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Early Impressions

Sunday morning services in Córdoba have proven themselves a fertile time for considering the forms employed by the local congregations when gathering for worship and the Word.  Here are just a three differences that we’ve noticed between services here and those in the States, recognizing our very limited experience so far:

  1. Sunday Worship in CórdobaLength: The services here are long.  It’s normal to start with a five minute devotional, then spend an hour in worship, followed by an hour of preaching, and capped off with about fifteen minutes of announcements.  In some services, the preaching runs longer, though the longest we’ve seen has been a 90 minute message on Esther.  I’m not sure how to think about this.  It’s absolutely wonderful to have the extra time in worship.  I am not a fan of the idea that church has to be short.  I’m probably having the hardest time with the length of the preaching, though not with the length itself.  I have no qualms about long messages–I have heard hour-long messages that left me broken over sin, encouraged in Christ, and invigorated for ministry.  Long is fine.  I suppose I’m having a hard time with the length that results from the local style of preaching.  Which leads to number two…
  2. Style of Preaching: The same basic styles show up here as in the States.  Some preachers preach through a passage, and some preach on a topic with reference to a few relevant passages.  The difference is in how the preacher communicates his point within those styles–they state their point, and then they repeat the same point (perhaps changing a couple of words for their synonyms) three, four, or even five times.  So while the sermon is much longer, the content conveyed is not more than what is often conveyed in a 30 minute message in the States, and sometimes it is actually less.  For example, the message on Esther could have been preached effectively in about 40 minutes.  But here’s my question: is there something in the Spanish culture that requires this repetition for comprehension?  Do Spaniards need this type of repetition in order to grasp the point, or is this simply the style that was common to the missionaries that came over here in the 70s and 80s to plant churches?  Does the Latin American church influence this at all?  Would a shorter message work, or would it leave the body unedified?
  3. Community Worship: Worship is anything but a spectator sport here.  Not only is everyone singing (as they do in the States, usually), but between songs, everyone is praying out loud.  Usually one or two members pray a little louder, and everyone else quiets down while that person prays, and then the next song starts.  In some churches, this feels chaotic.  In others, it seems to follow a pretty clearly accepted pattern, and does not feel disordered.  It wasn’t until recently that I got over some major internal hurdles with this.  For the first few months here, I was thrown by the noise.  People behind me, in front of me, to my side, are all praying out loud, and it is difficult to drown out the noise mentally to pray as well.  Some are praying in a clearly unbiblical way–repeating the same phrases over and over between every song (see Matthew 6:7-13)–and this both distracts me and makes me sad.  I’ve tried to approach this by reminding myself of my own sinfulness and failings first, and also by praying for God to give me wisdom on how to think about this.  About four weeks ago, while praying for wisdom and for a loving perspective, it struck me that we’re worshiping in a country dominated by religious leaders that would step in between the Christian and the Father.  In a sense, this time of public prayer is a way of enacting the very Protestant belief in the priesthood of the believer, and the free access through Christ to the throne of God.  We do not need a human priest to intercede–Jesus is our intercessor–and I can’t blame those who have lived in a thoroughly Roman Catholic society for their whole lives if they decide to publicly and regularly reject Catholic doctrine by praying individually between every song.  I’m still very bothered by the unbiblical, repetitive prayers, but I’m not as distracted by the individual, out-loud prayers by the body.  I’ve also found that it helps me to sit down and bow my head during this time.  If I do this, I’m better able to block out the noise around me, so that I’m able to pray as well.

These are just some early impressions.  I’m trying to avoid criticism in this post.  I’m just identifying some things we’ve noticed, identifying where they push against what I’m used to, and some thoughts I have on them.  It’s a privilege to be here, and it’s our continued prayer that God would work through us for His glory and the good of His people in Spain.

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  1. Jessica J.

    fascinating! You did a good job at not coming across as complaining or criticizing. :) I really appreciate you explaining the process you’ve taken to begin to work through the differences in your own heart – this cannot be easy – and to know that this will take a long time – I think I would be easily discouraged. Good job writing a positive post on something that is difficult to work through.

  2. Julie F.

    Maybe you’ll get some insights about the repetitive sermon thoughts as you visit more churches and talk w coworkers.

  3. Carol

    Thanks for keeping us “in the loop.” You never know how you might witness to someone else when you “sit down and bow your head during this time.”

  4. Steve Fulton

    Nice observations. We have been trying to find a church here in Florida where the main goal in preaching is faithfully proclaiming the text that is selected and how it effects the reader. That has been a very difficult thing. Most of the services look the same. And most of the preachers use scripture to support their point. I fear that few services recognize the “audience of One”.

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