Why do we even bother to “train pastors?” Here’s one answer: because $108 is an awfully reasonable price to keep us from having to hear this story again…
Presenting the Mo Ibrahim Prize to…NOBODY
While we celebrated Nobel Prize winners last week, another prize silently went un-awarded. The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, a $5 million reward for leaders who step down after their mandated term limit, was not presented because it had no possible recipients. In the past three years, the committee behind the Prize could not find an African leader who fit the bill.
In its seven years of existence, the Ibrahim Prize has been awarded only four times: twice to South African leaders, once to a Cape Verdean president, and once to a Mozambican president. It is up against deeply embedded norms and long-standing leaders like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, accused of “buying votes with gifts such as tractors, and delivering state-subsidized food only to his party supporters”over his 33 (and counting) years in power.
Bribery, greed, self-importance – all could be viable candidates to blame for the apparent lack of leaders deserving the award. And all are issues the African Church, if properly trained, can address at both the local and national level. The tide of change doesn’t come at the ballot box; it comes in hearts transformed by the Gospel.
Gifting the Gospel
In a recent program assessment, African Leadership got a glimpse into the relevancy of these obstructive tenets: 47% of untrained pastors were willing to pay a bribe, 57% of untrained pastors had not preached about dishonesty in the past three months, and 57% of untrained pastors hid financial records from the church board and congregation. The leaders entrusted with discipling communities, laying cultural foundations, and exposing individuals to the truth of the Gospel are at risk of being consumed by their culture, the very culture that keeps the Ibrahim Prize from being awarded. They lead congregations full of people just as susceptible to sin as we are; they simply face it in a different manifestation and often without sound and applicable theological education.
Noted international economist Paul Collier put it this way: “If politicians can still face a reasonable chance of winning without bothering to deliver good performance, [and] … being honest and competent does not give you an electoral advantage, then the honest and competent will be discouraged. Crooks will replace the honest as candidates.” What is it that changes our behavior from abusive self-interest to effusive “other-interest?” (Hint: it’s not a “what.” It’s a “Who.”)
Governing leaders are not beyond the reach of the Gospel. The individuals in their countries are not beyond the reach of the Gospel. And the pastors and church leaders serving them are not exempt from spreading this message – they simply must be adequately prepared to do so. In countries where local church figures are more present and more influential than those in political power, the cultural foundations of society can be informed at the grassroots level in order to undermine the power of corruption. African Leadership’s Applied Education program produces graduates that can take on that task: a post-graduation assessment proved that pastors were markedly more prepared to address bribery, dishonesty, and transparency. This doesn’t just affect one pastor – it affects all of those he leads.
Being a Gospel-Giver
Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese namesake of the award, said, “Let’s put the light there and let us seek heroes.” Perhaps the hero we seek is not one who stands to gain $5 million for obeying a constitutional law. Perhaps it is the Church that sets a moral groundwork for a new generation, creating a culture that will not allow corruption to thrive, spread, or win.
 (2008 March 27). Mugabe faces bruising election battle to survive. Associated Press. Retrieved from http://nbcnews.com on October 15, 2013.
 Collier, Paul. (2009). Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places (p. 27). New York, NY: HarperCollins.
 Tutton, Mark. (2013 October 14). Mo Ibrahim prize for African leaders: No winner…again. CNN. Retrieved from http://cnn.com on October 15, 2013.