Preaching to Mandarin congregation

Kenny preaches to Mandarin congregation with Annie the interpreter

I have not preached in the Mandarin service for some years. With the young preachers of the English congregation taking the pulpit regularly as part of their development, I thought it good to deposit something of myself in the Mandarin and deaf congregations. Pastor Edmund the Mandarin congregation pastor welcomed me to preach yesterday.

I began my preparation last week praying for the congregation and thinking about the composition of the group of 60 plus believers. The age groupings, the needs I could imagine such age groups would have, the actual needs that I know of, and the challenges the congregation was facing.

I looked at a few of the messages I preached last year in the English Service and prayerfully thought of using one of them.  Truth is both timely and timeless. So I looked for a sermon with timeless truths that apply to their life situation making them timely!! I finally settled on one message and copied it and renamed the file and started editing it prayerfully. I call this a “microwave sermon”.  The microwave is the prayer preparation and the modifications.

I had to change the number of verses to exposit from five verses to simply one verse. From three main points in the sermon, I focused on two. The message was interpreted so the time taken would be double. I did not want it to be a lengthy sermon so I shortened the passage, and the number of main points.

The applications and the conclusion had to change too. I had to share more illustrations and stories. This modification went on right to the time when the service began. As we stood and worship the Lord in the Mandarin congregation, thoughts flashed by and I had to change the introduction.

The heart of the message remained the same. It was like a house renovation.

In the end, I preached the sermon and enjoyed doing so.  The Spirit was upon me to preach good news to the believers. I hope they enjoyed it and found it inspiring and that the message brought them closer to God.

After the service they had lunch. So I sat down and chatted with a couple there. It was a meaningful Sunday.

John Sung: a manic depressive?

John Sung the revivalist

Dr. Alex Tang wrote a fascinating post about the late John Sung a well-known Chinese evangelist and revivalist to South East Asia and China of the 20th Century.

I have read John Sung’s biographies by various authors, and perused the notes of his fiery sermons. His dedication and the life-changing responses to his ministry everywhere he went, had stirred me to seek God, pray more and study the Word more.

What is interesting about Alex’s post is that he presents an unknown or ignored view of this man of God’s life and ministry. He proposes that John Sung might have been mentally ill. He in fact thinks he might have suffered from manic depressive psychosis. He quotes a source that stated:

Recent research, based partly on reliable archival materials from Union Theological Seminary, paint a different picture. It seems that Song really did suffer some sort of psychological breakdown, leading to hallucinations, strange dreams, visions, and bizarre behavior, including impenetrable letters and diagrams. Having been diagnosed as psychotic by three psychiatrists, he signed the self-admittance form to Bloomingdale Hospital in White Plains, New York.

There is a further citation which you can read in his blogpost HERE.

We know a preacher can be effective in his ministry even though he suffers from a physical health problem. But can a man of God have a mental illness and still be effective in his ministry, even perhaps aided by the symptoms of that illness itself? Why do we find it hard to believe that this may be possible?

Preaching the first person narrative sermon

The first person narrative sermon is one of the more difficult types of sermon to preach. In this form of preaching, the speaker takes on a character in a narrative and speaks in the first person as though he was the character, for example, Abraham or Apollos, Moses or Samson, Esther or Ruth. I have never done a first person narrative sermon before. But Christmas changed this.

Tom Cannon as Mordecai

Recently, one of my colleagues, Tom Cannon, did it and I was impressed by his sermon. He spoke as Mordecai, the uncle of Esther who was used by God to help save the people of Israel. He used an ingenious setting: the opening speech of the Purim festival where he narrated what had happened and why they are celebrating such a festival.

He had to know what he wanted to emphasize, the angle to approach the story. He had to memorize the script and rehearse it. Then he delivered the sermon with a colorful shawl around his shirt. Besides giving a creative kind of “book survey”, it ministered to people at levels beyond the main thrust of his message. This is to be expected, as the narrative sermon, like the parable, is rich and multi-layered in conveying truth.

The first person narrative sermon in the Christmas Service

At the end of the sermons, I got the pastoral team (already out of their costumes) to worship with the congregation

During the Christmas service on 23rd Dec 2017, the whole pastoral team decided to do five first person narrative sermonettes. It was called, “The Voices of Christmas”, with the tagline, five narratives, one story. The pastoral team did Mary, one of the shepherds, one of the magi, King Herod, and angel Gabriel. Each sermonette was about 7 minutes. The order of service began with three songs, followed by two sermonettes, another song, three sermonettes and a closing song. At the end, we had a quiz for the children who were within the service. We gave out gifts for correct answers. For fun, we had a quiz for the adults too. The service ended earlier than usual with O Come All Ye Faithful, and we ended with fellowship and good food.

The pastoral team enjoyed preaching the first person narrative sermons. It took a lot out of them but the sermons were well received by both adults and children. It was a good learning experience for everyone including myself as it was also a first time for me. Initially I baulked at it, and was supposed to summarize and thread together the various strands in a concluding sermonette. But it flashed on my mind that I could do that as Gabriel the archangel. It was nerve wracking and my first draft was too theoretical giving an overview of God’s eternal plan. I realized that at the full-dress rehearsal and so had to redo the whole message and bring it down to a more accessible and practical level. I cried to the Lord and he helped me. I saw that the main characteristic of angels is authority, so I had to sound confident and authoritative to convey angelic presence. I wore all white but could not find wings. It did not matter because it was a sermonette, not a drama. Just symbolic hints would do.

Interesting insights

There are many insights that arise to the fore when we enter the narrative as a character and see, hear, taste, smell, touch and feel. It’s a different kind of exegesis. One that uses the sanctified imagination. These insights are exposed that otherwise would have remained buried treasure if only exegetical analysis was used.

Have you done a first person narrative sermon before? What was your experience like?