International (MNN) — Do you think someone can become a pastor if they can’t read the Word of God? Is it possible for someone who learns Scripture through oral means to be qualified and equipped for vocational ministry?
According to International Orality Network, 80 percent of people do not learn through literate means. They may be illiterate, functionally illiterate, have visual impairments, prefer to learn orally, or they live in an oral culture.
With so many oral learners and cultures in the world, orality methods are crucial for reaching people with the Gospel.
Christians in oral cultures often listen to God’s Word in audio, sometimes on constant repeat or in listening groups. We hear stories of believers who are so captivated with the spoken Word of God that they have it playing all day, even as they go to sleep at night.
Scripture is so inscribed on their minds and in their hearts that oral learners sometimes know God’s Word better than believers who have access to print Bibles.
Ed Weaver with Spoken Worldwide says ministries better understand the needs of oral learners today than they did even a decade ago.
However, oral learners — especially those who can’t read — often face a glass ceiling in the ministry world. Without the ability or desire to read God’s Word, theirs is seen as a shallow faith.
“There is plenty of opportunity for growth and understanding that an oral learner can be a pastor,” Weaver says. “An oral learner can be a theologian. It’s just a matter of learning the information, learning and understanding who God is, and [having the ability] to communicate…His plan of redemption.
“They know the Scripture. They know the truth of the Word of God. I think that should be the [only] limiting factor, not the ability to read.”
Weaver added in an email, “After all, that is the essence of what a literate pastor is responsible for doing.”
Spoken Worldwide was established in 2005. At first, they exclusively focused on evangelism through orality methods. But eventually, they realized they needed to do more than introduce oral learners to Jesus.
“We analyzed what we were doing and reconstructed our programs to be able to make disciples [and] give them a biblical theology [through] a semi-structured curriculum.”
Weaver explains, “We don’t like calling it curriculum because we don’t want to suggest that we’re going to impose our standards on another culture. So we’ve outlined a framework, but we [ask] the local indigenous leadership [to] design the curriculum as it relates to their culture and their people.”
Today, Spoken Worldwide has disciple-making movements in 30 languages around the globe. Weaver meets other ministry leaders who are familiar with orality methods but don’t always employ orality to its greatest potential.
“That’s where I think the difference is [lies] how we…think about orality and how maybe other organizations think about orality. There’s just been [thinking] that this is ‘ministry lite’ or this is a good stepping stone to ‘real ministry.’”
Spoken Worldwide hopes greater awareness of orality methods in Gospel ministry will transform the ways Christians appreciate the faith and leadership of oral learners.
Weaver says, “I think one of the key items for takeaway is to ask ourselves the question, ‘If somebody can’t read, what do we expect of them? What do we expect that they can do?’ I think we need to reconsider our positions on that.”
Header photo courtesy of Spoken Worldwide.