THE Western Church needs actively to adapt to attract young people, but without destroying its theology, the Bishop of Southwest Tanganyika, in Tanzania, the Rt Revd Matthew Mhagama, has said.
Bishop Mhahama was giving the latest Hellins Lecture in St Asaph Cathedral, in north Wales, on Sunday, held in memory of Canon E. W. J. Hellins.
The Anglican Church in Tanzania was facing many challenges, he said, but was relatively successful in its evangelism and pastoral ministry. His diocese (which is linked with the diocese of St Asaph in the Church in Wales) had 49 parishes and at least 55 clerics, he said. “The Sunday services in our churches are full of people, and most of them are young. . . The young people are fascinated by modern music and by praise and worship services.”
Bishop Mhahama, who is due to attend the Lambeth Conference, which began on Wednesday, said that the global Church was being challenged by secularism, particularly in the West. He suggested that this should be met with prayer and worship.
“Prayer is a weapon to keep the Church alive so that we do not lose our joy in knowing our Lord Jesus Christ. . . For the Church to withstand spiritual warfare in this world, we must pray earnestly. If we do not do so, it is easy to forget our calling and be drawn by the values of the world; even to follow the ways of the world and forget our responsibilities and our great calling.”
Young people should also be encouraged to participate, he said. “If the priest does everything and people are just spectators, there is every reason for our churches to have few people at our services.
“Today, our young people do not receive a Christian education in schools. We live in a modern world dominated by technology, and young people are generally more influential than the elderly. The Church needs to adapt in such a way as to attract our young people, without destroying our theology. The service comes to life when the gifts of all God’s people are expressed in the service. This will certainly help to attract the youth to worship in the churches.”
The Anglican Church in Tanzania was experiencing different challenges, he said, including poverty among parishioners, corruption, and syncretism. On the last, he said: “In Tanzania, although the Christian gospel is being preached, there is nevertheless the problem of some people who combine the Christian faith with African traditional religion. In the case of sickness or sudden death, some of our members go to the traditional healers to find out the reason for their misfortune.”
This was linked to the increased teaching of “the prosperity gospel”, which put “more emphasis on the preaching of healing than on the Lord who heals, which had, he said, resulted in the wealthy pastor who had “six vehicles and a private jet to enable him to perform his ministry”.
His diocese had developed a five-year strategic plan (2020 to 2025) to tackle these areas, as well as to finish paying off the £85,000 diocesan debt he had been faced with when he took up post in 2014 (of which a “small amount” was left, he said). A special fund had been created to support priests; an avocado plantation had been created to establish a diocesan income; and the diocese had already bought 16 plots of land in Njombe for the Mjimwema Micro City project.
Concluding, Bishop Mhahama said that the wider Church in Tanzania should prioritise the “appropriate theological education” of ministers to “fight heresies and poverty”; train churchpeople in the good use of land; ensure that bishops were good role models; and lobby the government to prioritise people over leadership.