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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Orality: Changing the Face of Missions around the World
Timeless Principles for Making Disciples Anywhere, with any People

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

HOUSTON, TX (ANS) -- How could something as simple as telling stories and asking questions bring such transformation to individuals, families and communities? The answer to this question is being demonstrated every day in many parts of the world. It’s not complicated; God is interested in His people understanding and applying some basic, but very important, Kingdom principles in our lives.

One of the stories that we use in LWI’s Orality Training Workshops is the story of the Demon-Possessed Gerasene (or Gadarene) from Mark chapter 5. After learning, retelling and discussing the story, a series of questions are asked. One of the questions is, “Why would Jesus leave a large crowd of people on one side of the Sea of Galilee in order to go help one man on the other side of the lake? Before telling the story, we always give some background and the context of the story. This story took place just after Jesus calmed the storm, as recorded in Mark chapter 4. But, before Jesus directed His disciples to go to the other side of the lake, something else happened.

Jesus had been teaching a large crowd of people all day. Some of His teaching had been about “The Parable of the Sower," also in Mark 4. In that parable we learn about the different kinds of soil, how they represent the different conditions of people’s hearts, and how they respond differently to the seed of God’s Word. In that same teaching session, He shared some principles of the Kingdom of God. Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed--it is a very small seed, but produces a large plant. He also taught that the Kingdom of God is like yeast--a very small amount of yeast can produce a large lump of dough. People usually come to the conclusion that little things can make a big difference.

Many great insights come when people learn and discuss these stories. In the case of the demon-possessed man that Jesus delivered from the legion of demons, when the people came out to see what was happening, they saw this formerly demon-possessed man, sitting at the feet of Jesus, fully dressed and in his right mind. Many great discussions and insightful conversations take place when we ask the question, “What do we learn from the fact that he was sitting at the feet of Jesus, fully dressed and in his right mind?”

Later, when Jesus was getting into the boat to leave, the man begged Jesus to let him go with Him. Jesus told him he couldn’t go with Him. He told him to go back to his home town, to his people and tell them what great things that Jesus had done for him and how He had mercy on him. So the story tells us that the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis (a region of ten cities) what great things the Lord had done for him and how He had mercy on him. And all the people were amazed. The next time Jesus was in the region of Decapolis, there was a gathering of more than 4,000 people.

This story and the others in the story-set bring amazing insights and understanding into the ways of God. A great lesson from this story is how one person can be so mightily used to impact many others. It also illustrates how differently people respond to Jesus and the Word of God. While the man who had been delivered wanted to go with Jesus, the herdsmen who were tending the sheep wanted Him to leave the region.

When ordinary people, any place in the world, come to understand some basic Kingdom principles about sharing the life and teachings of Jesus, it can be transformational, even revolutionary. Orality methods and strategies really do level the playing field so that everyone can participate. It never ceases to amaze us when we return to places where we’ve conducted orality training workshops and hear the amazing stories of how the Lord is working. People of all ages, educational levels and socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds are learning and retelling the stories of Jesus and spreading the Good News.

Several years ago, Robert Coleman wrote a book titled, “The Spark That Ignites,” it was later revised and republished as “The Coming World Revival.” God’s Story, with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, really does ignite a fire in people’s hearts. It’s that burning passion to share with others the wonderful redemptive Story of Jesus that can spread like wildfire.

However, it is important that the truth of the Word of God be communicated in such a way that people can hear, understand, respond to and then pass it on to others. That’s where Orality is so significant. It makes the message available in a way that can go anywhere, anytime and to any people. An important thing to remember, however, is that without passion and the working of the Holy Spirit, the methods, techniques and strategies will not produce lasting fruit that remains and reproduces.

Followers of Jesus in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and even the United States and the Western World, become excited and energized to share with others when they realize and experience the power of God’s Story and the working of the Holy Spirit. Not everyone responds in the same way. Understanding the lessons from the Parable of the Sower is liberating. We should recognize that the Seed (of the Word of God) tests the soil of the hearts of people who hear. When we sow the seed of God’s Story in a way that people can receive, understand, respond to and reproduce, it takes root and transforms lives--some 30, some 60 and some 100 times what was sown.

Little things can make a big difference. These are timeless principles of advancing God’s Kingdom that should stir the hearts of God’s people everywhere to take His message to the ends of the earth. With all the knowledge available today, and the information explosion in modern times, an important challenge we have is determining how much and what a person needs to know to enter a relationship with the Lord and become a part of the Kingdom of God. Important questions are: What does one need to know, and how can one reproduce and spread the life and teachings of Jesus to others?

These questions need to be answered, not based on some denominational or institutional tradition, but based on what we learn from Jesus and the Scriptures. Kingdom principles are timeless and universal. They can work anytime, anywhere and in the lives of anyone. God’s truths and Kingdom principles are not limited to any culture, time period or worldview.

As a result of our spiritual union with Christ, He can reproduce His life in and through each of us. He is the ultimate disciple maker and desires for every follower of His to be fruitful and multiply. So, whether it is under a tree, in an auditorium, at work or school or in the marketplace, Orality methods make it possible to spread the Good News and make disciples every day, wherever we happen to be.

One of the encouraging developments that is taking place in the Church world today is the recognition that we in the Western World, and especially in the United States, can learn from what God is doing in the Global South and in the Oral Cultures around the world. When we think about church life, disciple making and reproducibility, many are discovering more fruitful models in places outside the United States. Smaller, simpler and cheaper models are working better than the big, complex and expensive models many are seeking to implement. Congregations that meet under trees, sit on rocks and logs and worship in spirit and truth are more reproducible than the large buildings with all the high tech concert-style meetings that may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Recent research shows that behavior change and character transformation take place faster and more effectively by orality methods than literate means. Also, when people with a biblical understanding and an awareness of what is going on around the world think through the important issues, they normally come to the right conclusions. The following are some of the important questions to ponder:

* What does a person need to know to come into a relationship with the Lord?
* How much and what do people need to know to become reproducing followers of Jesus?
* How would one communicate the gospel in a culture where they have no written script or no Scripture in their heart language?
* Can we, as followers of Jesus, communicate and make disciples today the way He did when He was here on earth in the flesh?

Other questions that we at LWI use in our training are:

* What is a church, from our understanding of Scripture, not from some tradition that has developed over the past 2,000 years?
* What should a church do? How can a church reproduce in any place and among any people group in the world?
* Should we reevaluate the message and methods so that they are simple and reproducible?
* What can we learn from our brothers and sisters in the Global South and the Oral Cultures of the world that will work here?

When we ask ourselves the right questions, we discover that many times we need to rethink, unlearn and relearn many assumptions that have hindered the advancement of the Kingdom of God and the growth of the Church.

In his new book, Miraculous Movements, Jerry Trousdale has a chapter titled “Simple Churches, Dramatic Transformation, Rapid Replication.” In that chapter he talks about two kinds of churches:

* Elephant churches have lots of programs, activities, and people. We need churches like this, but they are very slow to multiply, just like two elephants that take two years to produce offspring.

* Rabbit churches are small, able to hide in plain sight, and multiply very quickly. Two rabbits can theoretically produce more than one hundred million rabbits in three years.

I was recently reminded again how seemingly little things can have a big impact. At a conference with mission leaders from around the world I reconnected with a pastor from Africa who had attended an LWI orality training workshop two years earlier. This pastor, who is also a church planter and mentor to other pastors, told me he had trained 200 pastors with the orality methods he had learned in our workshop. It is encouraging to see how some people who have open and receptive hearts, receive the Word of God and reproduce and multiply its impact.

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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