In 1996, as a senior in high school, I preached for the first time at my home church of Kings Valley Wesleyan. Since then I have preached hundreds of times between Canada and the US. Over the last 16 years how I approach preaching, how I think about it, and how I do it, is constantly changing and evolving. Since moving to Zambia I have preached twice, and preaching here has been quite a learning experience.
Even within North America there are numerous different cultures and demographics you need to be aware of when preparing and giving a sermon. Depending on who you’re talking to, you need to give attention to things like: cultural references, the jokes you use (or don’t use), illustrations, attire, slang, tone of voice… This isn’t to conform or to please, but rather you don’t want anything needlessly getting in the way of people hearing the truth from God’s word. Preaching should be about the message, not the preachers preferences or personality.
Some of the luxuries of preaching in North America is that there are certain things you can usually depend on. Things like: english being the common language, cultural references (people, places, movies, tv, brands, stores, shared history…), and being able to read people’s body language. But when you enter into a culture that is vastly different from the one you’ve always known, many things have to change.
Language: when I preach I usually get pretty pumped and the speed of my preaching increases. Here in Zambia the national language is english, but not everyone speaks it, and even if they do, we Westerners bring an accent that can be difficult to understand. So I need to choose words properly (common words), I need to slow down, I need to be very mindful of my interpreter (if I have one) and those who are listening. A lack of attention here and the message is gone.
Cultural references: no Buffalo Bills jokes in Zambia. My illustrations here have included things like: football (soccer), describing my successes and failures in learning tonga, and a story of two boys I met who killed a monkey with a sling shot because it was killing their chickens at night. An illustration that makes no sense, illustrates nothing.
Body language: I love so much about Zambian culture. Zambians young and old are very respectful and with the exception of singing in worship, they are much quieter than Americans. So how do you interpret things like silence while preaching? Respect? Language barrier? Boring sermon? This takes time to learn, and the longer we are here the better we are at understanding body language. Thankfully jokes transcend culture and you know if you said something funny.
Mochipapa Pilgrim Wesleyan Church (Choma Zambia)
This is the church I usually attend on weekends as it is just a two minute walk down the road from where I live and the people there are so warm and friendly. Pastor Sichikata asked if I would preach from Numbers 13:21-33 and the focus of my message was fully trusting in the promises of God. It was my first time having an interpreter (Jonathan) who translated the message in tonga. Pausing after every few sentences made it difficult to feel like you are “flowing”, but you get used to it and you really have to focus on staying in the moment.
Never the Same Camp (Kalomo Zambia)
My friend Richman who leads Fortress Ministries in Choma asked if I would speak at a youth camp he and Poetice Ministries (from Michigan) were hosting in Zambia. Here I preached from Proverbs 4:23 where it talks about guarding your heart above everything else. In having been a youth pastor for 11 years, this was such an interesting experience. Preaching to students, just like in America, is completely different from preaching to adults.
* photo’s by Shelagh Murphy.