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Reaching and discipling Tanzania’s new generation

CMS missionaries Kevin & Karen Flanagan work in Mpanda, Tanzania, training evangelists for new churches, equipping pastors, and enabling lay discipleship. Read on to learn how Tanzanian believers perceive the younger generation, and strategies for reaching this new ‘tribe’.

Like many countries, Tanzania has experienced massive changes in the last 10 to 15 years. Arguably, the biggest reason is the influence of globalisation.

The world has come to Tanzania via the internet. Most people have a mobile phone. Tanzania has 4G or 3G coverage across the country. Many young people have smart phones. Instant access to the world and its influences, both good and bad, is resulting in the emergence of a new generation that is increasingly western in its thinking and lifestyle—a generation that is markedly different to that of their parents and especially that of their grandparents.

In the west we differentiate between the generations: Boomers, Gen X’s, Gen Y’s and the Millennials. We differentiate and describe their relative characteristics. Although it hasn’t yet a name, Tanzania’s new generation has its own distinct customs, values and aspirations. It could almost be described as a new tribe. The thing about this new generation is that it’s huge: 28 million under the age of 25 in a country of 55 million people. [1] That’s half the population!

Tanzania is a predominantly Christian country. But unless this new generation is reached for Christ, the country could easily tip into gospel decline. As it has been said:

One generation believes the gospel. The next generation assumes the gospel. The following generation denies it.

The feeling from my Tanzanian friends is that the ‘next generation’ in the statement above has already arrived. So, what is this new tribe like? How can it be described? My Tanzanian friends came up with the following points.

Seven characteristics of Tanzania’s new generation

 

  1. There are big differences in the lifestyles of those living in rural areas and those in the cities.
  2. They are increasingly distancing themselves from the traditions and customs of their forebears. They like to think of themselves as modern and sophisticated. Many dress in modern western clothes. Young women in the cities would rarely be seen wearing the traditional kanga.
  3. They are growing up in in what many commentators call the ‘New Africa’. Tanzania was the sixth fastest growing economy in Africa in 2018[1]. The benefit of this hasn’t trickled down to the lives of ordinary people. Nevertheless, the standard of living of young people is vastly different to that of their grandparents. And, they have never experienced hunger or war.
  4. There is a growing middle class, with middle class aspirations. They dream of owning a car, a house, wearing nice clothes and having money. Some want to rise to the top, to be seen by others as successful. Sound familiar?
  5. They are more educated, especially since the Government brought in free education for secondary school students. Many have college and university qualifications. Because education is highly valued, some young woman put off marriage and children to finish their education. This is different to the rural areas where girls still marry at a young age.
  6. Despite the value of education, Tanzania is generally not a reading culture. Most young people would rather watch a video than read a book. They are heavy users of social media and frequently message each other!
  7. The good news is that this ‘new tribe’ is still very spiritual and most believe in God.

How is the Tanzanian church responding? The church in Tanzania has been well established for many decades. It has grown and matured. There are many denominational groups and all kinds of forms and flavours. Some are spiritually alive and doing wonderful work. Others have become formalised and sedentary. Nominalism is rampant. Some groups are actively working to reach young people, while others are less engaged.

Three Strategies

To reach the large new generation in Tanzania and those that follow, three things are important: Bible teaching, the normalising of a discipleship pathway, and putting a ‘practice in place.

There is a great need for Bible teaching and training. Firstly, so that Christians will read their Bibles, using an electronic or printed version (Yes, there are Swahili Bible apps!). Secondly, so they learn to read the Bible for themselves in the way it was designed to be read, that is, reading books of the Bible from beginning to end, rather than picking out selected verses. It also means reading the Bible in light of its grand narrative: the ‘big story’ of God creating and recreating a people who will be with him for ever.

One of the blessings we often take for granted in many Australian churches is the emphasis on cradle to grave ministry, i.e. a discipleship pathway. Our churches have age specific ministries from toddlers to seniors. An advantage of having this discipleship pathway is having a larger pool from which leaders can be recruited and further developed. It’s not surprising that many who are working in full-time church-based ministries, as missionaries or in other Christian leadership roles, have progressed along this discipleship pathway.

In 2 Timothy 2:2 the apostle Paul says, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others”. Unless people are trained to train others, it is hard to see how the current church will reach this huge new generation or the generations that will follow.

For there to be any lasting spiritual fruit there needs to be a work of God by his Holy Spirit. We pray that God will enable his church in Tanzania to reach this new generation with the gospel of Christ, both teaching and training them. We pray that Christians of all ages will learn to read and nourish themselves on the word of God. We pray that strong discipleship pathways can be established, beginning with good children’s ministry and progressing through the age groups. We pray that those who are taught and discipled will teach and disciple others. We also pray that the future generations of Tanzanian Christians will be used by God to take the gospel to the nations.

Pray

Pray with the Flanagans for the church in Tanzania using the prayer points above. If you would like to pray for Kevin & Karen regularly, you can sign up for their newsletter at https://www.cms.org.au/missionaries/kevin-and-karen-flanagan/

[1] https://www.waystocap.com/blog/africas-top-10-fastest-growing-economies-in-2018/ accessed 3/4/19