The Adventist University of Africa has held its fourth Theological Seminary Research Conference themed “Discipleship.” Though it was virtually conducted because of Covid-19 restrictions, the three-day conference was a special time for leaders, evangelists, frontline pastors and scholars to discuss mission challenges. The conference chairman, Dr. Melak A. Tsegaw asserted that through collaboration between researchers, leaders, and preachers, discipleship could be the antidote to the critical membership loss the church is facing despite its statistical growth.
Speaking from a leadership point of view, the three African division presidents who were the keynote speakers emphasized the importance of discipleship as the only commission Jesus entrusted to His disciples. They affirmed that every church initiative should revolve around this commission.
The conference was also an opportunity to revisit some of the methods the Adventist church has been using in mission with the purpose of sharing new insights for improvement.
Dr. Bruce L. Bauer, who has taught in the department of World Mission and Theological Seminary at Andrews University, expounded on contextual discipleship. He cautioned that while for a long time Seventh-day Adventists have traditionally focused on helping people to understand the 28 Fundamental Beliefs, there is more to be done. In his presentation, he proposed that the Beliefs should be applied to biblical principles tackling cultural and contextual issues even at the local church level.
Other contributors posited that discipleship should be motivated by love and care for the recipients of the message. Presenting on the topic, “Spiritual Care as a veritable tool for bedside discipleship”, Pastor Sikhumbuzo Dube, Executive Secretary and Hospital Chaplain at West Zimbabwe Conference. inspired participants and called on pastors to be spiritually equipped when ministering to families and individuals struck by illness. He cautioned that the latter may easily lose their faith as emotional torment, spiritual relapses and sociological disconnectedness set in. He added that the “Spiritual care model” draws its methodology from the ministry of Jesus in healing the sick and commended it as an effective mission outfit.
In the plenary, scholars from all over the world dissected thought-provoking and inspiring presentations to deepen the understanding of biblical discipleship. Participants had time to interact with the presenters through an online session of question and answers. After unearthing environmental, cultural, and contextual challenges that missions face, they proposed that discipleship should bridge the gap between what is taught in seminary classes and what actually happens in the mission field. The presenters suggested that instead of getting lost in pressing work demands, targets and goals and leaving no time for needs assessment or for applying vital skills learned in the classroom, the church should consider applying other dynamics, especially allowing people to serve in areas that they trained for. The crowning glory of the conference was the Sabbath day when participants were able to devote more time for worship.