This last Sunday was my third Sunday in a row preaching. I typically preach on the third Sunday of each month, so that was as planned. The last Sunday in May, I had been invited to a small, young church in Onaville. However, this last Sunday was a surprise. I found out I was preaching at around 8pm on Saturday evening!
I like to take a full week to prepare for a sermon for a few reasons. First of all, Creole not being my native language, it takes a little more effort to read and study for the purpose of putting a message together. I now do this in Creole, rather than in English and then translating it over. Several times, early in my time here, I would write a sermon in English and then found there were difficulties in translating it to Creole. There are sometimes meaning that is lost because the reading in Scripture is rendered differently, for example. However, another main reason is that it gives me time throughout the week to find ways to communicate the message in a proper cultural context. Often times, that means finding an illustration from their every day life that would communicate a spiritual truth. I might be able to think of a good story or example off the top of my head that would help illustrate a certain point, but chances are that it would only help if I were preaching to an American audience.
I believe it was November of last year when I preached a sermon on sanctification, which was the theme for the month. I described it as a process through which the Holy Spirit transforms us into what God desires us to be. During my preparations, I thought of a butterfly and the fact that it starts off as a caterpillar. That ugly creature goes into a chrysalis and comes out a butterfly, completely changed - a new creature. After I shared this information, I got blank stares. Now, every 6th grader in America takes science and learns about metamorphosis. Unfortunately, I did not take into account that 50% of my audience here is illiterate and the highest level of education in our community is 6th grade. Very few, if any, people knew that a caterpillar and a butterfly are the same animal, at different stages. My illustrations and complimenting material needs to be well thought out so that it actually communicates well to this particular culture.
The other consideration due to the lack of education in this community is the complexity of the message. Studies that bounce from text to text are not practical - half of the people don't read, so they can't follow along. Likewise, sermons that are heavy in new knowledge may not be received well. Background information on the authors or original language studies, for example, while useful for me to get at the heart of a passage, would be lost on this audience. What these people are hungry for is application. How can they make their lives relevant to what Scripture says? Some things are black and white, therefore, easy to make applicable. Others are dependent on the expressions of culture and require more thought and exploration.
In light of all that, you can get a feel for my stress levels on Saturday night, as I realize I have 12 hours to write a message that will communicate God's Word in way that is culturally relevant in both delivery and in application, so that it is understood and leads people to action. I spent some time in prayer before even opening the Bible (which I had to look for, since I'd given mine away!). I know some of you reading this were also praying for me and I thank you. God knew what the congregation needed to hear. He also knew how I would default to prepare for the message in such a short time. The message was clear and simple, yet profound and moved people to action. I concluded with two responses - one for those who did not yet know Christ and one for those who did. Eight people surrendered their lives to God that morning as many others began to pray for the lost, pray that God would send workers to reap the harvest, and ask if God would send them to go!
Why do I share all that? Because I "know" what I have to do to prepare to preach here. But God knows what the people need to hear. The best preparation for ministry is done in the power of prayer.