Scripture as Story – Sharing the Gospel in Oral Cultures
When we hear stories, we tend to let our guard down and relax. It allows us to bring ourselves into the story.
Jesus always spoke to his followers using parables, ending each time with a question. Stories stick. And questions stick too when you don’t provide an answer. It gives listeners an opportunity to come up with their own answer, allowing the Holy Spirit and their individual lives to guide their discovery and application.
That’s why stories are the primary means of gospel sharing in cultures where people are illiterate and mostly oral.
Oral learners, or “survival listeners,” rely solely on memory to survive. They have to listen well and remember, oftentimes being very intelligent with sharp memories.
But telling Bible stories goes beyond entertainment. Instead, people are being led to discover what’s in those stories.
When local leaders tell Bible stories, they often follow up with open-ended questions that everyone can answer, similar to how Jesus taught his followers. All answers are accepted, though some may be redirected back to the story. This method allows for high levels of engagement to happen among the people because sharing in this capacity allows them, as the listener, to do the discovering. They feel empowered to retell these stories, and they do.
Ray Neu had been in ministry for almost 20 years when his path turned toward missions. He had always been involved in missions, sending kids from the youth ministries he managed, but he never actively participated in it himself.
After his first trip, he told his wife, “I finally know what I want to be when I grow up.”
After that, Ray began to take groups to a couple dozen countries to “work and witness.” He would focus on being creative in order to expose people to Scripture and would then let the Holy Spirit take them from there.
“I worked to move classes I had been teaching in a literate style into more oral methodology, which was very well received,” Ray said. “I started teaching systematic theology using only a 12-page list of Bible stories.”
In 2015, Ray became the Director of Orality Coaching for Spoken (then T4 Global), where he began working to capacity build in the missions field, or in other words, teach organizations how to share the gospel orally through storytelling. He focuses on training organizations and churches that focus on evangelism in countries with the least amount of literate people.
Recently, Ray led a training in Northern Ghana for a group of about 60 women. On the first day, the crowd was small, but on the second day, many more women attended. The women who attended the first day had sent word back to the villages about the trainings. Many people didn’t believe that the trainings would benefit them because they’re usually taught for literate people. But when the crowd discovered that it was for oral learners, many more people came.
These 60 women left the training with ten stories in their hearts that they had learned and made songs to. They didn’t have to be told to share the stories, they just did it because they wanted to. So when they returned home, they retold the Bible stories, and droves of women began following them to church the next day. By the end of the service, ten of the women had given their lives to Christ.
“If it’s not reproducible, it’s not successful,” Ray said. “I’ve been in ministry for more than 30 years, and Bible storytelling is the easiest and most effective thing I’ve ever done.”