violence, and yet grow. The Church in Egypt and Ethiopia is seeing exciting new developments. All of this was marked at the funeral of Archbishop Nkoyoyo, as he was honored not by one but two successors, Archbishops Orombi and Ntagali. On that occasion, the Church celebrated their history, their legacy, their future, and their passion.
So how big is your God, really? Many in the West bemoan the failures of the Church, express dismay at the weakness of the Church, and wonder “Where has the power of the Church gone?” I am not speaking specifically of any particular Church tradition in the United States. The same questions permeated the last national elections in the United States: they were reflected in the polls under the category of Evangelicals, or more specifically, White Evangelicals.
The underlying angst is that somehow maybe the Church has lost its favor, its mojo, and its impact on America. Dig further and you will see that even in good, solid, exciting congregations, there are far too many believers who wonder if God is losing his influence in our society--especially among our young people.
Now turn back to Africa and let me suggest a whole different way of looking at the world. When Nigeria gained its independence from the British, many people assumed that the colonial Church left behind would be swallowed up by Islam. Just the opposite--the Church has grown, become rooted in African culture, and has reached out to their Muslim neighbors with the hope of Jesus Christ--confidently and boldly. The Anglican Church of Nigeria is now the largest province in all of Anglicanism.
Likewise, the Church of Uganda has stood tall. It did not retreat but has grown in ministry, service and influence. The Church in Egypt has not only endured the Arab Spring, but has reached out boldly in the Horn of Africa. There is a “can do” attitude rooted in the hope of the Gospel. Rather than a dying Church, we see pictures of a rejoicing, infectious, vibrant Church. For some Westerners, it may be a little too much joy and celebration as worship takes on "Pentecostal" characteristics in tune with the soil of Africa, the rhythms of Africa, and the life of faith in Africa.
The Church in the West has a choice to make--stay stuck in a funk worried about the future of the Church, or discover that our God is a whole lot bigger than we have given him credit for.
It remains my conviction that missions is as much medicine for the sending Church as it is Gospel hope for the receiving community of people. When we go in order to help the needy, we run the risk of receiving God's medicine for our own sin-sick souls. When we go to help them, we discover how much they can help deepen our faith. When we allow ourselves to see and ask God what he is doing in Africa (and many other places, too), then our vision, faith, and hope will be transformed.
The three Archbishops are examples of men, godly men in leadership, who appreciate the Church in the West, but are committed to taking the Word of God in the Spirit of God and empowering the People of God, who happen to be Ugandans, to reach the peoples of their nation and beyond. They have a Big God, a Mighty God, and they live accordingly. When we are ready to see what God is doing through men like these Archbishops and the millions of ordinary believers in their charge, then our God becomes a much bigger God too.
So how big is your God, really?
Charles B. Barnabas invests most of his time teaching, training and coaching those serving among unreached peoples in Asia. More broadly, he seeks to network, mobilize, and encourage the Church at large to engage God’s missionary heart for the whole world. A version of this article originally appeared on the blog at Engaging the Adventure. He can be reached here.