Out of Africa—Shared Church

What can we learn about practicing shared church from our brothers and sisters in Africa?

Click on arrow for video interview with Dotun Reju, the founding pastor of Kingdom Citizens Pavilion in Jos, Nigeria.

In The Next Christendom, Philip Jenkins said the center of gravity in Christendom has shifted away from the Western church to places like Asia, South America, and Africa. Some churches there are learning to “do church” in participatory ways. I recently interviewed Dotun Reju online in a Zoom conversation. He is the founding pastor of the Kingdom Citizens Pavilion in Jos, Nigeria. This blog is based on our conversation. (Click here to see and hear a YouTube video of that interview.)

Q: Kingdom Citizens Pavilion is an unusual name for a church. Please explain.

In Matthew 5, I discovered the centrality of the Kingdom in the gospel Jesus preached. I realized it’s just like being a citizen of a country. Being African, I know what a kingdom is. We’ve lived under a monarchy. A citizen of a kingdom reflects the values, the personality, and the principles of the king who rules that kingdom. I concluded that Jesus Christ came to raise up a community of citizens for his Kingdom. Believers are to operate like citizens of the Kingdom where Jesus is King. And then I read Psalm 31:20—“In the time of trouble, he will hide me in his pavilion from the strife of tongues.” So that’s the Pavilion part of the name. This is a Pavilion for Citizens of the Kingdom.

Q: How does a church that practices the priesthood of all believers differ from so many churches?

Titles are downplayed—titles like Pastor, Reverend, Prophet. You never a see a situation where it is the pastor who prays for the people; people pray together. In most churches there is a very clear demarcation between the leader and the led. But in a church that believes in the priesthood of all believers, the key is function, not titles.

Q: You have accountability groups. What do those involve? How are they formed?

Because priests basically represent God in their society, we ask ourselves, “How do we go into our society? How do we go into the world? We need to go with something.” And we discovered that it’s our professions, our careers. We gather people of like professions and passions for mutual accountability and mutual benefit. What are you going through in your own place of work? What challenges, what opportunities exist there? How can the person who works in Organization A or B learn from one in Organization C?

We have four categories of accountability groups: health, education, the arts, and business. Each group comes up with community projects. For example, the education accountability group is close to a slum with a high level of illiteracy. So they have begun a reading clinic. Their long-term plan is to build a library there. They bring their skills as educators to teach people how to read and write, even without formal schooling. Right now the business group is trying to set up a pilot farm, where they can train small-scale farmers. The purpose is not to bring them to our church. The purpose is to take the church to them. But we’ve seen a lot of them come to the saving knowledge of Christ.

Q: You also have community pastors. How are they related to the accountability groups? And how are they chosen?

The leaders of the accountability groups are the community pastors. Each group functions like a micro-church. Leaders emerge from the groups. The groups identify those who are going to lead them.

Events like naming children and baptisms are done in those groups. If you want to get married, the first person who will know is the community pastor. Your accountability group leader/pastor provides pastoral care. This person needs to have the skill set, the emotional bent, to be able to function in that role. If that group wants to have a Bible study, their pastor will not necessarily lead it. It will be led by someone in the group with the skill to moderate a Bible study. So leadership is highly adaptive. The community pastor coordinates.

Q: So the community pastor in an education group would be an educator, right?

Yes. The way you disciple an educator should be distinctly different from the way you disciple a doctor. We disciple by taking the mission field into consideration. We’ve seen that most times other churches disciple people to function within the church—to become good ushers, good choir members, good Bible study attendees. We disciple for that, but also for where they spend most of their waking moments. We take their places of work into consideration when we disciple them.

Q. How often do these community accountability groups come together?

On the level of the leadership, they are expected to meet once a month. But on their own level, they have other meetings. They have potlucks, when they meet to just have fun, eat together, or celebrate someone’s birthday. So they have one meeting a month on the whole-church calendar. But they are also expected to have other meetings. Maybe once a quarter, the leaders of all these accountability groups also meet with me for orientation, for feedback, and for training. The first Sunday of every month is the whole-church family Sunday. We have stories from the accountability group fellowships. This week we will be hearing from the education accountability group, from the health group, and some praise reports from families. This community gathering is very life-giving. It makes the church come alive. Everyone sees that what you learn you will be held responsible and accountable for. And when you teach, you will receive feedback. Is what you are teaching actually getting across?

Q: So the whole church can see what God is doing right now in their community—not just what he did 2,000 years ago, right?

Yes, what he is doing right now. Absolutely!

Q: Tell us about how you commission people and how they take this to heart on the job.

Yes, maybe you’ve finished your education and graduated, completed vocational training, or gone through the post-university, mandatory, national service. These people go through an orientation, which is basically my teaching them the theology of work. We show them that the next phase of their life is a call to ministry. In commissioning them, we say, “This is not different from what many churches know as ordination.” There is no title, and they are not necessarily being sent to go and serve in a local church. Our philosophy: we don’t go to church; church goes to places.

So we have this special Sunday service where these people are presented to the whole congregation and prayed for. They are commissioned and deployed to where we believe God is sending them. They are meant to understand that where they are going to is not just about “getting a job,” but that they are actually going into ministry. We call them the “Invaders’ Squad,” because we believe they are going to invade their worlds with the gospel—primarily with lifestyle and work quality.

Q: Who serves on your teaching team? How many are on that team? And what are their qualifications?

We think not in terms of qualifications but in terms of skills. Everyone in the church can express themselves in all ways. But for now, the teaching team consists of myself and three others who have valuable teaching gifts. As leaders, we observe. What is this person’s strength? So the teaching team is highly flexible. We always want to raise up fresh minds who will be brought into the teaching and pastoral roles. We define the five-fold ministry offices [of Ephesians 4:11] and ask people to do a self-appraisal. We also watch to see if this or that person has a particular gifting in one of those areas. It is something people grow into.

