Orality and rethinking North American outreach

By October 6, 2016

United States (MNN) — Traditionally, North America has been a sending place for missionaries. It has also been a think-tank and influence in how missions are done. But as we come to learn more about our world, some leaders in the mission field have realized there’s a better way to do things, even within North America.

Living Water International has been a proponent of orality methods for several years now. They’ve seen the effectiveness of sharing information orally both in practical matters and in sharing the Gospel alongside their humanitarian work.

As we recently reported, Jerry Wiles of Living Water International has accepted a position as the North America Regional Director for the International Orality Network. One might question the worth of focusing on Canada and the United States — two highly literate populations — but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

“One important aspect in the global Church world and mission movements is the contextualization — looking at the receptor culture. How do we communicate the Gospel and make disciples in ways that are appropriate to the least and the last unreached, unengaged people groups?” Wiles says.

Part of this contextualization is learning how the recipients of the Gospel learn. According to the International Orality Network, over 70 percent of people learn orally by necessity or preference. And these oral learners aren’t just found outside Canada or the United States.

“When we think about the North American context, the United States for example, there are more unreached people groups in the United States than any other single country in the Western Hemisphere. So we think of the U.S. being a sending place, but we need a more focused, intentional outreach to the unreached people groups, [and] also just unreached people in the U.S. and the North American context.”

Partly, it’s because of the movement of people across the globe. Houston, Texas, for example, has become an extremely diverse city with a large number of various cultures coming together.

Jerry Wiles at Orality Training.

Jerry Wiles at Orality Training. (Photo courtesy of Living Water International)

Wiles says a big part of it is, “understanding about cross-cultural learning preferences, issues like honor-shame issues are important for us, not just in the foreign mission field, but the mission field we all live in.”

Another reason why many Americans, in particular, do not know Jesus is precisely because they learn better orally than the highly literate way many of us have come to study and share the Bible.

“If you think about the people who need the Lord and people who’ve been exposed to the Gospel, maybe from a traditional church in the North American context, many of them have never come to a relationship with Jesus that is meaningful and is reproducible.”

God gave us the written Word for a reason. But when we look on how the stories of Jesus were shared in the early Church, only a small percentage of people read.

The modern Western approach to sharing the Gospel in a literate way isn’t always effective. So what can we do? Wiles says there needs to be a greater emphasis on getting back to the basics. If we think back to the rapidly spreading Church 2,000 years ago, the techniques used then are highly effective today.

“Much of what we learn in the more rapidly reproducing church-planting movements in the global south, and the underground church in various parts of the world, many of those lessons can be brought back to the context of churches in the United States and Canada.”

These methods are cross-cultural, international, and reproducible. Most importantly, they’re Biblical. Wiles says when we break it down to the basics, these methods are usable everywhere.

Image capture courtesy of Living Water International.

(Image capture courtesy of Living Water International)

The focus is the Gospel, shared through Bible stories that help people understand what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus, what a disciple is, and what the Church is.

The truth is, in the modern Western world, many of the intellectual phrases and terminology we use can be a barrier to others. Though we need the written Word and we need scholars, we have to be careful we’re not imposing our modern-Western world on others when God’s Word can better be shared with our mouths.

If you would like to learn more about orality, why not experience it? Sign up for a workshop today! Click here for more information.

Leave a Reply