Why the church needs to get down to business in Africa

Micro EnterpriseTheologyWorking through the local church

Moeletsi Mbeki says in his excellent book, Architects of poverty: why African capitalism needs changing, that in a society where entrepreneurship is considered an unnecessary distraction – as is the case in most of Africa – the general well-being and advancement of the population suffers.

Small businesses line a street in Soroti, Uganda. Photo: Andrew Philip

In many parts of the world, entrepreneurship is viewed as one of the pillars enabling communities to increase their well-being. This can be seen in countries with a strong culture of entrepreneurship. However, the Global Entrepreneurship Index 2017 places 27 of the 30 sub-Saharan countries in the bottom 25 per cent of the index. And the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s country profiles show the challenges to develop innovative, high-growth start-ups to create jobs and address poverty and underemployment in Africa.

To better harness their potential, sub-Saharan African countries need to improve enterprise networks to provide the required business start-up skills. This is essential for the Christian community in Africa as well.

Communities around churches are often poor and, in some cases, are becoming even poorer because there are few wealth creators in the churches. Could it be that church leaders should not only focus on the spiritual growth of their members, but assist them with business support, wealth creation and self-empowerment? Is there a theological rationale for such an approach?

Unfortunately, according to Mercy Amba Oduyoye, a Ghanaian Methodist theologian, Christianity has not always made much impact on the economy in Africa. In fact, it is more likely to be associated with those who came to exploit, steal and kill. If this statement is true, we cannot start soon enough to think seriously about how the African church can play a more significant role in the sustainable economic development of Africa.

Could the church play a bigger role in helping sustainable economic development in Africa? Photo: Andrew Philip

These are some of the questions a number of leaders are wrestling with. Erni Visser, a South African academic with a special interest in entrepreneurial economics, has suggested the establishment of  'a programme that will prepare spiritual leaders with knowledge, understanding and appreciation for sustainable economic development and business opportunities in their area of influence'. Such a programme will help pastors and other church leaders to identify entrepreneurs and opportunities and then initiate a wealth creation plan that will change their local church and community.

Christian universities in Africa could play their part by increasing the understanding of entrepreneurship and start-up skills among church leaders. This could be done through a collaboration between Business Studies and Theology departments. In some cases it is already happening. For example, at St John’s University in Dodoma, Tanzania, the Faculty of Commerce and Business Studies is working with churches to encourage entrepreneurship and business development.

If these collaborations grow, then a theologically sound and environmentally sustainable wealth creation ecosystem could emerge. This would enable more people in Africa to flourish and increase their well-being. Tearfund, whose vision is of a global church movement significantly transforming the lives of the poorest people, could play an important role in supporting churches in Africa to encourage entrepreneurship.

Footsteps 103 explores the theme of entrepreneurship and is packed with practical advice on how to run a successful business.

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Sas Conradie
Rev Dr Sas Conradie is Tearfund’s Theology and Networking Manager for Africa: sas.conradie@tearfund.org