Ghanaian pastor Fred Osei Annin spoke to James Attlee about the importance of worship to Christians of all nations.
Several hours before the main service at the central branch church of The Full Gospel Evangelistic Ministry in Tema, Ghana, is due to begin the long low wooden structure is humming with activity.
"Sunday School" in Ghana is not just for kids - groups of adults sit around doing Bible study at various levels and in various languages, while others are busy learning English or Tri. The young children meanwhile have their Sunday school under a shady tree at the back of the building, reciting Scripture word-perfect from the black-board and singing considerably more tunefully than most of their European counterparts.
Many services here are preceded by prayer meetings of an intensity largely unknown in the UK, often involving tears and cries as the congregation intercede with one voice for the lost and for the ministry of their church. Regular nights of prayer are held and fasting for periods from three days to three weeks by church members is not unusual.
But it is the worship that most clearly sets this church and others like it in Ghana apart from its European equivalent. Anyone who has been woken every morning at 5am. by the sounds of believers worshipping in the room below, as we were when we stayed in Ghana in 1989, can have little doubt about the part worship plays in their lives.
Being around Ghanaian believers, one of their most striking characteristics is their tendency to break into song at a moment's notice. It probably helps that their church music is so hummable, clappable and yes, danceable. Very often where a group of women have gathered, perhaps in a friend's house or at a social occasion like a wedding, one will start to sing and very soon another will be on her feet executing a quick shimmy. They love to worship, and this is most clearly demonstrated at their church services.
As the main body of the congregation enters the church building on a Sunday morning, many of those who have arrived earlier are already worshipping, often with eyes closed and hands raised, some with tears, others kneeling or bowing as they sing. As the service progresses the character of the worship changes. "I know we have worshipped God with all our hearts and it's been an acceptable sacrifice in His sight," the young man leading the congregation declares. "Now when we bring praises, He will come down." This is a signal for the electric guitar, keyboard, bass and African drums to begin a tune to which it is practically impossible not to dance.
The front row of the congregation is made up of teenage girls who are expert tambourine players - if that seems a contradiction in terms (and who has not longed to wrest one from the grasp of some less-than-sensitive enthusiast and grind it under foot) then you haven't seen these girls. Led by one of their number who encourages them to ever greater feats, in perfect unison, the tambourine girls raise their instruments above heads for the first strike, then bring them down to strike them again as they bend low towards the floor.
Then the congregation begin to dance - and I don't mean execute some charismatic hop from foot to foot, I mean really dance, express themselves physically before God in a way that is beautiful to behold. The mature married ladies are the first to leave their places, waving their handkerchiefs as they perform a kind of sanctified conga around the body of the hall with tremendous dignity and grace. The young women follow, then the men, until the whole congregation of around 700 are on their feet and the church is full of people dancing and praising God at the tops of their voices. These are a people who know how to enjoy their God.
Fred Osei Annin is a 34-year-old pastor born in Obokwahu in eastern Ghana, at present based at Full Gospel's central branch church in Tema, 30 kilometres along the coast from Accra. One of four pastors at the church, Fred has a particular responsibility for music and worship. Before he became a Christian, Fred earned his living as a singer under the stage-name 'Apollo', performing the Ghanaian style of guitar-based pop-music known as hi-life. His conversion was as sudden as it was unexpected.
"We were going to play in a legion hall in the eastern part of Ghana, near my home town. The watchman came and he told us there is a church there having their evening service, and they wanted us to wait and allow them to close their meeting before we can play. By that time people had actually gathered and it was time for us to play, and everything is money - so I became angry and I thought I should go and disturb them and ask them to leave. They were in a recreation centre in the same building, so I went down there with the aim of disturbing them, not knowing that was the time the Lord had appointed for me to be saved! Just at the gate I heard this preacher preaching form Lamentations 3.27. He said 'it is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth/ Just as if I had been arrested, I couldn't move my legs - the words were coming to me as if someone had gone and told the man all about me. I knew that he was speaking to me in darkness. So from there when they closed I went to take my coat, and the boys came running to me and said 'they have closed now Apollo, let's begin'. I was the lead vocalist so I also did the MC work, I called the band on to play. I told them 'today is the end of my playing with you because I know I have to give my life to the Lord, I have to give my life to Jesus.' Some of them thought it was just another of my jokes, but the other vocalist saw I was serious and he followed me for about 15 minutes begging me to come back."
Fred never did go back, but that is not to say that he gave up making music. Soon after his conversion he formed a gospel quartet, and also formed a choir in the branch of the Full Gospel church in his home town. Leading worship and teaching others to do so has been an important part of his activities at the Full Gospel church at Tema.
He sees worship as the number one priority of every believer.
"Worship is something that people never considered important, they never respected it until our time today, when God came to restore praise and worship in the church. The type of worship that we have in Ghana is a bit different to the kind of worship you normally have in Europe. In Africa, fortunately or unfortunately, we have been exposed to various 'gods' who also demanded worship. Ghanaians are naturally hospitable, they welcome anything they think of as good with ail their hearts. When these type of gods came among them they gave worship to those gods.
Those gods that came to us before the gospel demanded music, singing, the beating of drums...The people gave themselves to dancing, and when they danced 'the spirit came.' So when the gospel came they realised that worship does not belong to stones, it does not belong to trees but it belongs to the Creator who actually created men to worship Him. When they saw that what they were doing was wrong, they began to present that kind of worship they were giving to those dead gods to the Living God. The Holy Ghost came and took over and started bringing in those things that God wanted."
