There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe people and language, standing before the throne and before the lamb. Revelation 7:9
I’ve had a couple of weeks to recover from my trip to Jos, Nigeria. I thought I would reflect on my experience as to what I learned. Although our cultures are very different (I will elaborate a bit on this thought), we are quite similar. The cultural context may change, but the hearts and the issues are the same.
African life is much more impromptu and unscripted than ours. Maybe it’s part of a colder versus warmer climate phenomenon. Time is relative; things don’t always start or end on time, and that’s OK with them. I call it African time. For those of us who are a bit compulsive, it might drive you nuts.
An example of this occurred when one of the speakers for our conference was unable to attend at the last moment. That left a hole in the schedule for an hour presentation. Our conference leader looked around the room at his leadership and asked one man, a pastor from Gambia, to take his place. This was at 7 pm, and the man was to speak the next morning at 10.
Without hesitation, the Gambian pastor accepted the assignment, and his presentation the next morning was accompanied by a power point slide presentation. He did a great job under pretty tough circumstances, although I wonder if he got any sleep.
He is pictured above playing an African harp, the design of which has been around for 1,000’s of years It may have been a relative of the harp today. It is played backwards, and the stalk of the instrument where the strings are attached is made of stretched cowhide which can be adjusted to tune it. The instrument had a marvelous sound.
Another example was the style of worship. Here in America, nothing is left to chance, and most worship leaders provide music or lyrics for the next weeks’ songs in advance. Everyone is thus playing off the same sheet of music when you practice and prepare.
Not so in Africa. They have no music or lyrics to provide, and having practice seems irrelevant to them. If you from America are holding a mike o stage, it is quite disconcerting, to say the least. You are expected to perform. Fortunately, most songs are in English and have repeatable refrains that are easy to pick up and provide harmony.
Still, looking at the keyboard, drums, trumpet and guitar without any music or direction is unsettling. They are used to it, and the music is always beautiful, although not always perfect.
One similarity, though, is that the millennials are digitally connected, not just in America but in Africa too. That’s what makes millennials in Africa not much different from those in other cultures. The pastors and leaders in the room were all interested in connecting to this next generation but were scratching their heads on how to do it.
Conversely, the millennials in the audience (about a third) were there trying to figure out the opposite: How to connect with a Christianity which is not digitally savvy. It occurred to me that we have two groups of people – the millennials and older generations – each trying to figure out how to interact and communicate with each other, yet neither one having the perfect answer.
A woman pastor from Nigeria has a church which is about 95% millennials (which is good). She was struggling to find relevant ways to communicate and interact with them. What we both learned is that we have things to learn from millennials, just as they have things to learn from older generations.
By the time the conference was over, I think she had some insights on how to approach them more effectively. What I said at the conference is true: it is not what you teach them, it is how you deliver the message that is important.
The challenge is to embrace newer technology which is not going away. It is the pipeline into the millennial culture, and the more creative we can be to harness it, the easier it will be to connect with our next generations.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Listening to your mentee is important. You can learn from them which is so important in helping guide their path in their world which is technologically different from yours.
WORSHIP: Listen to Michael W. Smith sing Open the Eyes of My Heart.
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