Ghana is a Christian nation, books tell us that 68% of Ghanaians are Christian, and as I have spoken to people, I find that almost everyone has a church, and a Christian name and a Biblical literacy that far surpasses the average church attendee in the states. Our first Sunday here we went to a local Pentecostal Church.
Our second and third Sundays began quite early as the church right outside our window began worship at 7am with very loud praise and worship music.
Walking around in the Keneshe Market you hear a collective of different sounds, and then suddenly I think I hear the sound of Lenny LeBlanc’s song “There is None like You” and I’m shocked. The first day at the hotel, I come down for breakfast, and “Shout to the Lord” is playing in the lobby. Turns out there was a pastor’s conference at the hotel that day, and looking over their book display I see about 20 books out of maybe 40 that I have read, or own, books like The Purpose Driven Life, or one of the Rich Dad’s books.
In speaking with my missionary friend Andrew, he tells me that here, the Christian God is often just one of many gods worshipped in Ghana. There is a custom when meeting a chief to pour out a libation to the gods as a way of greeting. The libation, if I understand it correctly, is a strong drink which before sipping ceremonially, but before you sip, you pour some out on the ground. It gets tricky if you are a pastor, or missionary because while you want to respect the customs of the people you’ve come to serve, at the same time you are there as a witness to Jesus, and what does it say when you say there are no other gods but the one true God, and then at the same time, pour out a libation to honor the local gods. Andrew tells a story of meeting with a sub-chief who, before they began said, let me show our respect to our gods, and you to your God. It was, he said, an amazing moment.
Granted, I’ve only attended two worship churches, and so I don’t really have enough data to say really anything, but I feel duty bound to report on what I’ve experienced.
Both churches were very welcoming and very alive with people excited to be there. I will compare and contrast the two worship services, listing both their common elements, and reflect on their differences between here and the states.
Time – Both services were well over two hours long and people continued to arrive until throughout the services.
Children – Both services welcomed children, at New Life, they sat at the back of the sanctuary, and at Elim, the younger ones were brought forward and prayed for before they left, and most of the older ones left for Sunday School.
Welcoming – Both services devoted 10-15 minutes of time to greeting each other where you were expected to shake the hands of everyone there. At the Elim Church, the pastor finally cut it short and said we could do this all day, and then he began with the sermon. At the New Life Church, there was a fun song of greeting service music that seemed as if it was sung each week as people shook hands and welcomed each other. Likewise during the offering, as people walked by the box and deposited their offering, another fun song was sung. I’ve included a 30 second audio clip: Offering Song. At Elim Church, I don’t believe there was service music during the greetings.
Special Music – Elim Church had an amazing interpretive signing of “How Great is our God,” at New Life, each of the lead singers were invited up to sing a song before the first offering. I’ve included a 30 second audio clip of a beautiful rendition of Psalm 23.
The instrumentation at New Life was electric bass, trap drum set and occasional trumpet. I gathered there was a keyboard, but the morning we were there it had rained all night and so the keyboard was not used. The vocals were provided by three young women who traded off leading the worship songs. Here is a 30 second audio clip of one of the gathering songs: Gathering Song. At Elim Church, instrumentation was an electric piano, and the music was lead by the piano player one Sunday and a lead worshipper (who had a Austrian accent) along with four women who did backgrounds. I don’t have audio clips of the Elim Church because it is a basic western style of praise and worship.
At both churches the sermon was 40 minutes to an hour long and when the preacher was done, the congregation clapped enthusiastically. At the New Life Church, the preacher spoke in Ga, and that was translated into English. It was a bit confusing at times and when the preacher and the translator had an interesting dialog between them, where sometimes she would seem to ask, “did you mean …. And he would say, no, no, I meant, …” or sometimes he would translate it himself. It was a fun interplay to watch.
Elim Church is a church of mostly missionaries, in fact in the two weeks we’ve been attending, we’ve yet to meet someone who isn’t a missionary. Needless to say, it has a very strong lay leadership. The youth group has been amazing, as Fox and Grace have totally connected with the missionary kids in ways I’ve never seen them connect to anything before. It is amazing to be on this side of the altar and see a church working like God intended them too. Welcoming, inviting, and true to the word.
This week I intend to return to New Life and check out a worship service that is not on a rainy Sunday.