Oct 19, 2021 Last Updated 7:03 AM, Oct 19, 2021

Tanzania - The mission and future of the Church

Categoria: Missione Oggi
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I. Analysis of our Church situation in Tanzania.
1.    How did the early Church conceive itself and its mission?

Let us take the New Testament as our main source to describe how the early Church saw itself and how the Church was to live and act. The Early Church struggled to live the message of Jesus in the context they were facing. 

In fact there were different contexts, the Jewish context, the gentile context, the Greek and Roman context, different communities.

a)       The Pastoral letters of Paul show the importance of the pastoral care for the flock. These letters are stressing how to lead the community. They are less missionary.

Jesus had not planned, nor did he live in an organised structured community. He was an itinerant teacher, living with a group of followers.

The Pastoral letters stress the role of the leader in the community, they stress two virtues: stability and safety. Radicalism and creativity are feared.

Ideas from bottom-up are strongly controlled. That Pastoral model has been the dominant model in the church.

b)      The Church as Christ's body (especially in Colossians and Ephesians): the stress is on the difference of needs and the different functions and ministries. It is a living body. To have faith in the Church does not mean that we are blind for its faults. The Holiness of the Church does not mean there is no need for reform and conversion.

c)       In the Acts of the Apostles we are told that the first step of the Missionary movement of Jesus' followers was the coming of the spirit at Pentecost. The Spirit empowered the followers to become missionary, outgoing, proclaiming the message. The presence of the '\spirit will remain a constant mover in the Church.

The danger may be that the followers become overconfident and may lead to triumphalism convinced that what they do is the inspiration of the Spirit.

d)      The People of God concept is stressed in the 1st letter of Peter, backed by the Exodus image. The gentiles became part of the new family, the sense of belonging is strong.

It raises the question of the pluralistic religious situation and the place of Christ as the unique Saviour. Can one belong to the people of God without being a Christian?

e)       In the 4th Gospel of John the adherence, attachment to Jesus is stressed. The individual member is personally related to Jesus.

God begets his children, giving them eternal life, and that comes through water and the Spirit to those who believe in Jesus.

The 4th gospel has no institutional commands with regard to baptism and the Eucharist. Jesus healed and preached.

The Church baptizes and celebrates the Eucharist and sacraments. The 4th Gospel emphasizes discipleship, not offices and functions.

f)        The letters of John speak of the division in the Johanine community. If the role of the Paraclete is exaggerated it creates division.

The Johanine vision of discipleship and the role of the spirit was attractive, but led also to instability and division of interpretations. It showed the need for institutional cohesion and leadership -as described in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch.

The present day problem with the Charismatic movement show similar problems.

The Johanine teaching reminds the Church not to usurp the place of Jesus in the life of the Christians. The Church is there to lead to Jesus.

g)      Matthew's gospel is the one that tackles best the many needs of the growing church community. It has been used in the History of Church to deal with problems.

In Mathew's gospel we see a community that has organisation and authority .

But it also shows how Jesus was flexible and nuanced in dealing with pastoral issues.

Matthew protects, in this insistence, the community against legalism and clericalism.

Jesus' authority and Jesus' attitudes must dictate our behaviour and .this will help the community to avoid legalism and authoritarianism.

Matthew knows that organised societies are more likely to abuse authority than to abdicate it. The itinerant preacher, Jesus, and his message must be preserved in the organised community.

From this brief description of the self -understanding by the early Church, we get a variety of ideas and lights. There are different ways of expressing the reality of the Church, its role and mission. One single model cannot express the full richness of the reality.


2.       How does the Church of Tanzania understand itself?
Looking at the historical birth and growth of the church in Tanzania, we see that the missionaries came from 19th ct. Europe. The institutional model of the Church was stressed, the leadership role and strong authoritative guidance in a society that was much influenced by the enlightenment and rationalism.

Colonial expansion was running high.

The missionaries came in a new world, new cultures and languages. They tried to penetrate this new world. They used various methods: creating villages of ex-slaves, using catechists, trying to start a Central African Christian Kingdom with converted chiefs. Then came the Mission station approach with Church, organisations and services.

This became by the end of the 19th ct the main model around:

·         priests, sisters, brothers, catechists

·         works of mercy and education

·         catholic action

The ' Local Church' and its foundation became the main aim of the missionaries, with a stress on the Pastoral Model and Matthew's teaching on the need for organisation, authority and Jesus' insistence on pastoral r care. We can detect, as from early 20th ct, some different nuances in the approach by the Holy Ghost Fathers, the Missionaries of Africa, the a Benedictine Fathers. But all three would have a basic common approach.

Additional Congregations brought other nuances after the 20's, but no If major shift in the model of founding the local church, with its institutional importance. Consolidation, lay apostolate, religious education, catholic action, educational and medical services.

