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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Transforming Power of Water and the Word
Orality: A tool for Church Renewal, Unity and Mobilization

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

HOUSTON, TX (ANS) -- An African Orality Trainer recently shared an experience that brought unity among pastors in a community where he had conducted Orality Training Workshops. When the pastors shared their spiritual journeys, they discovered that they had far more beliefs and concerns in common than things that could divide them. We shouldn’t be amazed or surprised that getting pastors and church leaders together to tell true stories from the Word of God and engaging in heart-level conversations can remove barriers and build bridges in relationships. In addition to learning biblical truth from the Word and each other, the stories create a framework for sharing experiences that allow participants to get to know each other at a deeper level.

Orality Training gaining momentum worldwide -- the power of small group, interactive learning

A few years ago I led an Orality Training Workshop with a group of senior citizens in a church in a region of the United States known as the Bible Belt. Most of the people in the workshop had known each other and had attended church together for 25 to 30 years. During the course of the day, they learned a set of biblical stories, then retold and discussed them. In small groups of five, participants retell the stories and discuss a set of questions about the main message, the important lessons, and how it applies to their lives.

By the middle of the afternoon, there was not a dry eye in the group as they discovered how much they did not know about each other. The stories created a framework for sharing on a heart level, which they had never done before. These people shared about the storms of life (problems, difficulties, and crisis situations) they had experienced, how God had answered prayer and intervened in their lives. They shared how they related to the story of Nicodemus and the Woman at the Well. People were gripped in their hearts as they heard each other’s experiences of being born again, and experiencing the Living Water that Jesus talked about in John 4. It was an amazing experience that brought about spiritual renewal and unity they had never known before.

Happy children at a new water well – experiencing Water, for life, in Jesus’ Name

One of the important things we are learning on our Orality journey is the power of simplicity and reproducibility. We also learn how the Holy Spirit can use seemingly little things that can make a big impact on many people’s lives. For example, one of the short, simple stories we often use in our training and in everyday encounters is the “Story of the Little Children” from Mark 10:13-16. When we tell that story, the following are a few questions we ask that illustrate the lessons and application to our lives:

1. What do we learn about the attitudes of the disciples toward the little children -- the fact that they were attempting to keep them away from Jesus?
2. Do you think the disciples were influenced by the culture of the day? (Children were not seen as people of importance, worth or value in those days).
3. Are followers of Jesus influenced by the culture today? What is the solution to that problem?
4. Do you think perhaps the disciples thought they were helping Jesus with His time management?
5. Why did Jesus become angry with His disciples for keeping the children away from Him?
6. What can we learn about who is important to Jesus? Who has value or worth in His eyes?
7. What do you think Jesus was seeking to communicate about what it takes to enter the Kingdom of God?
8. What are some characteristics of little children? (Most people identify things like innocence, humility, dependence, trust, transparency).

In our pre- and post-story discussion and dialogue we raise questions about a story set and ask questions like: Are children important to God? Are women important to God? Are blind or crippled people important to God? Are social outcasts important to Him? Who does the Lord choose to use in His Kingdom work?

The joy of sharing stories on a mission trip -- it’s about Jesus, relationships and community

When we train people with a set of stories and ask the right questions, they normally see the right answers. We often point out that our true value is based, not on our personalities, personal charm, possessions, or position in life, but on the price that was paid for us, the very life of Jesus Christ Himself. That makes us all VIPs (very important persons) in God’s sight. In many parts of the world, women and children are not seen on the same level as the men in their culture. They are often not given the opportunity to participate in the life of the church. When people come to grips with the fact that we all have value and worth, that we can all be used in His Kingdom purposes, and that all people are important to God, it gives a new perspective about reaching out to all people.

What we are discovering is that these are universal principles that apply to all people, everywhere, and they bring new life, vitality and passion for sharing with others. Again, simplicity and reproducibility are such powerful concepts that are vital to the Great Commission in sharing the Good News of Jesus with everyone and making disciples of all people groups. Yet, simplicity and reproducibility have not been core values in our highly literate, modern Western academic educational institutions. So, in many cases, we in the Western World need to rethink, sometimes unlearn and relearn a few things in order to be effective in our churches, ministries, and mission efforts, especially in cross-cultural settings.

Jesus said, “When you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.”

The Lord never intended for His Kingdom work to be limited to highly trained, paid professionals. His desire is that all of His followers participate in spreading the Good Story (or Good News) of Jesus and making disciples of all nations (people groups). With the vision and mission of Living Water International, partnering with the people of God locally and globally, many are recognizing Water as a gateway cause. Reaching people with Water and the Word provides an opportunity to touch the lives of the neediest people on the planet, both physically and spiritually.

With the understanding now that the majority of the people of the world (70% or 5.7 billion) are oral learners, by necessity or by preference, orality methods and strategies are becoming increasingly important. Print-based and written instructions are vital for those who have the Scriptures available in a language that they can read with comprehension (about 20 to 30% of the people of world). Technological resources are also a great blessing. However, if our message and methods are going to be totally reproducible and transferable to any place and people, they should be in an orality-based narrative form.

One of the objectives in LWI’s orality training is to equip people with just what is in their heads and hearts, that can be communicated and reproduced in the heads and hearts of others, not be dependent on any literate or technological methods or resources.

In the March 2014 Lausanne Global Analysis, Dr. Tom Steffen, former missionary, author, professor of intercultural studies and director of the Doctor of Missiology program at Biola University writes about the Orality Movement and how it has gone global, from rural tribal settings to the urban centers of the world. He comments that many church leaders remain unaware of the movement.

Orality Strategies are biblical, understandable, and reproducible, almost anywhere at anytime

He goes on the say, “The modern orality movement impacts global ministry on every level, whether one is aware of it or not. It influences every aspect of ministry: training, theological education, Bible curricula, Bible translation, evangelism, church planting, community development, business as mission, creation care, the arts, media, hermeneutics, and homiletics. Let us hope that global church leaders discover its contributions. The present orality movement can provide many answers for global ministries if we can shed our silos,” Steffen concludes.

For more information on Orality resources and training opportunities, visit

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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.
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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