Fred maintains that this previous experience of worship of false or demonic gods that demanded dedicated service from their devotees partly accounts for the readiness of converts to be unstinting in their worship of the true God.
"When we in Africa worship we worship with all our hearts, with everything that we have. An African wouldn't mind, if he sensed the Spirit was telling him, going down on his knees, even though he was wearing white trousers, and giving all to God. An African wouldn't mind standing for three hours before the presence of God when the Spirit tells him to stand - because he sees that those gods were dead and he was giving the best to those gods. Now God has been revealed, the Creator, the One who can heal, the One who can bless, why don't I give all?
"When it comes to praises an African wouldn't mind dancing before the presence of God, knowing that somebody in the Bible danced before the Lord, and God was blessed. He was able to bless the heart of God and he became the man on God's heart because he lifted up the name of the Lord through dancing. So the African thinks 'why might I not also bless God so that I can be a man after God's heart?' So they dance before the presence of God, and they rejoice and as they rejoice and as they sing and as they worship their burdens get lifted - a lot of things happen through worship. When you compare it to the type of worship you have here it's quite a different sort of thing. Here people really worship, but they stop short in the situation that comes out of worship. When you go to Africa and they are worshipping you actually feel the presence of God, the whole place is charged with worship, you know something is happening. People cry, tears flow and you realise that in the heart of the people God is working a work. Here people do worship alright but you don't get that inspiration, that feeling - probably because people don't feel like giving all."
In Fred's eyes, a correct attitude in worship must include the worshipper humbling himself before God and acknowledging his true need.
"Worship belongs to God and it involves two different people, two partners. One partner must be the weaker one and one must be the highest; the weak one must offer homage to the superior being. As you give worship to that higher being he also gives something back to you, it's like a partnership.
You tell God how good He is, how merciful He is, and He also gives something, you just don't worship and go away the same. As you tell him that He is great, you want Him to know that you are weak, you are helpless. If I am great, if I am strong, if I am rich I don't need to go and ask someone to give me anything. After worship you come to a level with God where you can rub shoulders with him. When you don't give it out, when you don't want God to see your weaknesses, you don't see that anointing coming down. The anointing to heal is not there - the anointing that comes out of worship is not there. Some people sit down to worship God but if you go before Him and you see His greatness and you see how mighty He is, even angels bow before Him - He sits down, He is on the throne, to receive worship from you, the weaker. When I sit down when I am worshipping God I am telling Him that I am like He is...And because of that kind of attitude and character that we normally exhibit during worship, God doesn't move in His fullness. Somehow our eyes aren't opened to the reality of the whole thing, and we handle it 'anyhow'."
Mixed with the exuberance therefore is an awe and respect for God that can often be missing from contemporary worship in Europe. The fact that this translates into discouragement of the congregation sitting down might appear legalistic to some, but in reality the worship at the Full Gospel church I attended seemed to have a high degree of freshness and spontaneity.
Speakers visiting Africa for the first time are often struck by the rapt attention paid to sermons by African congregations. This too I have heard linked to the preceding worship time. The senior pastor of the Full Gospel Evangelistic Ministry, Joseph Kotei, once told me that "praises ignite the heart of the preacher", so presumably the fiery style of many Ghanaian preachers is derived from the same source! I put this to Fred.
"God can use anybody at all if there is room - and worship is a room, it is a place. God prepares that room for Himself - that room, that worship is created so that God can come down. When real worship that comes from the heart of the people is brought before the throne of God, it actually prepares the ground for Him to move. The preacher has to get to the point where he knows that it is not him, it is God. I went to a place to preach here in England, in King's Lynn, where they had really good worship. We were behind time, so we enjoyed just a little of their worship, but it was great.
"We met the people worshipping, and we were caught up - He came, in His fullness. They were kneeling down, lifting up their hands - everyone was actually giving out something, blessing God. So when I was called to minister, the Lord had His way. The worship prepared the heart of the preacher to bless the people.'
During services at Full Gospel churches in Ghana, Fred maintains, people are regularly healed, not after any sort of altar call, but quite spontaneously as they worship God. Others are saved in the same way. Many come to the church with problems. Understandably in a country just emerging from a severe economic depression, without a Welfare State, where hunger is not the subject of TV documentaries but the daily lot of thousands, these problems are often of a concrete financial nature.
The congregation are taught to expect miracles - and they are also taught how to give generously of what they have. One aspect of the worship which will long stay in my mind is the way offerings are collected. A receptacle is placed at the front and the whole congregation dances past it, throwing in their crumpled notes and coins.
At a time when the church as a whole in Europe is contracting, the Ghanaian church sees praise and worship as having played a vital part in the remarkable growth it has experienced. At times a local church will set aside a week and gather every night to worship, and afterwards will notice a significant influx of new faces without any evangelistic activity as it is usually understood having taken place. The Full Gospel Evangelistic Ministry, which now has around 45 branches throughout Ghana, has grown from a membership of 150 in 1978 to around 6,500 today. Of course they employ evangelistic methods as well, including visiting local hospitals to pray for the sick. But first and foremost they are worshippers, and it is this emphasis that Fred Osei Annin wanted to communicate before he left England to return to his home.
"It has been my prayer since I came for true worship to be at work - here in Britain and all over the planet, because these are the last days that the Lord has prophesied. I've realised that this is a need that must be in prayer because a lot of people in England are hardened in the area of worship. People are not seeing churches multiplying and increasing and the gospel having an effect, an impact on the people because people have not come to the awareness that worship alone can cause the church to grow to the glory of God."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.