“It will stretch your character more than your competence” – my doctoral supervisor
It is difficult to process that in January 2019 I began a journey towards my PhD at the University of South Africa, which has now come to an end. On September 21st 2021 I received one of the most joyous emails ever – an official statement from the university that I had satisfied all requirements for the award of the PhD.
I can tell you it has been a circuitous journey.
Books have been integral in my own journey. And so in a sense, I knew that most of my life would have to do with books, in one way or another. But how and where do you begin? Everytime I look at my email inboxes it is clear that sometimes shut doors can be markers of direction than fullstops on conversations. In the last five years, I got accepted to pursue an MTh in World Christianity at University of Edinburgh, but didn’t get a scholarship. At another juncture, I got accepted to a PhD programme at the London School of Theology, with a full scholarship but the supervisor had a full plate of students and therefore could not take an additional one. Talk about “dead ends!”
The story of the PhD at UNISA is itself a story of providential leading. I met with my supervisor Prof. Garth Aziz, at a conference in Zambia in 2018. The conference was for the International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry, where I had gone to Lusaka, the captial city, to present a paper on apologetics and youth discipleship at the Justo Mwale University. One conversation led to another and since by this time I had decided on the topic I wanted to investigate, I found one with the qualifications and heart for the topic of study – something one cannot take for granted in a doctoral supervisor.
So Jan 2021 it was, and less than 3 years later, PhD in hand.
I thank the Lord for his immense help, my dear wife for unwavering support when I couldn’t write, my supervisor for his tireless and helpful feedback, and friends and family for their casual “check-ins” – “so how far are you?” which is one of the dreaded questions for a PhD candidate but also a question asked from a place of compassion and care.
I finally completed research around how youth culture in urban African cities has implications for discipleship or “faith formation” in the local church. I discovered interesting things, including how urban African youth culture is broad and nuanced – for instance, we think that entertainment is the major reason for use of social media among young people, yet among the research respondents comprising African Christian youth, education and spiritual growth rank as high. Studying culture was interesting in light of how young people develop. My theological reflections surrounded the role of the church as a covenantal community, reformed catechesis in faith formation as well as intergenerational approaches to youth ministry. The PhD is available here and I have published and will be publishing several articles from it in the coming months and years, Lord willing. The following is a summary of the PhD research.
Faith or spiritual formation studies the practices that nurture the spiritual lives of young people including preaching, scriptural engagement, prayer, and discipleship. On the other hand, young people are not isolated but are usually shaped by several factors. These influencers include popular youth culture, parenting, and peers. Although each of these areas are crucial, the researcher explores the specific area of youth cultures and sub-cultures and their pertinence for faith formation. Serious attention is given to culture because it is argued that parents and peers are successful influencers in so far as they can successfully penetrate this cultural milieu of the young person in Africa today. The necessity arises from “faith malformation” seen in the reality of disengaged youth in the Church and de-churched young people outside the Church, who both are navigating traditional cultures and western postmodernity. Much has been written from a Western perspective, but this theological study seeks to consider the “cultural fluency” needed in a plural and contemporary African context. The particular context of the study will be youth in the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) in Nairobi city which will be investigated through a qualitative methodology. This is a practical theological research that explores the need of ongoing reflection of youth ministry in light of relevant theory and praxis. Additionally, it is based theoretically in the four-fold approach of Richard Osmer and grounded in the reformed-evangelical tradition. It is hoped that such an engagement can enrich faith formation in a holistic manner. Holistic faith formation will be considered through an interdisciplinary engagement of human development, anthropological research, and theological reflection. The study also explores the implications for theological education, youth ministry and congregational life.