Q: How has the congregation responded to the reports from the accountability groups?

Everyone looks forward to this Sunday, because they are not going to be bored with my long preaching! It gives everyone a sense of belonging. People might have some issues in their own lives, and to hear others talk about something they are going through is very encouraging. We have demystified Sunday. The gospel we received from the West—the way it was given to us—was very Sunday-oriented. We still value Sunday, but we see it as an opportunity to come and connect.

We have also demystified church weddings. If you get married in your living room, it’s not inferior to getting married in the church building. So we have been able to demystify the building, to demystify Sunday, and to use every opportunity to engage our culture. God doesn’t live in this building. It’s only church when we are here. And everywhere we are, that becomes the church. Take the example of the American President. Any kind of aircraft he enters becomes Air Force One. What makes the aircraft Air Force One is the presence of the American President.

Q: You have visited the U.S. many times. How would you suggest that in our U. S. culture we can adopt some of the things you’ve discovered?

What I’ve seen in the American experience is individualism taken to a very negative extent. Community is not valued. Lack of accountability to each other is not the way it should be. Because of that, the church in America is fast losing their society. And what can solve that problem is to begin to emphasize where Christians spend most of their waking moments. We need to value where we really live—which is in the workplace. We need to know how to really engage that place. It’s not a Sunday-Sunday kind of thing. That’s one thing America can learn. You can learn from Africans in terms of community, how we really come together, how we value community, and how we demystify Sundays.

Shared-Church Insights from Online Classrooms

Networked Learning.jpg

Teaching, so they say, is the best way to learn. They are right. Over the past four years, I have learned much from teaching online for the Bakke Graduate University. For example, leading these classes has expanded my understanding of shared church. In what follows, I’ll explain how.

My courses cover the “theology of work,” focusing on what God’s Word says about our everyday work. Because nearly all the students are Christ-followers, each class is full of those to whom the Holy Spirit has given various gifts. So, class members have received resources God gave them for the benefit of others.

Creating a Learning Environment

Because I earned a graduate degree in the theology of work, I bring to each class a wider grasp of the subject than almost all who enroll. But my background does not mean I am the only one with something useful to say about how God views our work. Instead, my challenge is to create a learning environment. This means putting together an agenda made up of a series of experiences that will change how the students think, believe, act, and pass along to others what they have learned.

Woven into those experiences are resources I have written. For example, I ask them to read my articles, “How to Weave Theology of Work into Church Life” and “Regaining a Biblical Worldview.” They also view and listen to my narrated PowerPoint presentation, “Stewardship.” Assigned reading also includes a variety of books by many others—for some of which they must write book reviews. Learning requires instruction by gifted, knowledgeable, and authorized teachers.

Yet another critical element in this carefully shaped discovery environment is what they learn from each other. An instructor who knows a subject well can easily lose a sense of what those still trying to comprehend it for the first time are going through. Fellow students, those also struggling to grow in their understanding, are often in the best positions to say it in ways others in the class can “get it.”

Interaction: the Benefits

To help that kind of learning take place, I have devised assignments that ask students to interact with each other. For instance, in one lesson I task them with reading a case study, answering three questions about it in writing, and posting their paragraphs in the online classroom for other students to read. But there’s more. Before the end of the week, each student must respond in writing to what at least two other students have posted on the case study. This interrelating results in several benefits as students:

  • Encourage and affirm each other. Supportive statements like these are often posted: “I concur with your comment here.” Or, “You have well articulated the idea that ‘all work matters to God as God matters to all our work.’” And, “I am compelled to borrow your idea of ‘working as a family.’”
  • State truth in words that help fellow students understand. One student had posted a comment about “Church members who have been taught to glorify their leaders. . ..” To which another responded, “That is an interesting perspective I hadn't thought about before, about those who idolize the leader.”
  • Raise questions about unclear points. One student had written, “all positively positioned work (i.e. not illegal or immoral) is sacred work as it aids in the establishment and flourishing of human communities on God’s planet Earth.” In her response, a fellow student wrote: “I am seeking clarification on two things when you spoke of work that is not illegal.” This resulted in a fruitful dialogue that benefited not only these two but the rest of the class as well.
  • Tactfully disagree and offer a contrasting viewpoint. For example, one student had written that, “We have to become vigilantes on the war on adverse waste disposal.” When another objected about that language as too strong, the first writer responded, “In retrospect the word 'vigilante' may be too harsh and inappropriate. I would like for us to be in 'advocates of change' instead.”

Making Disciples in Shared Church

How does all this relate to shared church? When Jesus told his first disciples to “make disciples” (Matt. 28:19), the word he used could be translated, “enroll people as learners.” Making learner-disciples should be a vital part of gathering as a church. My experience with online classes has demonstrated that learning takes not only through one-way communication from a teacher but also requires interaction among the learners themselves.

 Shared church, like an online classroom, must include instruction by qualified pastors and teachers. But enrolling learners also calls for structuring a church-meeting learning environment in which they may interact with and teach each other. Even though he had not yet met them, Paul was convinced that the believers in Rome were “competent to instruct one another” (Rom. 15:14). And he urged believers in Corinth to meet in a shared-church format in which everyone had opportunity to participate (I Cor. 14:26).

 Churches are not just preaching stations where one or two exercise their teaching gifts. Rightly structured, the congregational meeting itself offers opportunities for disciples to learn how to articulate their growing faith in front of each other.