The Catechists have always played a special role. They were servants of the priests, but they were also part of the village.

The use of the clergy and the religious prevented the catechists from profiting from higher education and thus prevented a development of educated lay catechists.

Leading up to the political movement of independence from colonialism we'\can see that the Church was generally sympathetic to this movement, but did not take a leading role. In part the Church had too many social interests (schools, hospitals, institutions) to allow itself too antagonistic approach to colonial authority.

The Post Independence Period has been rich in changes, but let us for now just pick up some important areas only.

·         African languages, hymns, music because a source of rich development and part of an inculturation movement.

But African liturgical rites, African theology did not get very far, apart from some colours added to Christological and Ecclesiological issues.

·         The concept 'local church' became in practice linked to the local hierarchy, local clergy -the missionary fasing out of leadership.

As a result missionary vocations from Europe and America diminished, some new sources of missionaries from Asia were being tapped.

·         Small Christian Communities were much talked about. But in fact they only became a part of the general Parish -structure approach.

They did not 1ead to a revision of Church structures, the hierarchical model, it did not create new ministries.

Lay apostolate, lay councils remained in the institutional model.

·         Authority (in the parish, in religious institutes, in the Diocese, in Rome) remains sacred and feared and respected.

Next to the works of mercy and charity the Church developed a policy of involvement with material progress and projects. It did this in collaboration with government. But as for other social and political issues the Church did not get involved in participating in policy making. The centralised socialist planning and execution was left uncritised by the Church.

As a result its social awareness and Christian commitment to social (" issues is under- developed. From this brief historical description let us now briefly state what are the main issues we face as a church. What are the needs of society and the needs of the Church in to-day's Tanzania. From that we will be able to describe the issues and challenges. It will then be possible to try to look at the missionary role of the future

Issues and challenges today

From the biblical reflection and from the brief historical description we can say that the Pastoral and Institutional models are well developed and accepted. The concept 'local church' has in fact concentrated upon hierarchy and clerical leadership, individual conversion and piety, sound doctrine, sacraments, worship.

Different ministries, people of God, discipleship have been less developed as model.

We have the' strengths and weaknesses of this model. They are the challenges to-day.

What are the main needs we see in our society? We can group them in some important areas.

  • Political needs
    In Tanzania we have a peaceful situation on the public level. However that does not mean that all is well and peaceful.
    • Democratic participation by people is still weak
    • Authority and power is not openly criticized and the use of power is top down.
    • Civic society is not yet organised, except some ngo's who are mainly foreign funded
    • Below district level local government is very weak 0 Policy making and policy exertion is top -down.
  • Economic needs
    Class division is growing fast
    Resources and power are in the hands of the few rich and small middle class.
    Rich -poor gap
    Opportunities for education, health service are out of reach for the poor.
  • Cultural needs
    We have now a mixed culture. There are traditional customs that  maintain their strength (burial, marriage, family relations, religious tolerance) but there are modern influences and global attractions (eg. Communication gadjets)
  • Moral needs
    Certain moral concepts are not yet well understood e.g. common  good, solidarity civic society responsibility, culture of peace, power as service. 
    Moral education of the society at large is very haphazard. 
    Certain attitudes are still very crude: cruelty in various forms, selfish profiteering: feelings of hatred and revenge have little outlet.  
  • Gender needs
    The African family is under pressure, many family issues: husband- wife, parents -children, youth -adult: there is little opportunity to deal with these issues in dialogue at family level.
    The poverty situation and the effects it has on gender issues.

II. A look into the future


A. How should the Church respond?


From the analysis of our situation we observe that too much stress is

being laid upon the structural and administrative dimension of the Church. Canon law, self-reliance, church celebrations are taking the centre of attention.

As a result the church does not listen enough to the needs of the people, it is too concerned with its own needs.

Now that the 'local church' has been established, we need now to look for deeper quality.


  1. Deeper spiritual quality


Let me touch on some elements that may help in strengthening this spiritual quality.

·         To stress the importance of discipleship rather than stressing formalism.

We need to help people to see what it means to be a disciple and to commit oneself in all aspects of life to be a disciple of Christ, not just on Sundays, but one's whole life.

·         To teach and insist on the gratuitousness of grace, that God gives us his love without merit on our part. We can never earn God's love. The same for the Church -we cannot make the Church, the

Church is given to us as a grace, it is God's work. We can only respond by accepting and living that grace.

·         Go against a spirit of triumphalism, seeking success, feeling great and important. A church that is boastful is a negation of God's purpose with the Church -it is intended to be a light for the nations, not a powerful player in global events.

·         Decrease clericalism and create a church of communion, the body of Christ, where each has a gift to make to the community.

·         Our doctrinal teaching must aim at transformation, not just at passing knowledge. Do our seminaries aim at transformation, at providing animating disciples rather than religious functionaries.

