For last two days before the Preacher's Conference, we have been at the national student conference of FOCUS Zimbabwe. A short drive out of Harare, through the trash-lined streets of Chitungwiza and Seke. Turn left past the Velvet Service Station. Take the dust road to the Oposco Children's Development Centre (Funded by Korea's Community Chest organisation. Some people take their monopoly very seriously.) A 3-pole marquee sits in a field and 400 students arrive in college buses and camp in various buildings around the site. Massive pots of sadza feed long lines of aspiring teachers, engineers and accountants. The fruit of Zimbabwe's brilliant education system is gathered here. It is pretty exciting. I discover two friends from Mkoba College, where we stayed in February. Of 80 flighty Christian Union students we met there in February 2 steady men have come. Praise God for Tafara and Elijah.
I listen to the conversations about preaching, and attend a seminar on it as forward research for the Preacher's Conference. In the 1970's Australia had its worship wars - in which old-school traditional (ie. hymns) were pitted against new-wave innovations (ie. Graham Kendrick choruses! Ha!) Zimbabwe is having their worship wars now, and music is not the only front. There is a highly-charged preaching front in this battle too.
The sides divide like so.
Old-School Preaching: prepares well, relies on character credibility, speaks from the bible, unpacking passages and books, goes for 45 minutes, and is accompanied by prayer.
New Wave Preaching: Let's the Spirit flow, employs the credibility of charisma, speaks from the Bible briefly and the Spirit muchly, opens life issues, does so for 1.5 hours, and accompanies preaching with Prophetic promising and delivering demons.
To anyone who lived through the Australian worship wars, these themes are mostly familiar. It is an old school Pentecostal style-revival. But in Zimbabwe, it is not 1970's Pentecostalism rebadged. It is new wave. It is the goods. People dig it deeply.
Dusty Field Generals of a Future War
So we are sitting in a dusty soccer field in a large semi-circle for the preaching seminar. The future field generals of the war are here. Young preachers learning the art in mainline churches. Some young apostles, prophets, 'men of God' who seek to slay crowds in charismatic churches.
The FOCUS staff-worker lays down the mainline tone. The training has two parts - preparing the preacher and preparing the message. When he sends up the Spirit-led preacher who prepares for 5 minutes before he gets up, everyone laughs. Truth is, some portion of this crowd sit under such preachers weekly. It is an odd audience.
When question-time comes, it all comes out. In this field, the mainline tactics are winning. But enter the rest of Zimbabwe, and they are being beaten back and quickly.
How do you Win the Preaching War?
During the day, three talks were given by Peter Oyugi, a Kenyan-born ex-FOCUS staffworker, a pastor now in Harrow, London. He preaches systematically through 2 Timothy. His sermon outlines dot down the page in 3 P's, or 3 C's. They are classic mainline stuff.
But his application is electric. People gasp at horror stories of sin, they hoot when he satirises nominal Christianity. He unpacks the text and the lives of the listeners. He leaves both strewn around on the open ground, where everyone can see them.
Tim Keller calls this 'electrifying clarity', my friend Grant Thorp - 'logic on fire'. It is just terrific.
Peter looks like a mainline preacher - clearly prepped (classic evangelical quotes on tap),credible character (he has paid his own way to speak at this conference), speaks from the Bible (2 Tim 1, 2, 3, 4 in succession), preaches for 45 minutes and heals or delivers no-one.
At the same time, Tawanda tells me he would stretch the sensibilities of some mainline denominations. Too passionate, and he allowed an 'armour-bearer'* to carry his bible to the front for him (which he hated, but he accommodated to earn a hearing and not shame the guy who bore it.)
It was a great model of preaching that is biblically-fired and contextually-smart. If you are going to win a preaching war, this what a model soldier looks like. And evangelicals do need to win the preaching war - we really do need the electrifying clarity of expositional preaching to reveal the fluff of new-wave faddishness that is the other stuff. Mainline evangelicals need to mainline this good stuff.
* Armour-bearers carry the bible for the preacher to the pulpit. They hope to receive particular blessing in the company of the man of God.