During my first three months in Malawi I preached more Sunday morning sermons than I had in my entire ministry career. I wrote some things I learned in our first months here. We just finished our sixth month and I’ve continued preaching on an almost weekly basis. I’ve grown accustomed to the routine of studying and writing a sermon every week. And I’ve learned a few things. Here are five more lessons I’ve learned while in the pulpit:
1. When your wife starts dosing during your sermon you know you’ve lost the congregation—This is true even if the reason she is struggling is she’s heard the sermon twice (four times if you count its Chichewa translation) and only slept five hours the night before. Part of being partnered in ministry is having your best critic sleep next to you every night. We just gotta get to bed earlier.
2. When preaching and leading the liturgy for two 2+ hour long services without a sound system, it is wise to save some of your voice for the last half of the day (even if the back five rows can’t hear a thing in the beginning)—Who would have thought that it would be preaching instead of singing/screaming in a punk band that would send me to my sister for vocal therapy?
3. It is possible to preach a sermon that plants seeds in young minds while nourishing and stretching older (more mature) souls—I’ve always had a deep passion to see intergenerational church work. It’s tragic that most churches don’t make more of an effort to create a worship service that is welcoming to the entire body. I do understand that many parents see Sunday morning as a time for personal growth and worship. But that doesn’t have to mean shipping kids to Sunday school every single week (a blog for another day). I recently preached on the traditional Palm Sunday text (the church calendar is different here). My sermon was definitely geared toward adults, but right before I began preaching I looked out the door and saw a donkey grazing outside. LIGHTBULB! I desperately wanted to bring the donkey in, but settled for having the children make the sound ah-oo, ah-oo, ah-oo! whenever I uttered the word donkey (if you ever want to laugh in a foreign country ask a local to make an animal noise, you’ll hear something different in every place). Adults heard the Word preached and children followed along waiting anxiously for me to drop the d-word (well b-word, donkey is burru in chichewa), and hopefully picked up some of the sermon along the way.
4. When preaching a bilingual service, knowing at least a small amount of both languages is VERY helpful—I’m not going to pretend that, after six months in Malawi, I am fluent in Chichewa. But I can take the church through the first part of the liturgy in the native tongue. I may not have the correct phrasing or pronunciation of every word down, but it is nice to be able to lead the congregation to the Lord’s Prayer… People genuinely appreciate my attempts at their language. We all get a laugh when, instead of asking people to stand and sing a hymn, I say “now can we all stand and sing a bean or house” (nyimba=beans, nyumba=house and nyimbo=hymn).
5. Illustrations are only useful when people can actually relate to them—A few weeks ago I failed miserably at explaining the function of a piñata. I said that it was a doll stuffed full of candy, hung from a tree and then beaten by children Great image. The man translating my sermon just starred at me. I tried to go into further detail but soon realized it was a lost cause. I was attempting to say that when Jesus calls us to turn the other cheek, we aren’t being told to take a beating for the sake of the enjoyment of another…like a piñata. Half of the people who knew what a piñata was nodded their head showing they were tracking, the other half laughed hysterically as I tried to explain the illustration to the 400 other people who were lost. When we finished the sermon the translator leaned over to me and said, “Children beat dolls in Mexico?” Illustration Fail.