THE FUTURE OF TEKAN

Mark Hopkins

Fifty years after TEKAN began it is natural both to look back on that period to see what it amounts to and to try to look into the fellowship’s future: where is it heading? History cannot project the future as prophecy might, but a historian is the next best thing to a prophet, for plotting the course the organisation has taken can give some sense of where it is heading in the near future. So the two tasks of this conclusion are to look back over the story that has been told to find its main themes, and then to glance forward. The first thing we should celebrate about TEKAN is that it has existed at all. Quite simply, there is nothing like it in Nigeria, and maybe not anywhere. Though made up of denominations from varied traditions, it has had much more meaningful fellowship than groupings of churches from the same tradition. That it began at all is down to the earlier fellowship on the foundations of which it was established, that of the different branches of the Sudan United Mission (SUM) – itself organised like no other missionary society. It is possible to cite reasons why these branches of SUM made efforts to draw together the infant churches they had founded when they were celebrating their own jubilee in the mid-1950s: the individual churches were very small, needing to put their mass together for it to have any significance; there was a great sense of the need for Christians to come together to face the prospect of Muslim domination of northern Nigeria as the countdown to independence took place. But over and above such considerations, the branches of the mission had always had fellowship, and had introduced the churches they founded to that fellowship from their earliest days.

Secondly, we can celebrate the fact that TEKAN still exists after fifty years – and that while it has gained members, it has never lost any. This period has not been conducive to a fellowship such as TEKAN. It has been a time of proliferation of denominations, and of growing emphasis on denominational and other sectional interests rather than broader ones. At present, among TEKAN members as much as other churches, the trend is toward building earthly denominational empires more than the kingdom of God. Our primary loyalty and identity is frequently denominational; and denominational mission goals are often defined in terms of taking our denomination to every part of the nation – whether or not any actual evangelism is involved at all. Interdenominational activity for many means a limited list of approved organisations that achieved that status in earlier days before attitudes changed – movements such as Fellowship of Christian Students, New Life For All, Boys’ Brigade, Girls’ Brigade, and the Bible Society of Nigeria. Opening up new slots has become difficult, even if new challenges such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic may provide ample justification for so doing.

Why is this so? One factor is the defensiveness that has entered the culture of mainstream churches since the rapid growth of Pentecostalism started drawing out many of their members in the 1980s. But the primary reason would seem to be a failure of spiritual vision: our eyes are not capable of taking in the great vista of the kingdom of God, so in its place we put our earthly empires. Denominations are the inheritors of the loyalty once attached to tribes – and they are in any case largely built up on tribal groupings. So TEKAN’s history has been characterised by a rearguard action, gradually giving ground to the relentless advance of denominationalism. That it has defended its founding dream of unity as well as it has is largely due to TCNN, by far its greatest achievement. TCNN has been a practical workshop in interdenominational fellowship for the successive generations of leaders in TEKAN churches it has trained, and something of its influence has often survived in its alumni in spite of the thoroughly denominational atmosphere they imbibe once they leave. The Faculty of TCNN to a large extent retains the founding ideals of TEKAN, especially in the way they see one another as one in TEKAN rather than of this denomination or that, and it continues to transmit to one student generation after another a sense of belonging together in Christ that, taken out into the churches, does much to keep TEKAN alive.

Yet the story of TCNN has been one of difficulty as well as of achievement. Its first twenty-five years or so were ones of advance(s) punctuated by a series of problems, but for the last two decades the college has been embroiled in one crisis after another with very little relief. One difference between these periods is the failure to maintain the level of effective leadership reached by the first three Principals (Boer, Gilliland and Gotom), a failure which has had a succession of damaging consequences. The first consequence is that the staff development policy developed under Gotom went into abeyance: for over a decade from the late 1980s not a single member of Faculty went abroad for doctoral study. That too has a consequence: in recent years it has not proved possible for TCNN to draw on people it has trained to lead it. And the result of that is that the culture of interdenominational fellowship nurtured by the college is under ever increasing threat in its last major stronghold. The failure to develop staff was at length rectified, and seven members of Faculty were undergoing doctoral study at the time of writing: but this is a time when staff development is once more under threat, and will its harvest be reaped too late? If TCNN itself yields to the culture of denominationalism that is carrying all before it elsewhere, then TEKAN surely has no future. All this points to the fact that TEKAN’s continued existence is more a matter of surviving than thriving. It is an incontrovertible fact that TEKAN means very little to the vast majority of the members of its member denominations – it is insignificant compared to their denominational sense of belonging. The same applies to leaders. Even the President TEKAN elected in its jubilee year can testify to having long had little appreciation for the fellowship. Only when he started to attend its annual gatherings in 2003 did this change – though by then he had been a bishop in LCCN for several years. This points to the fact that participation in these meetings stands alongside TCNN as a major way through which TEKAN becomes appreciated. In the earliest days a significant proportion of members took part, but now that is far from being the case. Even such things as city fellowships of TEKAN ministers have struggled to establish themselves, with honourable exceptions such as Abuja.

