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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Orality: Changing the Face of Missions Around the World
These Methods are Needed in the Western World, Too

By Jerry Wiles, President Emeritus, Living Water International
Special to ASSIST News Service

HOUSTON, TX (ANS) -- There are many questions that are important for those of us who are interested in and involved with the Great Commission to be asking. They include:

Jerry Wiles teaching at Orality Training Workshop in Southern Ethiopia

* Why is it that the Church in North America and the Western World is not growing and reproducing like the Church in the Global South and among the Oral Cultures of the world?

* What are the ingredients of the healthy, growing and reproducing church planting movements?

* How are we defining what a church is and what a church does in the world today?

* What does it take to plant a church--a gathering of followers of Jesus that share their faith and make disciples?

Other important questions are: What is the primary emphasis of the Great Commission (Mark 16 and Matthew 28) that we should be focused upon? Most Bible scholars and theologians say that it is making disciples.

Another important question is: What are the most effective methods of making disciples today? In some parts of the world disciple making movements are emerging and large numbers are becoming followers of Jesus. The Body of Christ has various forms of expression in different parts of the world. In some places the Kingdom of God is being advanced through groups, not necessarily known as churches, but as Christ groups, core groups, morale groups, God-and-life discussion groups, cell groups and many other names.

Orality training in Africa by retelling stories

Living Water is working in a region in Africa where a church planting/disciple making movement is taking place in an area where people gather and worship under trees and a variety of other meeting places. A place of worship may consist of some logs and rocks under a tree. It doesn’t cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to plant new churches like these.

Many of these people have never had the privilege of learning to read and write, but they can learn, understand and reproduce the message of Jesus in their own culturally relevant manner. The stories of God's Good News are spreading by word of mouth in a way that is compatible with their culture and learning preferences.

In Living Water International’s Orality Training Strategies, a great deal of attention is given to both Jesus and the disciples. People gain new insights and understanding when we ask questions such as these:

* What is a disciple?
* How does a person become a disciple?
* When is a person considered a disciple?
* What do disciples do?
* How did Jesus make disciples?
* Can we make disciples today the way He made disciples 2,000 years ago?
* What are the timeless principles of making disciples?

We have found that it is important to answer these questions from what we learn from the Scriptures, rather than from some church tradition or human interpretation. We want to discover how Jesus, the disciples and the early Church trained and made disciples in a way that resulted in the Gospel being spread to the then-known world.

Training in South America

We seek to bring participants to an awareness and understanding of these and many other relevant topics. The focus in our Orality training is on learning a little, practicing a lot and implementing immediately. We want to make sure that our message and methods are biblical, understandable and reproducible.

There are other important questions for church leaders in North America and the West to ask:

* Have we made the gospel and disciple making more complicated than they need to be?
* What can we learn from the places where there are rapidly growing and reproducing disciple making movements?
* Are there principles and lessons that we can learn from Oral Cultures?
* Would those lessons apply and be effective in North America and the West?

Actually, what we are learning from Oral Cultures is more transferable to the West, than taking what we have here to the developing world. We are learning lessons about the importance of relationships, community, shared knowledge, learning preferences, simplicity and reproducibility. Of course, a foundational truth is the spiritual foundation of all of our strategies. It is important to realize that just the transfer of information does not bring behavior change or character transformation. Ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit that makes our witness, sharing our faith and making disciples effective. We are able to share the Word of God and tell the stories of Jesus, but it is the Holy Spirit that touches hearts and changes lives.

There is a problem of biblical illiteracy in the USA and the West. However, in many cases church members know some biblical truth, but do not share it with those outside the Church. In some cases people have had a lot of training in evangelism and discipleship programs, but there is little application. And in other cases the training does not fit the receptor culture or the non-churched people who need the message; the methods may not be appropriate or relevant to them.

Many people initially take an interest in Orality for use in mission work abroad or short-term mission trips to Latin America, Africa or Asia. Then, after learning and experiencing its impact, they begin to recognize the broader and more universal applications. This was the case in a recent Orality Training Workshop in the United States, when a man said he could see how Orality methods would be useful in his everyday relationships and his contacts in the business world.

