A friend of mine, who was one of my early introductions into the life of South Africa in the 1980s, wrote a paper at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein about 12 years ago. With the less than catchy title “Transformation, transformation agents and community transformation in Mangaung local municipality (Bloemfontein, Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu): a biblical perspective applicable to the African continent“, the paper is an attempt to examine the agents that impacted transformation (or sought to) in a modern South African context that included the established city of Bloemfontein, the very large “township” of Botshabelo, where my friend had conducted 20 years’ of human geography fieldwork and research, as well as the ancient African settlement of Thaba Nchu. The authors are Isaac Segale, of Marang Community Development Agency, and Skip Krige, who I knew in Oxford, Stellenbosch and Bloemfontein in the 1980s and who was a geography researcher and lecturer at the University of the Free State.

It was a hugely ambitious project, seeking not only to define the wide range of agents – and these included the Holy Spirit and intercessory prayer, as well as the actions of the church, youth groups, businesses, community groups, schools, government agencies – that impacted a community, but also to determine and measure the impact of those different influences and organisations separately and together.

Segale & Krige (2005) are coming from an explicitly Christian perspective. Such a perspective is possible far more readily in South Africa than it is in Europe or North America because the separation of church and state is not as complete as in the US or France, and a much larger percentage of the population have some form of active Christian faith, which legitimises and expects Christians to be active in a wider range of ministries and roles than in this country for example. Politicians in South Africa may not like what the church says to them, but they expect to hear form them nonetheless! The authors begin with the following definition, from a business perspective applied through other contexts:

Transformation is described as rapid, progressive, comprehensive and fundamental change. Successful transformation needs high levels of leadership and management capacities, as well as extraordinary effort, insight and paradigm shifts. New skills and profiles are required at all levels to ensure successful transformation. In any transformation process, reactionary forces opposing transformation will be evident, which contribute to high levels of conflict and casualties. The rationale of any transformation agenda is to change and develop a better situation as the status quo. (ibid. p9)

The definition of community transformation, on the other hand, departs from a neutral perspective and is defined by the authors as “when churches and Christians exercise their influence and authority in society through holiness, love and compassion, which result in impacting all spheres of society: political, economic, business, social, government, the media, education, health, farming, arts and culture, sport, etc.

What links these two is an explicit approach to transformation of the human heart. Citing Romans 12:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18, in both of which Paul talks about the transformation of our lives by God through the agency of the Holy Spirit working to renew our minds, the authors take the perspective that transformation is only really possible through the agency of those whose heart is transformed. This is so central to the thinking in the paper that it challenges our more societal, “common good” approach to the transformation of our communities. It has certainly challenged me and the reason I write this post is to up the ante for Christians seeking to transform their immediate setting in whatever way God has called them.

Their sections on biblical perspectives on transformation (1.7.2), transformation agents (1.7.3) and community transformation (1.7.4) really challenge (and envision) Christians to see what is possible. We have not tried this since the end of the 19th century in Britain. Segale & Krige quote Eric Swanson (2004) who provides ten paradigm shifts towards community transformation as follows:

  • From building church walls to building bridges
  • From measuring attendance to measuring impact
  • From encouraging the saints to attend services to equipping the saints for works of service
  • From serve us to service
  • From duplication of human services and ministries to partnering with existing services and ministries
  • From fellowship to functional unity
  • From condemning the city to blessing the city and praying for it
  • From being a minister in a congregation to being a minister in a community
  • From anecdote and speculation to valid information
  • From teacher to learner

In the paper, Segale & Krige cite 35 organisations and denominations in the community as representative case studies which are acting for that transformation from a Christian perspective in a predominantly actively or passively Christian population or about 750,000 people. The organisations include local churches, para-church organisations (e.g. the SACC), organisations in the market place, health organisations (including hospices and AIDS clinics), resource centres, schools, social services and orphanages, university theological and bible training institutes, youth organisations, agricultural ministries – the works. There is even a Christian ministry to industry workers in this small part of South Africa. It is a wonderful testimony to the energy of South African Christians that such a wide range of organisations exists and are so influential.

