Preaching in Malawi: Five Lessons I’ve Learned

1. Part of my sermon WILL be lost in translation—even if I’m preaching to an English-speaking congregation. I’ve been forced to thoroughly think through every single word I say, which can be a good exercise. But it’s also very tiring.

2. DO NOT DRINK TOO MUCH WATER BEFORE CHURCH—My poor bladder doesn’t need the fluid for the forever-long services. My morning diuretic provokes the pee-dance on its own (thanks Meniere’s). Any extra encouragement may force me to ask for an intermission in the middle of the morning’s liturgy. A friend told me that eating two hard-boiled eggs would resolve the problem. But then I’d surprise the congregation with something else, even more unpleasant.

3. Congregation involvement is a GOOD thing—Growing up I always thought “Amens” from the congregation did nothing but inflated the preacher’s ego and brought little glory to the Word. And in some ways, I still question those who fish for encouragement from those listening. At the same time, something beautiful happens when you ask the congregation, in the middle of a sermon, to turn to their neighbor and wrestle with an issue for a bit. Sometimes, it is a good thing not to be stuck in the stagnant hour-long formula that many American churches follow.

4. I am not a Rock Star—The women taking their tops off during the sermon aren’t trying to get my attention…their children are just hungry. At first I thought that the hooter hider needed to make its way to Africa and then I remembered a conversation I had with a very wise friend a few years back. On my first trip to Africa she told me that visiting Africa will remind one of what the proper view of a woman’s breast should be. I think she is correct. BUT—if underwear starts being thrown at the pulpit, I might change my mind…

5. God can use whomever God wants…even a crazy Mzungu like me—I often wrestle with how to convey a particular message. I spend time agonizing over how culturally appropriate an illustration will be, or if I will even be understood. The truth is, it is often the times when I think I have given my worst sermon that God opens someone’s ears to what Scripture might be saying. And I guess that is the whole point; I just need to continue to pray that I get out of the way.