Church division is a challenge among Evangelicals in Ethiopia in general and Ethiopian churches in the States in particular. There are three main reasons for church splits in Ethiopian churches, theological differences, lack of critical self-reflection, and competitive leadership. One theological difference is in how Christians participate in their communities’ socio-cultural and political life. It seem that Christians who come from Lutheran and Presbyterian background tend to view their faith as something which must be expressed in Christian service and witness, whereas those who come from homegrown Pentecostal and Charismatic backgrounds primarily focus on personal renewal and conversion of others. Doctrinal differences also continue to be a matter division among immigrant Ethiopian churches. As each group pursues their unique form of evangelical Christianity they fail to effectively engage with others in their community.
In Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective by Donald M Lewis and Richard V Pierard, I was fascinated by how the early reformers evolved in their theological reflection on Christian faith and practice. The early reformers sought to engage faith with their daily lives. As Arndt asked, “if faith did not engage daily life, what use was it? If practical wisdom was not enriched by reflection, it inevitably became rigid and sterile” (p.39). I think the question of faith engaging daily life is what must be asked by today’s evangelicals. Lack of critical reflection on how to engage Christian faith and practice is a fundamental challenge among evangelicals in my community. In my church, when they talk about evangelism, it is as simple as going to the public and sharing the gospel with whoever they meet randomly; or passing leaflets to others. Our church leaders learn to satisfy believers desire for missions by the number of mission events they host every year or by the amount of dollars they give for mission work. There is a great deal of emphasis on experience over knowledge or feeling over thinking. In addition, most church leaders are not that interested in theological knowledge or historical studies. This inhibits them from taking the time to think through their mission strategies and develop appropriate approaches for their missional context. Their bigger concerns which consume their time and energy are the institutional sides of church growth. In the ever-changing missional landscape, leaders ought to reevaluate their strategies. However, the lack of deep reflection in how to equip Christian faith in their daily life leads to an inevitable division.
As a result of the lack of self-reflection, similar to white missionaries of the mid 18th century in Liberia that were opposed giving up leadership to indigenous leaders but “lacked in competition and did not pursue evangelization of the interior,” many Ethiopian churches face the same challenge (p.133). We have seen competition among missional leaders of today who are controlling. It is sad that, similar to most African political leaders who never want to leave their office until they die, some pastors and denomination leaders are dividing the body of Christ simply to secure their own status. When missional leaders lose mission vision they becoming controlling and territorial, and their primary concern is for their own survival not for kingdom work. I am convinced that there is a greater need to rethink how to respond to the growing mission field in our context. We need “a functional evangelical strategy”, in Ogbu Kalu’s words, suitable to reach out to others in our community (p.133). This begins by our leaders creating room for other leaders in their circle and equipping the body of Christ to live out their Christian faith in their everyday life.