What are the dangers of saying you are a preacher? Someone might ask you to preach. Also, someone might ask you to teach.
(To round out the top five dangers of saying you’re a preacher, the other three are that someone will explain in detail why they haven’t made it to church lately, ask you endless questions about God, and attempt to debate with you that God does not exist.)
Sunday morning, 8am. Katie and I went to a German Lutheran church, Church of the Redeemer, in Hillcrest, KZN. The service ended a little after 9am, and since we had some time before we needed to meet someone, we decided to stay for coffee and tea after the service.
After talking with multiple parishioners, and for at least the 100th time explaining how we arrived in KZN (pronounced Kay-Zed-En), the pastor spotted us and introduced himself. He, too, asked what we were doing here – I told him, and he started to talk a little about his life. When he was a young man he wanted to go to seminary – but finances kept him from doing so. Instead, he went to work in the mines. Clearly his current work and his past job were linked in his mind, as he asked the question – “How do you preach the Gospel to someone working 16 or 18 hours a day, six days a week? They don’t want to go to church on Sunday – they just want to rest.” It’s a question I’ve wondered about too. And no doubt there is no one answer, no perfect formula. But I think it’s a question that every pastor needs to struggle with – how do you reach people who are so exhausted from the week that doing one more thing- even just a one hour activity – is too much? How do you reach the miner, the sweatshop worker, the familial caregiver?
He provided at least one answer to this question – an answer that worked in his context and may work in others: You have to walk with them, and live with them.
We continued to talk about his life – how he went to seminary in Pietermaritzburg, was a pastor of youth in the area for twenty years, retired, and now has come out of retirement to serve this church for 2014 (the next pastor is lined up, it appears, and will start at the beginning of the year).
And suddenly he asked, “So, do you want to preach here?” I was taken aback. We met only about 10 minutes ago – and I’m not even sure he knew my last name at that point. I think I just introduced myself as “Will”. In my surprise I heard myself agree, and we talked about a day that would work well – second and fourth Sundays were out of the question, as I don’t speak any German. Finally we settled on the third Sunday of November, preaching on whatever text I want.
So there it is, danger #1 – tell a pastor you’re a preacher and they’ll put you on the calendar.
We left the church, bound for RedPoint to meet a German missionary. We met him, and chatted for more than an hour about what he and his wife are doing in he country. They have been sent by their church in Germany to South Africa to work with the Zionist churches. As he explained it, a Zionist church in Chicago sent missionaries to South Africa many years ago. After just a few years, the missionaries were called back to Chicago, but the mission starts they created continued. Over the years, the original Zionist mission starts began to add back in some ancestor worship and other non-Christian aspects to their services, sometimes becoming quite dark and demonic.
Relationships and religion in this area are based on power – and many don’t care where the power comes from. So they will utilize whatever power is available, sometimes having all-night services that are quite demonic, he related. His job in this area is to work with the Zionist church leaders for four years at a time, teaching them the Bible. It sounds as though they do a few of these a month – some all day workshops on Saturdays, some night classes. At the end of the four years they will receive a certificate from the Zionist group in Chicago – this is apparently a big deal for the leaders here. There is the great hope that in those four years they have learned more from the Bible and have come to see that demonic worship is not what Christ is about.
This missionary wants to take us to a day-time service, but we would need to be invited. Even if we are, he said that the service will be very toned down from what they usually do so that they seem more “mainline” Christian. If there is the chance to go to a night-time service, he’ll take us, too. He said his first reaction when he went was to try and stop them from calling demons and associating with them – but he learned that if he were to do that, he could jeopardize the bond and relationship he is building with them. So in the hope of building stronger relationships over the long run, he had to sit quietly and let things he doesn’t agree with happen.
Sometimes, it appears, you have to invest time and life with people – even if you don’t agree with what they do. Living with them through the experience could allow you to have a deeper and more lasting impact on their lives. But at the same time, that will not work in every situation.
Then he asked if we wanted to attend one of the sessions on October 25. And if we were attending, then I could teach or Katie and I could teach one of the lessons. I said we would think about it – I didn’t know what the sessions were on. But I know we’ll go, and I’m feeling moved to try teaching.
Danger #2 – tell a someone you are a preacher and they’ll ask you to teach.
Sunday, midday. The missionaries said they needed to get their kids home, and Katie and I needed to go find some lunch.
So there it is, our Sunday morning.
What is one thing I learned about how to preach in a changing culture? Sometimes, you simply cannot preach. At least not at first – at least not until you’ve built rapport and the people know that you care and you’re there to stay.