Orality is changing the face of missions around the world

Published 27 October 2012
In a conversation about orality strategies, a lady who has been leading mission trips in Central America for many years was asked, "What has been the highlight of your experiences in leading mission trips over the years?" Her response was, "Our discussion over the last twenty minutes that has changed my life, and the way I will do missions from now on."

Think about how such a short conversation can have a significant impact in people's lives. It was an eye opener for her, as it is for many, when we consider the fact that the majority of the world are oral learners. Yet, it is estimated that roughly 90% of the time the gospel is presented in a Western, literate style of communication.

One person saw a post on the internet about orality. As a result, she came to the annual conference of the International Orality Network and said that it was a transformational experience. Another man was introduced to orality in a Perspectives on the World Christian Movement class. He came to the conference, and was amazed and surprised. He said that it had changed his perspective on ministry and missions. People who have some experience in ministry or missions and have an awareness of international issues and what is going on in the rest of the world, tend to immediately grasp the significance of orality.

The seed of the Word of God that takes root in people's hearts can change lives and impact many others. Some have called this a "Trim Tab Effect," which actually illustrates a Kingdom principle of reproduction and multiplication. (A "Trim Tab" is used on airplanes and ships. It's a small rudder, that turns a larger rudder, that turns a huge ship or airplane.)

It is amazing what we can learn about the way the gospel has spread around the world when we consider how Jesus communicated, taught, led and made disciples. Also, consider the fact that most of the people of the world today are oral learners, either by necessity or preference. Orality methods (Bible storying and the use of parables, proverbs, poems, songs, dance, drama, etc.) are more universal, reproducible and transferable than written or literate means of communication.

Many times we may think of the Great Commission (making disciples among all people groups) as being carried out by pastors, evangelists or professional missionaries through public proclamation.

As effective as public proclamation can be, not everyone will likely be reached in that manner. However, everyone can be reached if the method of outreach includes taking the message of the Good News of Jesus wherever people are. Everyone on the planet lives somewhere, even if they are homeless. So, it is important to take the gospel to where people live, every home, workplace, school, neighborhood, marketplace, family and social network.

Followers of Jesus who have been trained in Orality are becoming aware of the fact that oral methods and strategies can cut through all barriers. Oral methods do not depend upon the use of literate means or technological resources. These methods can go wherever people can go, and can be reproduced in the heads and hearts of those who hear, respond and act on the truth of God's Story.

In so many places where Living Water International works, we encounter some of the neediest people on earth--both physically and spiritually. While it's a great opportunity to meet physical needs, it's the Word of God (the message of Jesus) delivered in a way that people can hear, understand and respond to, that produces fruit that abides forever. It is important to remember that all of us encounter people who are living in spiritual poverty. We have the opportunity to tell stories and ask some questions that may change their eternal destiny.

We often receive reports of how hearing just one story about Jesus, with the appropriate pre- and post-story dialogue and discussion, has brought people to a relationship with Christ. In addition to individuals, whole families and communities have come to the Lord through a few stories. Simplicity and reproducibility are key factors, along with keeping the focus on the Lord Jesus--who He is and what He has done and desires to do in and through each of us who trusts Him.

An African pastor attended one of LWI's Orality Training Workshops and got excited about its possibilities in the church he pastors. He is also involved in church planting and mentoring other pastors. After reconnecting with him two years later, he shared how he was using the orality training and that he had trained 200 pastors in the methods he had learned from that first workshop. The transformation in this pastor's life and ministry is a reminder that the Good Seed of God's Word, sown in fertile soil, can produce much fruit, often 30, 60 or 100 times what was sown.

In his article, "The Extent of Orality: 2012 Update," in the Orality Journal, Dr. Grant Lovejoy says, "The stakes are too high for us to misunderstand our audience's capacities and preferences with respect to orality and literacy." In that article he also gives an analysis of some current research and an awareness of the reality of literacy and orality in the world today. Based on that understanding, he says, "5.7 billion people in the world are oral communicators (because either they are illiterate or their reading comprehension is inadequate)."

Increasing numbers of pastors and church leaders in North America and the Western World are becoming interested in Orality. Initially, they take an interest because of their mission work in developing countries or short-term mission trips. Then, when they experience it and see the impact, they recognize the universal application and how effective oral methods are in their churches, for evangelism, disciple making and church growth. In a recent Orality Training Workshop in the United States, a participant who has been in ministry for many years said, "I had no idea what to expect. I have participated in many seminars and training events over the years. This workshop was by far the most practical and helpful of any I have ever attended." We hear similar responses everywhere we go.

Many pastors and ministry leaders are looking for bigger, better and faster ways of growing their churches and ministries. However, not so many are looking for smaller, simpler and less expensive ways. When we consider the lessons we learn from Jesus and kingdom principles from Scripture, we recognize the power of reproducibility and multiplication. There are many examples from church history where one transformed life has resulted in whole families, communities, and even nations being transformed.

So often God has chosen to use the most unlikely candidates to accomplish His most significant work. We often observe how little children can learn and retell stories. There is a region in Africa where one simple story about Jesus has been told and retold and hundreds of people have come to faith in Christ. Never underestimate how much one person or one story can impact numerous people's lives.

Jesus said, in John 6:63, "The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life." Years ago the Lord seemed to impress upon me that the words that we speak, in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, can produce life in others. The Lord has confirmed that principle many times over the years. Short statements or brief conversations can be life changing and result in reproducing the life of Jesus in and through the lives of many others.

As we pray and trust God to connect us with people who have open and receptive hearts, we can expect Him to answer that kind of prayer. When we are alert to the people around us and sensitive to the Holy Spirit's prompting, we can fully expect to engage in life-changing conversations. It's the demonstration of the Spirit and power that really matters as we simply tell stories and ask questions about Jesus. As He is lifted up, He will draw people to Himself. What a joy to be containers of God's life, instruments of His righteousness and channels of His redemptive activities.

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