Is making disciples of oral learners possible? This is a question my husband and I have been asking ourselves. In September, my husband and I and our 4-yr old daughter will board a plane and move to another continent in order to work with a people group which, as of yet, does not have the Bible in their language. The reason? They are one of the few people groups left on earth without a written language. Oh, they can speak some of the official language of the country they live in. But their heart language has never been written down, and none of them can read at all.
As we prepare to leave for the field, we began to ask ourselves, is making disciples of oral learners possible? Illiteracy can be a huge barrier to the Gospel. One of the cool assignments we get to do this year at Equip’s missionary training program is to come up with a discipleship plan that will help us in our future ministry. Naturally, my husband and I chose to focus on a discipleship plan that would benefit oral learners.
As we began to research orality, an interesting paradigm shift began to happen in our minds. It began as I would read the books on orality and then retell the information to my husband, who is not at all a reader. Then we would discuss the information together. A lightbulb went on about how making disciples of oral learners is possible. “Honey,” I exclaimed. “We’ve been thinking about this all wrong. Oral learners aren’t just people who can’t read. They are people who prefer learning methods other than reading. YOU are an oral learner! So tell me: what makes truth stick for you?” During our research, I found out that over half of the people in America prefer not to learn through literate methods.1
Even though most Americans can read (unlike 2/3 of the unreached world)1, few things actually stick in our minds. Many people listen to a three-point sermon at church and might not be able to list the outline a week later. But what if we started discipling each other the way Jesus did — through stories? What if our small groups were centered around telling a Bible story over and over until it sank so deeply into everyone’s heart that the implications of it began to change our behavior? What if (hang on to your hats) we considered telling a Bible story in place of a sermon one Sunday?
The key to a good Bible story is to engage the senses. All of them, if possible. And then, follow the story up with really great questions. Questions like, “What does this story tell us about God?” and “How should we live differently after hearing this story?”
Everyone loves a good story. Good stories get retold. They get discussed afterwards by the people who heard it. Stories make an impact.
Just ask the twelve disciples.
1 For more information on implementing storying methods in your local church, small group or discipling relationships, read is 1Truth that Sticks: How to Communicate Velcro Truth in a Teflon World by Avery T. Willis Jr. and Mark Snowden.