Lessons we can learn from a couple of third-world churches
Earlier this year I was in Haiti with my wife and family. While working with two local—and very different—church congregations in Leogane (just outside Port-au-Prince), I gleaned several lessons we can apply when it comes to our approach to church:
1. Bring nothing less than your best. I was deeply moved by the incredible lengths the Haitian people go to bring their best. Every church service was an opportunity to dress up in the best they had. Men wore suits, women wore dresses. Although the churches do not have a dress code or turn people away based on their appearance, the culture in Haiti suggests that unless you're dressed to the nines, you shouldn't even walk into a church service. The point here is less about external positioning and more about internal posturing toward God. They dress their best, bring their best and give their best because that's what they feel God does for them. How can we foster this sense of honor and excellence in our church communities?
2. A holistic approach to church works well. Although commonplace in Third World countries, it was refreshing to see the value of having so many key community services stem from a local church. Though just a few miles from each other, both churches we worked with had a medical clinic, orphanage and school connected to the main church. One had a homeless shelter, and the other was building a trade school. When churches are the hub for community services and vocational opportunities, they serve as an excellent way for the gospel to permeate all areas of life from a common birth canal.
3. Preach the Word, not the problem. The Haitian pastors we were with were all about preaching the Bible. In a country where the poverty is overwhelming, I expected to hear a lot about the physical needs in their messages. Quite the contrary. These pastors preach the Word passionately and boldly. The earth is just a temporary landing pad—they know eternity is what matters. And they want to make sure heaven is crowded! I struggle with how easy it is for me to slip into the mode that says the Bible is all about me and solving my problems, when it's really a lot less about me and a whole lot more about God.
4. Production-heavy services are overrated. In the midst of often chaotic and long church services in Haiti, I found myself wanting structure and order. Some sort of run sheet for the service would've been nice. But I quickly learned that this would be to their demise. If their services become more prepackaged or pre-scripted, the pastors will lose their enthusiasm, joy and anticipation for what God might do. The Haitian people want environments that make room for God's agenda, not theirs. I wonder if this might be a bigger problem than we're willing to admit for American churches.
Brad Abare is the director of communications for the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, founder of the Center for Church Communication and president of Personality, a communication and marketing consultancy.