International (MNN) — Mission groups want to do everything they can to spread the Gospel with integrity and effectiveness. That’s why World Gospel Mission’s Billy Coppedge is learning everything he can about the teaching method, orality.
He and his wife, Joanna, and their kids arrived in northern Uganda about ten years ago to help with the national training committee for Uganda and South Sudan.
Coppedge says, “We had the opportunity to come alongside church leadership, pastors, Sunday school teachers, and do what we could to try to encourage, strengthen, and offer what teaching they felt would be helpful for both them and their churches.”
They both come from a highly academic, literate background and have their master’s degrees in theology. With this valuable training, they were confident about their role in Uganda. But things didn’t turn out quite how they thought.
“When we got there, we felt like we had lots of really good answers we were going to provide to our Ugandan pastor and friends’ questions. And kind of to our shame, we began to realize all the great answers we had, while valid and helpful in certain contexts, weren’t particularly relevant for the questions they were asking.”
Instead of giving up their ministry, they looked for a different approach. This search led them to orality — a verbal method of teaching and sharing the Gospel.
They first incorporated orality through a storytelling pilot program and it was very successful. So now Coppedge and his family are in Scotland where he is learning even more about orality.
He says it doesn’t replace literate means of teaching the Gospel and theology, or even training pastors. However, there are places where it is more effective. In other words, Coppedge says, God will utilize various communication methods for His Kingdom.
“God’s after […] what is the most effective way and what is the most fruitful way to engage people in ways they cannot just understand, but they can also obey what Jesus is saying.”
For Coppedge, there is another factor that makes orality such a fascinating and effective method of teaching, “…because we think it’s not only biblical, but we think it actually mirrors the communication approach God takes.”
While the Bible we have today is written, it is full of accounts of how God engaged His people verbally. The most obvious example is how Jesus communicated while He was on earth, or the way God spoke to His prophets.
As we’ve seen before, those who begin to learn about orality tend to be very passionate about it.
Coppedge says that’s because, “We’re rediscovering some of the joys, some of the effectiveness, but also some of the theology behind orality, and I think we see that modeled both in how God communicates and particularly how Jesus does.”
Orality applies to so much more than telling stories within oral cultures. There are applications all over the globe. In fact, it’s a valuable tool for any believer. It is helpful for discipleship, leadership training, and for evangelism. So, if you want to check it out, Coppedge has some advice:
1. Research it. Learn more about orality by looking online or taking a class. There are various trainings around the United States: Simply the Story, and the International Orality Network are a couple examples.
2. Look for examples in the Bible. Coppedge challenges you to intentionally examine how God communicates with His people throughout Scripture. Think about how you can use those to witness.
3. Finally, he encourages you to try something new. In your small group or Bible study, for instance, try a new way of discussing your study topic — tell a story, sing a song.
In all these things, Coppedge says to ask God for guidance. Ask Him to show you how you can get involved and how He wants you to be sharing the Good News.
An example of orality
Coppedge brings to mind the story of Paul getting shipwrecked on the Island Malta (Acts 28). We know that the islanders are unusually kind to the guests, even though they are superstitious. It’s easy to skip over this part and get on with the passage when you’re reading it. But imagine telling the story to a group of friends, picturing the scene together. What would stick out? Would you find new application points you’d normally never catch?
“In that story, you have this picture of islanders showing hospitality, showing unusual kindness to the people that have washed up on their shores. And I’m just wondering, who are the people that maybe have washed up on our listener’s shores? And maybe that’s in a figurative sense, but also maybe in a very physical sense, thinking about all the diaspora, the migration, all the people movements of today. Who are the people that have washed up on our shores? And what would it look like, for just as those islanders showed hospitality to Paul and his team, what would it look like for us to show hospitality? And thinking, primarily, what would it look like to show communication hospitality?”
Supporting a missionary family
The Coppedges hope to return to Uganda eventually. But during this time in Scotland, will you pray for them? They have left an oral culture and gone to that of a highly literate one. They know God has them in the right place, but it’s been a difficult transition.
Additionally, they want to make an impact while they’re in Scotland. Please pray for guidance as they seek to meet the spiritual needs around them.
If you’d like to support these missionaries as they follow God’s lead, click here.
Dear Billy and Family,
Great article. We’re praying for you and your family. Look forward to hearing how you’re doing and following up our conversations from the ION conference in Houston last year.
Would love to have your input and involvement in the formation of the International Society for Orality Missiology. Hope you can join us at the 2017 NAR ION conference in Colorado Springs in Sept.
Blessings, let’s keep in touch,