Being ECWA Today: ECWA Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ in an Age of Challenge

by Emmanuel Datiyong Akanet | Reclaiming ECWA Believers’ Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ: A Problem of Christian Identity
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I had the privilege of participating in the Lord’s ministry in Nigeria for twenty-eight years before I came to Asbury Theological Seminary in the fall of 2004, and I realize that the Lord enables me to serve better in the areas of teaching, preaching, and writing Christian literature. I served as a teacher and principal in one of my denomination’s Bible schools as well as pastoring several churches at various locations and times.

A mission body known as the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) founded the denomination to which I belong: the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) back then but now known as the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Nigeria. My previous observations and experiences as well as the history of the church shows that early congregations started on a solid foundation, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, with a desire to grow towards maturity in Christ. At the beginning believers were known for what they profess to be believers in Christ otherwise called “Christians.” They were not afraid to share their faith with others in obedience to the Lord’s command to preach the gospel to all nations of the world (Matt. 28: 18-20). They were continuously striving and engaging in Bible studies, evangelistic activities, and constant fellowship in community settings. They collaborated with the missionaries in building and sustaining the body of Christ.

Nevertheless, the time came when missionaries handed over the church leadership to nationals who followed the examples set forth by the founding fathers. The work continued well. Leaders gave their time and resources in selfless service in the Lord’s vineyard, and the congregations trusted them and their leadership. Fifty years after the handover to the nationals, several problems seem to have crept into the life of the church. The spiritual state of believers appears to be declining, and some of the leaders seem to be deviating from the mission of the church which is to glorify God in life and service. Sensing the problem is what prompted me to be devoted in preaching, teaching, and writing.

This report includes a brief history of Nigeria and the church, biblical and theological foundations for the research, a literature review on leaders, leadership tasks, leadership approaches, the qualities, competencies as well as the spirituality required of a leader. The ministry intervention aimed at helping ECWA believers reclaim their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. Assessments confirmed the existence of spiritual decline among ECWA believers and the need for leaders with spiritual vision and direction to lead the church in reclaiming ECWA believers’ identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. The ministry intervention of this research was designed with a need for spiritual and visionary leaders to provide learning environments that would facilitate a learning process in helping ECWA believers reclaim their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. This need, which has been a burden upon my wife and I, led us into starting a Servant Leadership Ministry to the disable persons, widows/widowers, orphans, senior citizens, and the poor in Madakiya community in which we were brought up and to which we belong.

Ministry Intervention
The distinctly Christian response to any need is a ministry response (i.e., a servant response). Jesus conceived of his own ministry as a response to specific human need. He articulated this construal of his ministry in his explanation of his unconventional behavior of “eating with tax collectors and sinners” (Mark 2:13-17). He responded to questions about this behavior in terms of the link between human need (the “sick” and their need of a “physician“) and his own purpose (why he “came” [Mark 2:17]). Similarly, in his programmatic statement summarizing his whole ministry, he claimed he had come “not to be served but to serve” and to “give [his] life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Therefore, a most fitting response to the perceived need in ECWA is along the lines of the following design, judging from the research.

Encouragement from Greater Africa and a Testimony
The need for trans-formative leaders seems to be of great concern among many ecclesiastical leaders in many African countries. Other Africans are leading awakenings like that proposed in this study. Two ministry initiatives that are taking place in Africa today encourage one to think that a ministry intervention of the sort here proposed has, by God’s grace, a reasonable likelihood of success.

Calembo’s International Leadership Institute of Southern Africa (ILISA)
A premier example of these African ministries is the International Leadership Institute of Southern Africa founded and led by Alfred Calembo. His ministry aims at recruiting and training potential leaders who would also train others in their localities. The ministry appears to be flourishing, apparently meeting well the needs of adult learners and meeting perceived leadership needs. Calembo demonstrates the servant leadership attitude needed to be able to influence leaders in a community. His ministry is administered at the national and international levels. Its main aim is influencing the direction of his denomination by shaping leaders who would go and shape others, too.

The core values of Calembo’s ministry emphasize the importance of visionary leadership, relevant evangelism, stewardship, and leadership multiplication processes that seek and train men and women who, in turn become leaders of leaders who will effectively train others. According to Calembo, the curriculum emphasizes the importance of character and integrity because credible leaders exert greater influence on their followers. His ministry focus is based on:

  • Training and mobilizing leaders of leaders,
  • Evangelization and Church planting,
  • Ministering to HIV/AIDS, widows/orphans and vulnerable children,
  • Community health,
  • Education, and
  • Economic empowerment and emergency food relief

Producing leaders with a vision such as Calembo’s who will lead transformational learning programs like his is the goal of this proposed ministry intervention. Calembo exemplifies the fruit anticipated when ECWA believers find their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another.

Akanet’s Servant Leadership Ministry
My own experience encourages me to think that new awareness of ECWA’s identity in Christ, of belonging to Christ and to one another, can take hold across the denomination from national to local grassroots levels to energize and shape local ministries and Christian witness. Based on my understanding of the gospel, which offers full liberation from the ravages of sin and the call to Christian leadership as a call to serve, my wife and I started a “servant leadership ministry” in the community in which we were raised. This ministry extends God’s grace and love to the disabled, the sick, the less privileged, and to HFV/AIDS victims and other needy persons within the range of our influence. The ministry focuses on the following:

  • To support and encourage young widows struggling with young children ages 1-15;
  • To support and encourage disabled persons and the disadvantaged to be self-supportive and self-reliance;
  • To support and encourage young persons in leadership positions to strive towards excellence, able to balance their lives between family and ministry demands;
  • To encourage and support senior citizens who have no relatives to support and care for them.
  • To help and support the sick who have much difficulty or no means of getting medical care; and,
  • To provide economic empowerment and emergency food relief to the diverse groups as described above.

The ministry is microcosm, done in a neighborhood environment that could be done at regional and national levels. However, the success and positive response to our limited efforts has encouraged me to think similar ministries could be creatively replicated in many local ECWA congregations. The spirit and direction of the holistic ministry could also set the tone and direction for national and regional leadership and would be a harbinger of spiritual renewal in ECWA.

Connect with Emmanuel Datiyong Akanet @datiyongx