·         To become a listening church, rather than to be always ready to teach.



  1. A prophetic church


This aspect of the Church's mission is underdeveloped.

The deeper reasons for that are fear and the character of not wanting to be critical.

This is a cultural trait, which we see also in public life, political and social.

We must therefore find a way to realise this prophetic vocation with the way people are, Certain evangelical values may help:

·         to bring good news to the people. We tend to practice the complaint - culture. It is a national trend, but it is also a trend in our preaching.

·         Preach liberation from evil, fear -Helping people to find ways to speak the truth without being aggressive, e.g. develop sessions for critical communal discernment, communal performance.

·         To encourage greater awareness on social issues, so that they become concerns for the church.

To learn what it means in concrete to be light, salt, leaven in the world and social issues.


  1. Some specific issues:


·         to evangelise the world of money, how to make and use money, not to be enslaved by money as a drug, but keep it as a means.

·         To evangelise the use of power, people who obtain power at various levels, often turn it into a means to lord it over others, and to abuse it for one's own profit or that of the family.

To use power as a service to others is still to become Christian.

·         To use information as a way to educate, to build and serve society.

·         To provide our youth with hope and a future, a vision of gift of self, to lift their society.

·         Family issues and marriage. There is much strain on African family life -tradition, modernity, technical innovations, material and educational ambition, cultural changes.

·         Interreligious dialogue, especially with Islam. There is much practical social interreligious dialogue, but we are not exploring the religious dimensions and ethical dimensions we hold in common and which could support an ethical reflection to sustain political and economic ,decision making. Our interreligious dialogue should go further than just being nice to one another.

In social life people do go further in their practical lives by creating common behaviour.

B. The future role of missionaries -men and women.


In trying to describe the future role of the missionary there are biblical images that come to mind, like: salt, light, prophet.


1.       In future the missionary must be a mystic.

·         A man, woman with a spiritual vision on life and the world, seeing the events and peoples as the soil in which the spiritual seeds of liberation, hope, love, justice must be sown so that our world and humanity may become more and more God's Kingdom.

·         A man, woman who can unify the sacred and the secular as the two parts of the incarnational reality. No dichotomy between earthly and spiritual here on earth.

·         Gospel values and Jesus Christ are the very purpose of being Church, being disciples following their master, on the move, pilgrims. The Diocesan clergy have the pastoral role of caring  for the community and holding the family together.

·         The missionary must remain more oriented towards the ad extra -outside the church structures.


2.       The future missionary must be in the world, stimulate the church to be outward going, not to be inward looking, taking care of its own needs.

The missionary must get involved in people's lives, in the problems .' of families, societies, in order to seek ways to help the families and societies to solve their problems. The missionary must get involved in social issues, know the problems of society, get involved in political issues and economic choices, how to spiritualise the proper use of money and of power and authority, to struggle with the social sins of seeking prestige, materialistic selfishness.


3.       The future missionary must help the church community to become gender conscious in the way it lives together.

There are certain signs like the new religious movements, the charistmatic tendency, the feminist theological movement, the spiritual thirst without the ecclesial dimension, all these are signs we see in Tanzania and which call for a theological and pastoral discernment.

The missionary should take responsibility in this and take up the vocation to lead that discernment for the benefit of the Church community and for the benefit of the human community.


4.       The mission contained in points 1, 2, 3 should be the tangential points where we meet people of other religions.

It is striking how the Social Doctrine of the Church is a teaching that is common to most religions because it is based upon our human nature. There are also the specific Christian inspirations of course, but much is held in common like the basic human rights where we can meet people of other faiths.

Rather than think like the Christian right in America and some circles in Europe and Tanzania, we should not look for the aggressive differences between religions, but look rather for the human values and human needs and rights that can unite us in our struggle for a better world.


5.       What forms and expressions will the future missionary vocation take?

Do we need to think in terms of priest, brother and religious sisters? Exclusively? What kind of pastoral work should missionary priests do, what kind of work should missionary brothers, sisters and laypeople do?

In the recent past we have seen worker priests, industrial missions, different types of chaplaincies for hospitals, prisons, sports, for the arts.

In the past we found it normal to see priests, sisters, brothers running ecclesial institutions like schools, hospitals. We are less used to take up jobs in government, politics, banking. This is where the lay religious movements in the church have moved ahead of us, missionary congregations.

We should come closer to these movements and get spiritually involved and strengthen them in our Tanzanian situation. The police to-day could do with some spiritual animation and motivation, rather than bashing them on the head.




Much of what is said here needs much more reflection and discernment. But we should not be afraid of the questions, even if it threatens our clerical habits and customs, our patriarchal and matriarchal inclinations. What is the Spirit of God telling us to-day?




















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