Stepping up to lead the church in Ghana

Rev. John Shadrack Donkoh, President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana Photo: LWF/C. Kaestner
Rev. John Shadrack Donkoh, President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana Photo: LWF/C. Kaestner

The president of the ELCG shares hopes and challenges of empowering a new generation of leaders in his country

(LWI) - Rev. John Shadrack Donkoh was elected President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana in March 2018, taking over from his predecessor, Bishop Dr Paul Koffi Fynn, who had served as leader since 1978.

In this Voices from the Communion interview, the new president shares his thoughts about current priorities and about the challenges of stepping into the shoes of a man who led the church in Ghana for the past four decades.

“I think God has given each one of us our own size of shoes! I’d never fit into my predecessor’s shoes, but I fit into the shoes that God has graciously given to me to move the church forward at this time,” he says.

How exactly would you like to move forward in your church now?

The vision, for me, is to consolidate the gains made over the past years and improve on some of the weaknesses we have identified, especially the challenge of finding qualified and competent people to run the affairs of the church in different aspects of ministry. Our new constitution mandates that, at the age of 70, pastors have to retire and out of the 43 pastors we have, 15 are retiring, so we have to replace one third of them.

Meanwhile we can’t just let them retire with their experience acquired over the years, so we’re finding ways of letting them work side by side with our younger pastors. At the same time, we want to recruit and train more pastors for the work because our vision is that of reaching out to all of Ghana’s 275 districts – currently we’re only operating in 30 of them.

One of the biggest challenges we have is to give our pastors a living wage. Most live on their own, doing some farming or running small businesses, but this has an impact because if they’re not always with their people it doesn’t create a strong congregation. We’re looking forward to finding a strategy so that pastors can have peace of mind and concentrate on the core values of their work.

Many pastors operate in very rural areas: what are the specific needs of people in the countryside? 

I think one of the things pastors should be doing in rural areas is to help develop leaders, because most of the people there don’t have good education or skills, but with proper training they can use their skills to earn some income. One of the things pastors are supposed to do is education through the literacy program that the church has instituted.

Poverty levels in rural areas are generally very high, with a lack of education, lack of health facilities and clean water, so one of the things we’re trying to do is to help dig bore holes to provide clean water for communities where we serve. People are moving into cities looking for non-existent jobs, but if we can meet them in their specific point of need, I’m sure migration to the cities would be reduced.

Many pastors are working, maybe more than one job, but you said you put all your life into your profession: how can you manage this? 

My wife is a teacher in a Lutheran school and my friends support me too. The church tries to pay for my travels, but not all pastors have these opportunities, in fact some have almost nothing and as a church we are really concerned about this. We want to expand education so that, if some of these pastors could be well trained, they could earn a little by teaching in our schools. We also want to develop some new projects that pastors could lead, in order to earn a little to sustain their families.

When I was a pastor, I had only one congregation, but as president of the church I travel a lot as we have 150 preaching stations across the country and each one wants me to be there. Travelling to these places has been a bit of a struggle for me, but I love it because when you go to the villages, you see how people are really in need of spiritual food. In some congregations, you’ll find that they have not had a Holy Communion service for over two years, so it’s good that I am able to do this kind of visit. But I’m trying to see that regional pastors are now brought on board so that I have time for my family too.

Can you tell us about your work to train more leaders for the church? 

We recently started a deaconess program and now we have 40 women at our seminary studying to become deaconesses. It’s a 2 year program that we’re working on with our partner churches in the UK and USA, so we hope that some of these women can be commissioned to work alongside the pastors in reaching out with compassion and mercy to areas that the pastors cannot concentrate on. We’re also trying to upgrade our seminary to offer degrees because many young people finish high school but don’t want to attend because it is not accredited. If we can obtain accreditation and get solid institutions to affiliate with us, then we’ll be able to attract more young people into the seminary to become future pastors.

What gives you most hope for your church now? 

We take inspiration and motivation from Jesus own words when he says: Go into the world and make disciples of all nations, and I will be with you always, even to the end of the age. This is one factor that sustains us, but we also know that with accreditation and improvements in our seminary and our women being trained to work full time in the church, as well as a lot of our youth showing some glimpses of interest, I think our church has a bright future. We hope that whatever we are doing in terms of teaching, training and equipping them would be to the benefit of the whole church in Ghana.

 


The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana has been a member of the LWF since 2004. It has 22750 members.  


Voices from the Communion

The Lutheran World Federation is a global body that shares the work and love of Christ in the world. In this series, we profile church leaders and staff as they discuss topical issues and set out ideas for building peace and justice in the world, ensuring the churches and communion grow in witness and strength.

Voices from the Communion Series

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