It has been correctly observed that preaching in Africa is almost always topical, and with time the topical preaching has gone from the weird to the most absurd. God’s people are surviving on what the preachers want them to hear even if it has little or no relation with the Bible passage that is read at the start of the sermon. Platitudes of common sense have replaced the exposition of God’s Word. In other cases, preaching amounts to nothing more than a tirade of scolding at the top of a preacher’s voice. In the light of all this, there is little surprise that the churches are largely terribly malnourished. As long as this continues to be the staple diet of the churches, there is no hope for the African church to be the salt and light that this continent needs.
Thankfully, there are good exceptions. I have just spent the last few days at a Langham Preaching Seminar here in Lusaka, with Emmanuel Oladipo. He is originally from Nigeria, and in view of a recent post, I readily admit that God has a sense of humour! The theme was “Preaching that is Faithful”.
|Emmanuel Oladipo -- Our Seminar Facilitator|
We were about 25 preachers who attended the seminar, from different denominations in Lusaka. We were all with some previous training and experience in preaching, but the appreciation for the seminar was expressed by everyone in attendance. The model from Ramesh Richard’s book, Scripture Sculpture, was used. In the study of the text, Ramesh goes from “the meat of the text,” to “the skeleton of the text”, and finally to “the heartbeat of the text”. He does the same with the sermon construction, but goes backwards from “the heartbeat of the sermon,” to “the skeleton of the sermon,” and finally to “the meat of the sermon.” As a teaching tool, this model is very good.
|One participant during individual study of the text of Scripture|
The second full day was spent on how to work from the text to the actual sermon. This time it was Malachi 3:6-12 and 2 Samuel 13:1-19. We spent quite some time debating the issue of tithing in New Testament times. It was good to hear the age-old arguments flying across the room from the Bible and not from denominational preferences. The second day ended again with Emmanuel preaching from 2 Samuel 13, and again with humility subjecting his preaching to our evaluation.
|One group synchronizing the fruit of their personal study|
Most of the work during this seminar was done as we spent time alone working on texts of Scripture and then we were divided into small groups for the purpose of synchronizing our work. It was during these personal and group periods that most of the wrestling with Scripture was done, until sermonic material began to flow. It is this hard work that many preachers do not want to go through. Yet, just as there is no good physical health without exercise and sweat, there is no good preaching without hard exegetical spadework. We African preachers have to learn that there is no graduating from this if we are to remain faithful to our work. We must remain preachers of God’s Word!
|Two groups synchronizing the fruit of their personal textual studies|
The message from Jeremiah is very clear. Every month, for the last one and a half years, I have been hosting a small group of about 10 to 15 pastors in our neighbourhood for this very purpose. Each month one of us brings a sermon that he recently preached or intends to preach. We then go through his sermon preparation process together and use that as a plumb line to see how faithful he was to the text of Scripture. Faithfulness—that is the key! These monthly meetings have been very enriching times for all the pastors in my neighbourhood who attend them regularly. These pastors come from various denominations: Pentecostal Assemblies of God, Reformed Church in Zambia, Pilgrim Wesleyan, United Church in Zambia, Presbyterian, Evangelical Church in Zambia, Baptist, Brethren in Christ, independent Charismatic/Pentecostal churches, etc. It has been wonderful to see the change that has taken place in some who were initially disillusioned about expository preaching or just never knew how to allow the Bible to speak for itself. Now they want their friends to also attend such meetings regularly. However, we limit the numbers to maintain some level of intimacy.
|A group photo taken on the last day|