Cultural Differences: Church Services And Preaching

What are church services like in Madagascar?  I think there could be lots here, but I will try to keep it brief.  I have been to many different churches from a few different denominations, so I think I am somewhat safe making generalizations.  But I will also say that I have mainly been at work in the South, and these things might not be true in the capital city, Antananarivo, which is a bit more developed.

  • The pastor/priest/preacher/evangelist/bishop/etc. will be sweating.  And when I say sweating, I don’t just mean a little, I’ll-keep-a-handkerchief-handy-so-I-can-wipe-my-brow kind of sweat.  I mean drippy, clothes-completely-soaked, I-hope-he’s-staying-hydrated kinds of sweat.  This was definitely true of me this morning at the church where I preached.
  • Point 1 comes from the fact that churches are not air-conditioned and are often poorly ventilated.

    This is where I preached this morning.

  • Nevertheless, people will come and stay upwards of 3 hours.  The average length of a service is about 2 hours.
  • The preacher cannot throw a casual allusion to a bible verse or character into his sermon and expect the congregation to get it.  If you want to mention Daniel and the lion’s den, you are gonna need to tell the whole story.
  • When the service is over, we all go outside and everyone shakes everyone’s hand.
  • Right after the church service is the time that, if there is someone in the community who is sick or has a problem, the congregation will go and visit them.
  • This point will take a little longer to explain.  It has to do with preaching styles and the types of teaching that are effective.  Let’s pretend I was going to preach a hypothetical sermon on something rather generic, like the 10 commandments.  Imagine this is how I did it:

I went through each commandment, and for each one I had some of the people from the congregation come up, and I had us act out a little scenario of how we should follow each commandment.  And after each scenario, I had the congregation say the following rhyme I made up (You can chant along.  Clap where bold.)

God’s commands are always true.
He knows what is best for you.

Pretend that was your lesson for the week.  You might think, “That’s great! (for a six-year-old)” However, the people here don’t have the concept that they are too good or too mature for any particular style of teaching.  In fact, when I use a prop or act something out or have them repeat something back to me, that has kept their interest and been much more effective than the times where I tried to teach like I would to an American audience.

The more I’ve thought about it, I’ve wondered if we could really call it an “immature” style of teaching at all.  Why is it considered more mature if I teach you by:

I make strange hand gestures sometimes.

Explaining something in the original language.
Working in an obscure story from Judges.
Quoting C.S. Lewis or some other well liked author.
Creating a mind-bending, quotable epigram for people to tweet: (RT @ryanbrazile: People weren’t created to fulfill commandments,  commandments were created to fulfill people.// preach it brazzle! #mylifejustchanged)

Doing the above things would do little to impress my Malagasy audience.  I think my point here is simply that there should never be a teaching I tune out of because it isn’t impressive enough.  Impressiveness is pretty subjective.  The above is not meant to be a criticism of either culture’s learning or teaching style.  I love hearing teachers from America, and I am also learning to appreciate the ways people learn here.  But neither way is inherently more mature.  Mature teaching is simply teaching that proclaims the truth.

Perhaps what is more important is mature listening, that actually takes the teaching and puts it into practice.

  • Finally, the last thing I will mention is that, the phrase they use here in the Malagasy language is not, “I am going to church,” or “I went to church,” or “When does the church service start?”  Instead, it would literally translate as, “I am going to pray,” and “I went to pray at the church,” and “When do we pray at the church?”  I like the idea communicated by this.  The time at the church is about prayer

    They are getting ready for the prayer to start at the church!

    .

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