The factors that make Orality so effective are the repetition, participation, engagement and small group discussions. Participants learn first-hand the value of the collective memory of the group or community and the importance of sharing knowledge. This all enhances the process of creating community and developing and maintaining good relationships.

Reading through the Gospels, the Book of Acts and learning about the early Church, one might think that God has a different plan for advancing His Kingdom today. However, the people who are actually practicing those simple and timeless biblical principles are seeing that God honors His Word, and that it is reproduced in and through His people today. There are many stories, reports and case studies which are very convincing that God is still at work and doing all the things today that He did in the early Church.

Teaching in a classroom setting

It is encouraging that as Living Water International conducts the basic Orality Training Workshops in churches and with mission organizations in the United States, people become passionate about sharing their faith and making disciples. We emphasize that we all live in a mission field, made up of five categories: our families, neighbors, co-workers and friends. And, there is another, which we call “all others” -- those short encounters that we all have in our normal daily traffic patterns. We are hearing reports of people leading others to faith in Christ for the first time, because they learned a few simple stories and a few questions that are easy to learn and tell.

Recent studies show that behavior change and character transformation happens better and faster by using Orality-based methods than more literate means. Oral methods are more natural and easier than literate methods. Actually, we know that the gospel was spread throughout the whole world in the first century, before the New Testament was written. Orality methods have been the most effective ways that people have communicated and learned for thousands of years. Most of the Bible is narrative and was shared and communicated by oral means before it was in a written form.

Dr. John H. Armstrong, former pastor, church-planter, author and seminary professor, speaking of Orality has said, “A great and important discussion. Orality is how the Church heard and processed the faith for centuries, and still does, in most parts of the world. We in the West had best learn this sooner than later.” Increasing numbers of churches and ministries are being awakened to this reality.

Most scholars agree that in Jesus’ day, only about 3% - 12% of the people at that time would have had access to the Scriptures and would have been able to read them with comprehension and been able to reproduce its message. When we ask the important questions about the methods that Jesus used as a communicator, teacher, trainer, leader and disciple maker, some interesting and productive conversations usually result. Almost everything He did was oral in nature. He modeled and demonstrated a life. He used stories and parables; He asked questions. He built relationships and created community. What He did with those early disciples was, and still is, reproducible. So much of what we need to do today is rediscover and get back to the basics.

Dr. S. Douglas Birdsall, Executive Chair of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, has said, “There is no greater urgency than to communicate the truth of the Bible in this new century. Our friends in the International Orality Network have rediscovered a teaching method from Jesus that works in this millennium—storytelling the Bible to oral preference learners.”

A man who recently participated in an Orality Training Workshop said, “I have attended numerous conferences, seminars and training events in my career. I have never been to such an event where the benefits were so immediately obvious and useful as this Orality training.”

Others in that same workshop recognized that they could use the stories and methods among street people, the homeless, prison ministries, children's ministries and in ordinary everyday encounters.

Some are saying that Orality could bring revival to our churches and bring new passion to personally sharing our faith and disciple-making efforts. There are many other signs that Orality is a tool that is bringing new life and transformation to God’s people at home and abroad. The applications are indeed universal and transferable to any place and any people on earth.

The Orality Movement is not just about methods, techniques and strategies of communication, teaching and training. All of these are really secondary to recognizing and realizing the supernatural and miraculous working of the Holy Spirit and His redemptive activities through God’s people around the world. He is willing to use any and all of us as we make ourselves available to Him for His eternal plan and purpose. He is the same yesterday, today and forever; and He is ready to do here what He is doing in other places around the world.

There are those who believe that genuine revival, spiritual awakening and a rapidly reproducing disciple making/church planting movement could emerge here in the United States and the West. We can certainly pray and work toward that end.

Jerry Wiles serves as president emeritus of Living Water International ( Living Water is one of the world’s leading faith-based water solutions organizations with operations in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Having gotten involved in orality-based evangelism and disciple making strategies in the 1980s, he has been a paradigm pioneer in the orality movement and presently serves on the advisory council of the International Orality Network. Wiles has more than 35 years experience in ministry and international mission work. He can be contacted at 


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