Many people groups around the world are what ethnologists term oral learners. As the Orality Strategies website defines orality…
“‘Orality’ refers to reliance upon the spoken, rather than written, word for communication.Orality is an ancient phenomenon that continues to the present. Before writing was developed, cultures passed along their cultural traditions, including their history, identity, and religion, through their stories, proverbs, poems, songs, riddles, etc. These are all oral art forms; that is, they are spoken, sung or chanted. They were (and still are) often woven into ceremonies, dramas and rites of passage. Purely oral societies pass along everything that matters from one generation to another without putting anything into writing. They rely on the spoken word (including its sung and chanted forms).”
Simply put, oral learners do not typically utilize print to learn or share information. They teach and learn primarily through narrative recollection and sharing. If they wish to learn about crocodiles, someone shares experiences and lessons through narration, possibly with a follow-up commentary. If someone needs to understand the Gospel, stories communicate more clearly than a series of individual verses that formulate a collective point.
Recently, my wife and I have been formulating a new story set that teaches the character of God as a precursor to introducing our need for a relationship with Him. We lack the luxury of a highly-motivated group of learners, so we’ve limited ourselves to five stories that the people can learn in five lessons. Here’s our basic process:
1. Identify what our people group believes about God; is He creator? Just? Loving? Far or near? Limited?
2. Identify the characteristics that they have accurately grasped.
3. Identify the beliefs about God that are inconsistent with reality.
4. Choose five stories that together end up addressing the fundamental beliefs about God that are inconsistent with reality.
These stories cannot possibly address everything there is to know about God, of course. We aim to address basic misunderstandings about Him, things that stand between our people and a basic grasp of their need for salvation. As well, these are stories, self-contained narrative sections of the Bible that demonstrate God’s character.
As the United States becomes more ethnically diverse, churches stand to encounter more oral learners than ever before. If pastors and Bible teachers maintain their current approach to teaching (verse by verse, or a collection of verses), they risk failing to reach an unchurched population with the gospel.
So – your homework:
1. Assume your teaching reaches non-literate learners.
2. Identify the ways the unchurched in your area fail to understand the character of God.
3. Choose the primary misunderstood characteristics of God you feel are necessary for a foundational understanding of salvation.
4. Choose five stories that address this need.
Remember – stories only! No “stories plus several other passages that support the idea” are permitted. No collection of verses will work. You can’t appeal to Greek or Hebrew in your lesson. Neither can you choose stories that rely on data contained in stories you’ve not yet shared. Choose Old Testament or New. Make the stories long or short.
However, you must memorize the stories, so don’t pick the 10 Plagues unless you can memorize them all, including the dialogue. If you consistently return to your printed Bible while teaching, you’ll end up communicating to your non-literate people that literacy is necessary for salvation. As well, your memorization needs to be pretty close to the print. There’s always one literate guy in the group who will look up the passage and compare it to your spoken words.
Share with us the characteristics you believe people are overlooking and then list the stories you’d theoretically use for instruction.
Come on – let’s impress each other!