Even given the severe challenges of AIDS, poverty, residual racism and economic disparity in the region, there is a strength of biblical understanding in this culture that enables all those working there as Christians seeking to transform their culture to be very clear about the biblical authority that they have to do so – and that this authority is accepted as, in fact, authoritative! The authors conclude that the scope of the transformation sought can be split into two:

  • Institutions themselves which are being transformed (inwardly) e.g., spiritual awakening, being prophetic, restoration, discipleship, change in behaviour, institutional and leadership development, mentorship, growth, unity, expansion of services, human resource development, empowering members, reconciliation, mobilisation of resources towards community outreach, advocacy within church structures, systems and structures, approaches, etc….
  • Communities which are being transformed, as every sphere of civil society is being penetrated (outwardly) e.g., people accept Jesus as their personal Saviour, spiritual awakening, church planting, caring, feeding, clothing, empowering, educating, training, capacitating, discipling, mentoring, encouraging, counseling, providing professional services and facilities, being a watchdog, being a prophetic voice, advocacy to ensure the restoration of morality and social justice. (p

In developing the model, Segale & Krige obviously are working with a dataset that is wonderfully rich in passion and motivation amongst those involved, that has reaches to all the main societal issues and which in general are taking to each other. Part 3 of the paper (pp 40-66) explores and synthesises the aspects of the transformation agents that are held in common. The discussions are really interesting and worth reading – I just list the summary paragraphs here:

  • Effective delivery: Indicators for effective delivery channels are: good governance, access to resources, effective networking, a developmental and empowering approach, sustainability, community involvement and ownership, relational, Kingdom focused, and sensitivity towards diversity.
  • Motivation and passion: Ministry is all about the passion God has imparted to you and an obedient response to His calling.
  • Leadership: Transformational leadership, characterised by being visionary, prophetic, having spiritual fatherhood and servanthood, by being breakthrough oriented, at the cutting edge, relational, family focused, enterprising, non-racial, informed and operating as a team, is required to lead the process of city and community transformation.
  • Governance (the discussion of this is particularly enlightening): Good governance is a foundational building block of any church or faith-based organisation (FBO) and contributes to the track record of integrity and stewardship.
  • Empowering community: A Christ-centred developmental and community empowering approach rooted in Africa is needed, infused by a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit in transforming individuals and projects from being consumers to being producers.
  • Ownership: Ownership at all levels is required: directors/trustees/board, leadership, management, staff, volunteers, members, end beneficiaries, donors, and the grass roots community.
  • Networking: The presentation of a puzzle with the different pieces represents the power of being connected institutionally and relationally.
  • Advocacy: Prophetic voices should become louder, addressing unbiblical policies and practices within the church, government and civil society.
  • Funding and income generation: Churches and FBOs need to explore more avenues of “printing their own money” for
    community projects and at the same time, attract caring believers who share the vision of community transformation to develop a lifestyle of giving, not only of resources, but also of their time and expertise.

In summary, the authors present a profile of an effective transformation agent. This is what is envisaged:

  • Being at the cutting edge of the work of the Holy Spirit through a lifestyle of prayer, seeking God’s agenda, relationships, revelation knowledge, and acting prophetically
  • Bible based focusing on the absolutes
  • Understanding the Kingdom (bigger picture)
  • Being an integral part of a unique city or regional process
  • Being under spiritual oversight and protection
  • Applying the most appropriate delivery channel, suitable for the specific circumstances
  • Passionate people involved as an obedient response to God’s calling
  • Transformational leadership in people who are visionary, prophetic, spiritual fathers/mothers, servants, relational, family focused, enterprising, non-racial and informed, who operate as a team
  • Effective mentorship and discipleship approaches
  • Good governance is a foundational building block of any church or FBO and contributes to the track record of integrity and stewardship
  • A Christ-centred holistic developmental and community empowering approach, rooted in Africa, infused with a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit in transforming individuals and projects from being consumers to being producers
  • Being family focused
  • Attracting a spirit of volunteerism
  • Involving women as community transformation agents
  • Equipping a new brand of breakthrough youth leaders
  • Being informed by understanding the socio-political, economic and geographical dynamics
  • Ownership at all levels, as they should be vision carriers executing the vision: directors/trustees/board, leadership, management, staff, volunteers, members, end beneficiaries, donors, and the grass roots community
  • Power of being connected institutionally and relationally
  • Prophetic voices becoming more vocal, addressing unbiblical policies and practices within the church, government and civil society
  • Having a learning culture by learning from own mistakes, from others, as well as from Africa
  • More avenues need to be explored for “printing own money” for community projects and at the same time, attracting caring believers who share the vision of community transformation to develop a lifestyle of giving, not only of resources but also of their time and expertise

As I say, really challenging. The summary, in my view, is actually less powerful than the discussions within the paper and I recommend it as a read to anyone who is interested.

This post is supposed to be all about the limits of transformation. One thing that does not come through in this summary, but which is nonetheless present throughout is the commitment to seeking the Holy Spirit’s leading and the commitment to intercessory prayer principally to see God’s kingdom established and for the principalities and powers to be curtailed and made to submit to the victory of the cross. What I think Isaac Segale and Skip Krige show us more than anything is that we have brought these limits on ourselves, by our own unwillingness to engage, to pray, to seek the Holy Spirit’s leading and to take the courage necessary to bring these things to pass.

 

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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