As I travel around the world, I see clear evidence that the epicenter of Christianity has been – and still – is rapidly shifting. There has been explosive growth in the Christian faith in what is termed the Global South: Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This growth is now beginning to dwarf the bloc of Christians in Europe and North America. Philip Jenkins, in The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, points out that if we extrapolate the data to the year 2025 – which is not too far away – the predominance of Christianity will continue to grow in the Global South.
What implications does this trend have for the future of the Christian schooling movement in North America? First, I would argue that we need to embrace the message of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. In this prayer, given in the Upper Room at the time of the Last Supper, Jesus prayed for those who “will believe in me”—that’s us!—“that all of them may be one”.… Then the world will know that you sent me (17:20–23). Jesus prayed for unity among us today and He declared that this unity will then be the witness to the world that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. This is an exceptionally powerful reminder that we are stronger together and unity is a powerful testimony to a hurting world that Jesus was sent to redeem us.
My parents served as missionaries in East Africa, where they brought literacy, health care, and the gospel message to a remote group of island tribes in Lake Victoria. When they went in the late 1950s, there were no believers. After they had retired, they returned for a visit to the island where I grew up. There were 2,000 believers waiting to greet them! Several generations later, there are now mature churches in this part of the world, and young believers are starting indigenous Christian schools to shape future generations. There is a global tsunami taking place in Christian education; Christian schools are rising up as young families seek to disciple their children five days a week in order to transform their nations. This is all taking place in our lifetime!
The message of unity resonates with those in the Global South. Their heart cry is to be fully embraced as members of the global Christian family, and they are looking to the West for wisdom and guidance. Dr. Samson Makhado, ACSI’s Director for Africa, uses the metaphor of two trees when describing the global movement of Christian education. The emerging Christian schooling movement in the Global South is like a tree that is young and vibrant, with leaves that are green and growing, but that have shallow roots. The Christian schooling movement in the West (particularly North America) is like a tree that has deep roots, but the leaves are beginning to brown. Dr. Makhado says that the Global South needs the deep roots of wisdom and experience from the West, and the West needs the vibrancy, joy, and passion of the green leaves from the Global South. We need each other! This is the message of unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17.
A second implication of this global tsunami for the future of the North American Christian schooling movement is that it behooves us to put on the mantle of humility and seek to understand our younger global colleagues in order to authentically embrace and demonstrate unity. Communities in which unity is modeled are characterized by hospitality. We offer hospitality when we welcome another person into a place that is important to us, a place that feels safe and comfortable. In that place the person experiences acceptance, friendship, and respect. Hospitality is based on the biblical concept of shalom; it goes much deeper than just having somebody over for dinner. Hospitality is a vibrant practice that taps into deep human longings to belong, to find a place to share one’s gifts, and to be valued. The practice of hospitality reflects a willingness on the part of a community to be open to others and to their insights, needs, and contributions. Members of hospitable communities recognize that they are incomplete without other people and also that they have a treasure to share with them. Hospitality is at the heart of the Christian life, drawing from God’s grace and reflecting God’s graciousness. In showing hospitality, we respond to the welcome God has offered to us and replicate that welcome in the world.
With humility and a spirit of hospitality, the North American Christian schooling movement should embrace the message shared by Joel Carpenter, another scholar who researches and writes on global trends in Christianity. He points out that what happens in Africa, Asia, and Latin America will have a growing influence on what Christianity becomes; conversely, what happens in Europe and in North America will matter less. The most compelling public leaders and thinkers for the Christian church are beginning to come from the Global South. If you ask who was the leading Christian public theologian or intellectual 50 years ago, people might say Karl Barth, a Swiss theologian. Today it is Desmond Tutu, a South African. It is not difficult to predict, then, that North American Christians will take their cues more and more from the parts of the world where Christianity is on the rise, where the churches are becoming movers and shapers in society rather than declining, and where critical and compelling life-and-death struggles abound.
With the realization that the epicenter of Christianity has already shifted to the Global South and that this tectonic shift will only accelerate in the next decade, it is quite obvious that this shift will also have an impact on the global Christian schooling movement; the epicenter of Christian schooling will follow the overall shift of Christianity to the Global South. God has blessed the church planting efforts of the Global North, and the “child” has now grown taller than the “parent.” Now the indigenous church wants to train up their children in “the way they should go” and to “make disciples of all nations” through Christian schooling. I believe that this secondary—and unplanned—movement will surpass the movement of the Global North.
Will the Christian schooling movement in North America stand on the sidelines and wave while the parade of nations passes by, or will we step into the parade and share our resources and wisdom of experience with those just beginning their journey? ACSI has made a commitment to step into this parade. We are aggressively identifying, equipping, and empowering top Christian school leaders in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. It is critically important to have Christian school leaders who are representatives of the people they serve. These leaders understand the culture and language, and they have the expertise to relevantly strengthen Christian schooling movements in their cultural contexts.
Dr. Samson Makhado is one of these leaders who is having a hemispheric impact. Dr. Makhado has an innocuous-looking picture that is framed and hanging on the wall over his desk. It’s a picture of a tree. The reason that picture is so significant is that this tree served as his classroom for many of his elementary school years. He was raised in the northern part of South Africa and was educated in a remote village. He showed great promise as a young man and was handpicked to assume the prestigious role of the witch doctor for his village. It was during this period of time that he came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He refused the honor of becoming a witch doctor, choosing instead to pursue a career path as a Christian educator. When he had assumed the role of principal in a Christian school, he received a visit from a single, retired Christian school teacher from Canada. After she had toured the school, she informed Makhado that she had set aside a savings fund to invest in an African Christian school leader. She informed him that he was the leader she had been looking for. This investment has paid rich dividends; Samson Makhado completed his Ph.D. and is now the ACSI Director for Africa. Dr. Makhado has five more years before he retires, and he is investing those years by serving in an ambassadorial role; he identifies and cultivates the next generation of African leaders to lead their Christian schooling movements. Dr. Makhado and other godly men and women want to make a difference—to bring African voices to offer solutions to African challenges.
We live in exciting times. The Spirit of God is moving in miraculous ways. May we be encouraged and be open to ways in which God wants to use us to join in this parade of nations!
Jenkins, Philip. 2002. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. London: Oxford University Press.
Carpenter, Joel. 2006. “Christian Higher Education as a World Wide Movement.” Plenary summative address, Congreso Internacional 2006, International Association for the Promotion of Christian Higher Education, Granada, Nicaragua, November 14–18, 2006.
Pohl, Christine. 2012. Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans.