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Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Transforming Power of Water and the Word
Communicating Truth and Making Disciples, by all Means

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

HOUSTON, TX (ANS) -- How can the people of God carry out the Lord’s commandments to proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth and make disciples of all people groups? It is intriguing to many when we ask questions like: How much and what do people need to know in order to enter a relationship with the Lord? And, how much and what do they need to know in order to become reproducing followers of Jesus?

A New Well brings Clean Water and the Word
to a Community

These are important questions to ask if we are serious about taking the Good News of Jesus to the ends of the earth and making disciples of all nations (people groups). They are also important questions to ask in relation to sharing with people we have contact with every day, wherever we happen to be.

When we take a close look at how those in the early Church processed their faith and how Jesus communicated truth and made disciples, it should cause us to rethink some of our modern-day traditions and methods. Jesus is our best model as a communicator, trainer and disciple maker. It should give us great confidence to realize that the same Holy Spirit that lived in and worked through Jesus, is resident within all of us who have been born of the Spirit.

God seems to do His greatest work in some of the most difficult times and darkest places. People without access to clean, safe drinking water are often those who have had the least opportunities for education and access to the Gospel. However, there are spiritually needy people everywhere we go – at home and abroad. It may sometimes seem easier to share our faith when we are on a mission trip in a foreign country, but we should always be alert to those divine appointments as we encounter people everywhere.

This is what a Church looks like in many parts of the world

God is amazingly creative in the ways He can draw people to Himself. It is liberating when we come to understand that we are not responsible to change or convert people, but to give them the opportunity to hear, understand and respond to the Good News of Jesus. It is the good seed of the Word of God that tests the soil of people’s hearts. It’s the Holy Spirit that changes hearts and transforms lives when we communicate the Good Story of Jesus, in a way they can understand and respond to.

Research shows that most believers realize that we should share our faith. However, most people admit that it is the weakest link in their Christian experience. There is so much we in the Western World can learn from how God is working in the Global South and the more communal, relational, oral cultures in Africa, Asia and Latin America. And, of course, we should apply what we learn from the Gospels, the book of Acts and the Early Church.

There is a significant paradigm shift in the thinking of many people in the mission and church world. Simplicity and reproducibility are becoming important topics of conversation. New insights and understanding are coming as we consider new ways of thinking about and experiencing church and missions in today’s world. Strategies are changing as we learn more about the ways people learn, communicate and process truth. If we think more about the ways people are able to receive, understand and respond to our message, it can make a big difference.

Considering how we may communicate with people in the ways “they” prefer, rather than the ways in which “we” have been educated and prefer to learn, can be a great starting place in becoming more effective in sharing our faith and making disciples. The majority of the population of the world is, and always has been, oral learners, by necessity or by preference. Most scholars agree that only about 3 to 12% of the people in Jesus’ day would have had access to and the ability to read and comprehend the Scriptures.

The Excitement of Sharing Christ by Telling Stories and Asking Questions

It can make a huge difference in the ways we share the Gospel and make disciples when we realize that Orality works better than other methods of communication and training. Also, nurturing and seeing others grow in their relationship with Christ happen better by sharing life in community. The various ways of communicating truth can take on many forms of expression. Orality, or oral methods, are the most effective ways of communicating, training, building relationships and creating community. We must recognize, however, that it is an impartation of the life of Jesus by the Holy Spirit that is at the heart and core of effective outreach and disciple-making.

There are many lessens we should learn from Jesus and the early church about sharing life and faith and making disciples. The truth of the matter is that the methods of communicating the message of Jesus and the way of salvation that were used then, are still appropriate today. There is a great need to rediscover the essence of what a relationship with Jesus looks like in today’s world and how we are to impart that to all those who need Him.

Orality Training Workshop

Church life, evangelism, missions and ministry in our, so-called, developed world, have become far more complicated and complex than they need to be. Most church and mission leaders would agree that we need simpler, more streamlined and reproducible ways of spreading the Gospel of Jesus and advancing the Kingdom of God. Literature, technological resources and literacy-based methods certainly have their place, but we should always take into consideration the receptor culture.

I think most people would be amazed to discover how many people are open and interested in knowing more about a personal, intimate relationship with God, if given an opportunity. Simply making eye contact, greeting people, and asking questions can result in conversations that can change people’s eternal destiny. I realize that this idea of even talking to strangers about spiritual matters goes against our cultural mind-set and the conventional thinking of many. But, think about the conversations we have daily with people about a whole variety of other subjects.

It is normally more effective to engage people in spiritual conversations after a time of building relationships. However, many people have come to Christ as a result of a one-time conversation with a Spirit-led follower of Jesus. Following the first day of Living Water International’s Orality Training Workshops, we hear feedback and testimonies of how people have told the stories and shared what they have learned, and others responded to the Gospel and wanted to become followers of Jesus.

It would be a good thing if we could be conscious of the fact that the Holy Spirit is unlimited and very creative in the ways He can use us to communicate the Good News of the Lord Jesus with those we have contact with every day. It is likely that there are more lost people who are prepared in their hearts to respond to the Lord, than there are believers who are actively sharing their faith and giving them an opportunity.

In a brief conversation with a man, I simply asked him if he had noticed any signs of spiritual awakening where he lives. He asked what I meant, and I replied by saying, “Have you noticed how many people are coming to an awareness of their need for the Lord?” He said, “I don’t know about anyone else, but I know I need the Lord.” That short conversation resulted in the man confessing Christ and expressing his faith in Him.

We don’t necessarily have to have a long-term relationship with someone in order to share the gospel and see them transformed by the Spirit of God. So often when I have shared Christ with people, I have found out later that someone else had witnessed to them in the past. Sometimes they may have just lost a loved one or gone through some crisis, and they are eager to talk about spiritual and eternal things. And, many have come to the Lord as a result of those short encounters.

Water Opens the Door for the Gospel

Over the years as people have learned that I work with Living Water International, they have often wanted to know more about what we do. The conversation can naturally turn to Jesus, who is the Living Water that satisfies the deepest thirst. I find that many people are interested in learning more about Jesus. However, there are often barriers because of their concept of Church, Christians or Christianity, due to negative perception and past experiences.

Whether we are on a mission trip to some far away country, or on a trip to the mall, to work, to school or just encountering people in our normal traffic patterns, there are opportunities to be a part of God’s redemptive activity. Being properly equipped, prepared and expectant is a key factor. While it is true that water opens the door for us to share the Gospel, we don’t have to be in a foreign country to be engaged with people who need the Lord. They are all around us -- our families, neighbors, co-workers and friends, and those we encounter on a regular basis.

Years ago my wife and I hosted a Bible study in our home and shared our spiritual journey with some neighbors and friends. Two of those people came to the Lord. Over the next few months, one of the men led his sister to the Lord. Eventually, several other family members embraced the Gospel. Our faith can be contagious, and we can spontaneously talk about Jesus and our walk with Him. It is a good thing if our speech is with grace, seasoned with salt, as we are told in Scripture. Salt creates thirst; it makes people want more.

A former pastor of mine said, “God is not so interested in your ability, as He is your availability. And, He is not so concerned about your scholarship, as He is your relationship.” That should be liberating for all of us who may have an inferiority complex. I remind my friends and family that it was a transformational moment for me when I recognized that it wasn’t an inferiority complex for me, it was just that I was inferior. But, we are all inferior when we compare ourselves with Jesus. It is encouraging to know, however, that the reproducing life of the Lord Jesus is available to each of us.

The good news is that the One who is superior, Christ Himself, is prepared to take up residence in each of us and make us whole and complete in Him. He makes us righteous, able ministers of the New Covenant, ministers of reconciliation and ambassadors of Christ. So, our usefulness to God and our impact for His Kingdom does not depend on our own ability or performance, but on His ability to clothe His Divine activity in our humanity and communicate the truth about Himself to the world around us.


Jerry Wiles serves as president emeritus of Living Water International (http://www.water.cc) 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 JerryWiles@water.cc

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