This month’s post is part of a series about the distinctives of Scripture In Use’s church planting and disciple-making approach as developed by SIU’s founders, Jim and Carla Bowman. It is a fact that many of the unengaged and least-reached people groups in the world live in hard-to-access places and belong to traditional, oral cultures. Books and printed materials are not part of their everyday experience.
People living in oral cultures, many of whom speak three to four different languages in addition to their mother tongue, have always learned through the spoken stories, oratory and speeches of their elders, through the modeling of the characters in these narratives, and through their very own live social media interactions — small group conversations and dialogue. Additionally, their joy and inspiration come from participatory song and dance. Oral culture people groups involved with such learning experiences as these will likely continue to remain least-reached until we engage them with a comprehensive, oral communication strategy.
Oral Communication of the Scriptures: NOT Just an Add-on
Why then has much of the missions world continued outreach to such people groups primarily through literacy-based strategies? Some groups who are aware of the global need for orality-based methods have implemented storytelling or audio Scriptures as add-ons to a literacy, print-based strategy.
By contrast, SIU trains church planters around the world to reach oral cultures through a wide-ranging, exclusively oral-based biblical strategy.
We have avoided the historical dictates of emphasis on print and literacy-based methods, as well as traditional Western didactic forms of outreach and discipleship. We have maintained that tracts, printed leaflets, expository teaching and preaching without follow-up dialogue with listeners all run counter to best practices and are not effective forms of communication among oral learners. We have been unrelenting in our vision to help national workers implement comprehensive orality-based programs of disciple-making and church planting.
Non-negotiable Elements of Comprehensive Oral Bible Strategies
Importantly, SIU has never viewed storytelling as an “add-on tool.” We believe that training indigenous leaders to reach their orality-based people groups comprises not just a cursory storytelling course added on to other literacy-based methods. Rather, it comprises a comprehensive program of training in foundational, practical, orality-based strategies.
Oral communication of the Scriptures should be all-inclusive and integrated at every stage of church planting: stone clearing, planting the seed of the Word, watering, harvesting, discipleship of believers and preparing those called to be leaders.
In addition, we believe that a comprehensive orality training curriculum must be adapted to the cultural and religious context. For example, for Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Animists, the SIU curriculum is adapted according to worldview, especially in the selection of Bible stories to be communicated.
What Are the Essentials?
• Story, Dialogue and Discovery
A comprehensive, oral-based disciple-making, church planting strategy provides the opportunity for an audience to hear the many treasure-filled stories of the Bible. Follow-up group discussion about the stories is essential. Dialogue brings clarity, and observations about the characters, the events, and the truths imbedded in the stories should be encouraged. This then creates discovery learning opportunities led by the Holy Spirit, the greatest teacher of all!
Therefore, our training curriculum for local leaders includes dialogue questions and/or instruction on creating dialogue questions about the events in the Bible stories told, consequences of the characters’ behaviors, and lessons learned from the stories about God.
• Story Collections
Collections of Bible stories by chronological or thematic categories are important in a comprehensive, orality-based discipleship program. There is infinite depth in an oral strategy program, because the specific stories shared can be targeted to the listeners’ needs and context (e.g., changing a specific religious group’s worldview, or encouraging and comforting listeners in the hard moments of life, or inspiring them and building God’s future leaders, or addressing the needs of a specific audience, such as women).
Well-developed, targeted story collections encourage conversion and worldview change, so SIU’s training includes instruction on identifying the stories essential in a specific culture.
• Reinforcing Scripture Through the Oral Arts
SIU also trains national leaders in practices effective with oral learners — singing the story, dancing the story and dramatizing the story. This is encouraged in a comprehensive, orality-based strategy. We have learned that local believers are best suited to develop their own oral arts to enhance Bible stories, and if given the opportunity and empowered to do so they will, with impressive results!
Comprehensive Oral Bible Strategies
The significant Kingdom harvest that SIU has witnessed over the years from an orality-based, biblical, narrative strategy convinces us that storytelling should not be just an add-on to existing programs of evangelism, church planting and disciple-making. This is the era in history and world evangelization for all of us to embrace the unlimited, far-reaching potential of comprehensive oral communication programs.