God’s word: A case for non-English speakers in our churches

by Church Times

By Mariam Bello

The Bible is the only standard through which we can measure our lives. According to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the word of God makes the believer complete, equipping him for every good work.

The missionaries that came to Africa understood the importance of the Word. That was why their first move was to teach the indigenous people how to read and write. Their primary goal was to ensure people could read the Bible.

 Years after missionaries have come and gone indigenous churches continue to ensure that people have access to the Bible in many languages. So far the Bible has been translated into about 30 Nigerian languages. Efik was the first language Bible  Preachers also make sure the message of the gospel is accessible to everybody. During outdoor crusades they use interpreters. The bottom line is to ensure that nobody is left out of life-transforming messages.

 But as time goes on, the desire to reach everybody with the gospel in their languages wanes. There is a disturbing scenario in many modern-day churches, especially in the cities of Nigeria. They don’t seem to care if there are folks who don’t understand their English.

There are a lot of members in the church that are not growing spiritually because they do not understand what is being said and done.

 But then, we must understand there is no benefit to being in a place where you don’t understand the language that is employed in communication. You will feel lost and confused. Everything said will have no meaning to you and you will easily misinterpret the intention of the speaker.

 The English language is regarded as the official language in Nigeria. As a consequence of this, the majority of Nigerians learn the English language.

 However, the obvious truth is that in every community, many are hungry for the word of God but have no understanding of the English language. They only speak indigenous Languages.

There are about 525 such languages.

 Ironically, most churches assume their congregations can read, write and understand the English language. This explains why most of them teach, preach and communicate mostly in the English language.

 The question that should be dealt with critically is “what remedy is made available for the Nigerian Indigenes who do not understand the English language to learn the word of God in our churches?”

 When a church is dispensing the truth of the word, there should be an effort to ensure everybody gets the message. A pastor is a shepherd who should look in the direction of all his sheep and how to get all members to grasp the truth of the word of God.

Also read: https://churchtimesnigeria.net/children-department-church/“Children’s department, not a dumping ground, Church leaders take note”

Attempted solutions in some churches

 Some Churches have tried using the consecutive form of interpretation where the speaker speaks and then waits for the interpreter to allow interpretation to occur.

 But today, critics say this method is time-wasting and confuses those that do not understand the language being interpreted. This comes from those who do not understand or care about the plight of the non-English speakers in the church.

 If consecutive interpretation is not good enough,  then the church can use the whisper form of interpretation where the interpreter will sit with an individual or group needing the interpretation and will whisper in the preferred language to facilitate communication and break the language barrier.

 If this won’t work, how about a  meeting to deliberately teach and disciple them by having a separate class for them?

 Some churches and leaders in Nigeria understand the plight of those who haven’t gotten the privilege to learn the English language and a lot has been done to ensure the word gets to them.

 Those making an effort to reach these people should not be discouraged. Those doing nothing should put the non-English speakers in their midst into consideration.

 I believe the Holy Spirit will surely give our leaders the perfect strategy that will suit the setting of each church.

 This article aims to serve as a reminder to our churches in Nigeria that there are non-English speakers in our midst and we will continue to have them.  Therefore, we must reach them in the congregation to ensure that they also grow from the priceless word of God.


Mariam Bello is a Law student at Olabisi Onabanjo University

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Samuel January 30, 2023 - 8:17 am

Awesome… Thank you so much for this piece. May the Lord help our leaders

Idongesit Emmanuel January 30, 2023 - 3:58 pm

Yeah it’s true these set of people who don’t understand English should be considered. If the church is to organize an English learning sessions to perfect their understanding of English as the early missionaries did by giving us both the word and education, then fine. But if it’s another option like having another gathering separate from the English speakers then it’s also okay. In all, the most preferred strategy suitable for each congregation should be considered.

Ipoademihan January 30, 2023 - 11:08 pm

This is timely and what every church leader should be concerned about. Coming unto knowledge is for every believer and the church should take it upon herself that every man is taught the truth of God’s world till he understands.

Well done Miriam


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