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 here in The Living Church. The Church of Nigeria continues to explode, as do the Churches in Uganda and Tanzania. But the Church of South Africa 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, Abp Orombi, and Abp 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. Yes, the Episcopal Church has shrunk to a shell of its former self. But the same questions permeated the last national elections in the United States, with particular emphas on Evangelicals and 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 see that actually, 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.
Turn 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 same in Uganda and Egypt.
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 it takes on "Pentecostal" characteristics reflecting the soil of Africa, the rhythms of Africa, the life of faith in Africa
The Church in the West has a choice to make--stay stuck in a funk, 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. If we allow ourselves to see what is happening and to ask God what is he 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 and millions of ordinary believers, then our God becomes a much bigger God too.
So how big is your God, really?