One area in which there has been an irreversible shift from the founding ideals is that of the siting of churches of different TEKAN denominations. When TEKAN began, the intention was to preserve the comity agreements on the basis of which the missions had been working for half a century, i.e. each church was to be the only TEKAN denomination in its area, and members of one TEKAN denomination moving into the area of another would simply attend its worship. This was already starting to break down by the mid-1960s after LCCN opened its first church in Jos, with the non-baptism of its infants by COCIN an issue. By the early 1990s the last shreds of the old demarcation were disappearing, replaced by implicit acceptance of the fact that any TEKAN denomination could set up anywhere. That development has taken TEKAN’s fellowship down to an altogether lower level. So, TCNN apart, TEKAN’s biggest achievement is to have survived in an environment hostile to its ideals: not a very glorious assessment of what it has accomplished. What of the second task of this conclusion, to try to look into its future? If we project forward the current emphasis on denominations, the future of TEKAN will not be bright. The present situation in which the idea of a TEKAN university is suffering a squeeze from the denominational plans of COCIN and NKST is symptomatic. Whether any of the three is a viable proposition is dubious: the denominations seem to lack the massive resources needed, but the greater combined membership of TEKAN is more than outweighed by its inferior ability to draw on those members’ resources. There is no sign of any move to close TEKAN down, but every indication that its marginalisation will continue, and that the consequent financial struggles, both centrally and at TCNN, will if anything worsen.

The emergence of a new TEKAN educational venture in 2005, nearly half a century after TCNN, might be thought of as a pointer toward a brighter future. TEKAN Schools, Warari, in the north-west of Niger State, started with a Bible School that opened in January 2005 and is projected to go on to establish Primary and Secondary Schools. There has been great enthusiasm for this combined venture from the local workers and membership of the TEKAN related denominations operating in this mission field that was only opened up in the 1980s, COCIN, LCCN, and the CRCN and SUM-CRC related Covenant Church of Christ in Nigeria. However, the capital to establish the campus has so far come entirely from related foreign missions, mirroring events at TCNN nearly half a century earlier, and formal approval by participating denominations as well as TEKAN is yet to be followed up with proof of commitment to staffing and funding the venture. On reflection, the situation in Niger State looks like a throwback to the 1950s in the TEKAN church heartlands: small, young churches seeing the need to come together in a pioneer mission environment in which even the most basic educational and medical facilities are only starting to be put in place; the use of an ambitious educational plan to help the church grow and learn to stand up for itself in an area of Muslim domination (in this case a shari’a state). Further east in the Middle Belt, where church growth has taken the situation so much further, this is hardly understood.

This brings us to one troubling scenario which might in a way prove favourable to TEKAN. The start of the twenty-first century has seen a new phase open up in the long-standing Muslim bid to control northern Nigeria, a phase marked by a combination of bringing in shari’a law in Muslim-dominated states and the use of violence against Christians for political ends. Archbishop Nemuel Babba sees this as providing a context analogous to that of the 1950s, in which TEKAN may take on renewed significance. Whether this happens or not remains to be seen; it may well be that sectionalisms will only give way if the situation deteriorates dramatically. Other leaders with longer experience of TEKAN cannot match the new President’s optimism, asking themselves whether TEKAN does much more than talk.

So what are the prospects for TEKAN’s second half-century outshining its first? It will require a sea change in the Nigerian church, from its present tendency to pull apart to a new one to pull together. Can such a thing occur? Pandang Yamsat identifies two things crucial for success: TEKAN and TCNN need strong leadership, and they need a clear vision which can be shared with and owned by the churches. He suggests that such a vision could emerge from a conference – one might add, so long as it is well planned and fed the raw material it would need in order to process a worthwhile outcome. The jubilee celebration would seem to provide a good opportunity for the fellowship and its principal ministry to convene such a conference to reflect on what they should be and where they should go.

We cannot insert the final full stop of this conclusion without bringing our God into what we have to say. He remains sovereign and active, at work in our denominations in spite of their limitations and weaknesses (which is fortunate: if he waited for us to be the way he wants us to be before using us, he wouldn’t have started building his kingdom yet). But we need to yearn for, to pray and prepare for, a move of the Holy Spirit that will impose on us a greater power capable of reversing even strong societal trends. It is sometimes only when the current suddenly improves and the room is bathed in light that we realise how weak it had been before. Likewise, only when the Holy Spirit sheds in our hearts the light of God in Jesus’ face in all its fullness (2 Cor. 4.6, 3.17-18) will we appreciate how gloomy has been the light in which we have so far lived. When – not if – that happens in Nigeria, a wider fellowship such as TEKAN, in its very nature closer to God’s heart than our narrower ones, will be well placed to take on new significance and come into its own.

When Yamsat talks about strong leadership in TEKAN does he mean a centralised administration in which TEKAN ceases to be loose fellowship and become a council?