A ‘Typical’ Indian Church Service

(Friday, February 1, 2013) Sunday in India is no different than any other day for the Hindu and Moslem masses, but for the Christians it is the most special day of the week.  They gather in homes, open public areas and church buildings throughout the nation.  Sandals are left outside and the barefooted worshippers enter and are seated, men on one side and women on the other.  A time of private personal prayer to prepare their hearts for worship is observed by each one as they enter.

Seldom do people come to anything on time in India, and church is no exception.  Very few people are present at the given starting time, but when a few arrive the singing starts.  Women outnumber men in many Indian churches about 5 to 1, and the women lead out in the singing.  Small drums played with the fingers or palms are the main instrument and when the singing starts the player picks up the beat.  Tambourines of various sizes and styles are also used.  Except in the very poorest of poor churches there is a basic, crude PA system which is set to maximum volume.  Women will sing into the mike leading various songs.  There is always a loudspeaker outside the meeting place blasting at full volume everything that is sung and said throughout the whole community.

Services usually last about 3 hours.  Try sitting Indian style on a hard concrete floor for 3 hours and you’ll find new reason to admire these people.  If they have even one chair, it is given to me to sit on in the front.  Children stay with their mothers the whole time, sometimes wandering back and forth between mother and father.  Most churches meet in small homes and are packed so tightly one couldn’t move if they had to.  I barely have room to stand upright in front of the chair I am sitting on.  People gather outside the open doors to hear as well.  Sometimes a canopy will be erected right in the street for people to gather to worship.  Rooftops are often used as well.

The services consist of lots of singing, announcements, a message, testimonies, and long times of prayers.  Of course I can never understand the prayers, but the fervency and intensity of those praying tells me all I need to know.  These people are talking to someone they know well and are very used to talking to. 

The offering time especially touches me.  To see these poor people sacrificially giving is very touching.  I feel like Jesus watching the widow put in her 2 mites.  Those without money to give will bring a cup or 2 of rice and leave that. Everyone gives something,  Often they will slip a few rupees into my hand when they greet me as they leave.  That is very, very touching.  I give it all, along with a gift of my own, to the pastor when I leave.

Messages vary in style, length and content.  Many of the pastors are recent converts from Hinduism, Islam or Gypsy animism.  They have little or no knowledge of the Bible, no ‘history’ of how a church is run to fall back on, no precedent, and no examples, nowhere to go for advice or training.  So they stumble along doing the best they can.  In many ways the church here reminds me of the church in the book of Acts.  Armed with God’s power and a testimony of what God has done to change their lives, they move into the darkness to advance the Kingdom of God.

If I can come in the evening or some time word is quickly spread by word of mouth that a special meeting is being held and everyone will come at a moment’s notice.  No one has a day timer and they love gathering whenever possible.  It is the highlight of their life!

Meals often follow services, a time of fellowship and enjoyment together.  Women cook rice and whatever sauce they choose to add to it. Everyone helps and enjoys the time together.  When they leave they are swallowed up into the masses of unbelievers.  Their mission field is all around them.  But for a few short hours on a Sunday they have a taste of heaven on earth as they gather with fellow believers to pray, praise, learn the Word and fellowship together.

Hebrews 10:25  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Thank God for your church fellowship.  Don’t think of its faults or shortcomings, but thank God for the good it provides for you and others.  Ask God to bless it and use it, and you, for His glory.

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