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Cape Town 2010 Advance Paper

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The Oral Story Bible: A Breakthrough Strategy in Rapid Engagement Among Unreached People Groups

Author: Ron Green
Date: 20.08.2010
Category: Orality

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Originally Posted in English

Editor’s Note: This Cape Town 2010 Advance Paper has been written by Ron Green as an overview of the topic to be discussed at the Multiplex session on “Crafting an Oral Bible Story.” Responses to this paper through the Lausanne Global Conversation will be fed back to the author and others to help shape their final presentations at the Congress.


We stand at a unique moment in history!  We can look back at the progress of the Gospel and see that the Lord has blessed.  At the same time, we’re burdened and challenged by the enormous task facing the global Church today.  We’re reminded of the task that remains among thousands of Unreached People Groups speaking languages with no translated Scripture. Almost half the world lives with a Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim faith.  And, everywhere there is a need for deeper discipleship.  Recognition of these critical needs compels us to focus our prayer and ministry as never before.  The Great Commission can seem overwhelming. But the Church is beginning to work together and new creative strategies are opening some of the greatest opportunities in history.

The purpose of this paper is to draw our attention to one very measurable need. Throughout history, literacy was a protected privilege reserved solely for the elite—usually the leaders of government, commerce, military and religion.  For several millennia, leaders often counted on this privilege to control the masses whom they ruled.  We cherish our education and literacy––and we should, after all of the effort invested.  However, we’re reminded that the majority of the unreached people of our world are primarily oral learners who learn much differently from those who are literate.  This is a critical moment to review all of our methods and strategies of ministry so that we’re prepared to face this challenge with creativity and God’s heart of compassion for the lost.

The Remaining Task

Two thousand years ago Jesus entrusted His followers with a special commission, a mandate to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  We are told repeatedly throughout Scripture of God’s heart for every language, tribe and people group to hear the Good News.  We are commanded to go and tell everyone the Gospel and disciple those who choose to follow Christ.

There is much discussion regarding the depth of our Gospel presentations and our discipleship activities. But the breadth seems clearly measurable––every people group, tribe and language should have the Gospel message.  Yet in the 21st century there are still many groups where the Gospel has not penetrated.  Research reveals that there are still thousands of unreached people groups with nearly half of them not yet engaged by evangelism and church planting efforts. 

Today, nearly one-third of the earth’s languages still await the first verse of Scripture in their own language. Hundreds of languages have just a few chapters available to them.  Without translated Scripture, we are unlikely to find any Gospel message present. Often, there are no believers and no indigenous multiplying churches—because how do we evangelize and disciple without God’s Word?  It seems there should be a minimal level of effort in every language, tribe, and people group.  Perhaps giving them access to God’s Word in their own language and in their own learning style could be the first step of taking the Gospel to every people group.

Keywords: Oral Story Bible, oral Bible, oral, gospel, Scripture, language, unreached, translation, access, mother tongue, learning style, communication, partnership, storying, storyteller, story

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Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down ahinton2 (1)
United States

“Today, nearly one-third of the earth’s languages still await the first verse of Scripture in their own language.” I know for many of you that are exposed to these numbers more often, you may have the ability to take this in stride. For someone who is just now being exposed to orality, diaspora mission, etc., I found that sentence shocking. I had no idea the numbers were so staggering. I love the process described here of teams living in a local community, engaging the people, establishing stories, then an oral tradition, and then a written translation. It is really fascinating for a Westerner, like myself, to think about the orality process as it is a very different process than what I have become so accustom to. The phrase “there is work to be done” was ringing loudly in my ear while I read this article. What an opportunity and a calling.

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down KBFInow (0)
United States

Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no
end...for the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this
".  Isa 
9:7  The government of God is manifest on earth through the visible kingdom of
God operating in our lives.  Kingdom businesses will experience this because it
is God’s divine purpose for his mature sons and daughters in this age.  We come
into spiritual maturity through the operation of the 5-fold offices given in
this government.  The two important gifts apostles and prophets provide a
powerful covering and direction for this economic power.  Remember the true
5-fold gifts provide the edification and perfection "of the saints
unto the work of the ministry
."  according to Eph. 4:11. Prophets
give us direction and protection as God reveals to them coming economic storms
and events that affect the marketplace. Apostles give us wisdom, correction and
government oversite.  Apostles help establish and maintain the work. Satan has
spent a great deal of time discrediting these gifts through false prophets and
apostles. This has been true from the beginning of the chruch in
the first century.  But as God reveals and confirms true apostles and
prophets, those that have ears to hear and eyes to see in the Spirit will
greatly benefit.  The real issue is trust.  When we come to
the place of laying the money at the apostel’s feet for distriubtion, this trust
will have been established.  But first the apostles must be known as men of
integrity, accountability and responsibility.  Kingdom businesses will come to
understand that they don’t have ownership because that is limiting, dividing,
decreasing and dimishes growth. Ownership implies containment and
protection. Stewardship is
increasing, liberating and experiences growth and multiplication.  As Mom
Taylor, an old friend who had a ministry called , "Pass it On" and a huge
homeless distribution warehouse in Pacadena, Ca.and owned two trucks just to
give it all away told me.  "Jerry, your ability to give is not based on
what you have, but on God’s ability to supply"
.  She always reminded me
that the only reason we should stop giving is because God is broke.  (please
watch this video "Is God
God will not only supply, but abundantly supply for every good
work.  We have been trained to think in this world system to have a spirit of
independence, self-actualization, self-worth, self-trust and self-love.  We must
repent to come under a kingdom mentality and learn submission to authority
(Christ’s), dependence daily on His presence, faith for daily filling of His
Holy Spirit, and identity of who we are in Christ. We are servants, sons,
ambassadors and submit to His authority.  The problem of focusing on self is we
are then limited to our capacity. When we focus on Jesus and His CAPACITY, we
are limitless

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down als828 (1)
United States

This is a fascinating approach to spreading the gospel. Though I don’t spend much of my time or energy in active evangelization, I do spend quite a lot of it in translating. I feel that I am quite well aware of the issues that go along with the translational process. This whole ordeal of moving the Scriptures between languages and cultures is certainly a messy process, even for those of us with relatively sophisticated educational backgrounds. Coming up with smooth translations and explaining complicated theological concepts to those who have no background in such things seems a huge undertaking to me. 

This proposal, though it may not be perfect, certainly seems like an excellent way to begin. In many places, our Scriptures read like theological treatises; in others, like stories. We would definitely be well served to present the story parts first. We would be especially well served to present the stories first if we are attempting to connect with people for whom storytelling is a meaningful way of life. Just like the principle of making sense of the receptor language prevails when I translate, there is good sense here in suggesting that the receptor culture should prevail when transmitting the scriptural tradition.

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down ForHisGlory2 (0)
United States

I enjoyed this paper immensely because it touched on literacy.  Education has been my life for many years and I identify with the literacy issue.  I was reminded of how education was limited to certain groups and to some degree we have done the same with communicating the great commission to the nations.  According to Mr. Green if we are going to reach all people regardless of size of the unreached group, the level of literacy or the geographic or political context we have to step up our game.  Can we call leaving out the illiterate unintentional discrimination or showing partiality when in fact it is the last thing we want to do?  This would go against our belief that the gospel is for all nations. What can I do about this issue?  I can begin to talk or promote the topic or tool of orality to bridge the gap.  I would be interested in working with ministries to incorporate this as a vital part of discipleship training and reaching the unreached.  I especially liked the approach of honoring the culture’s learning style because one size does not fit all.  Storytelling has been around for many years.  It is an excellent way to present the gospel in an informal yet meaningful manner.  Story telling lends itself to drama, music and art.  I would be glad to support a move in this direction.  The stories have already been written.  God has done that for us.  Jesus often told stories about things common to his audience environment.  I realize that His stories were told not as Bible stories but, we can draw from that example and use it today to fulfill our common goal of reaching the unreached.  I believe He knew we would need this tool to help fill the “scripture literacy gap.”

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down Michael_H (1)  

We are living in exciting times. Thank you for this inspiring paper, Ron. Just a little remark: Can you think of possible negative side-effects in launching the Oral Story Bible and pre-emptive measures?


Michael H

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down Chavoux_Luyt (1)
South Africa
@ Michael_H:

To my mind there is one very dangerous "side-effect" and that is simply deception, the preaching of "another gospel". While this is always a danger, in the context where we have the written Bible, you can always check to see if any message is in agreement with what the Spirit of God has revealed in His Word. This is much more difficult in an oral culture (and was one of the driving forces of the reformation).

One will need to teach new believers how to "test the spirits" without have access to the written word of God.

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down Johnnycongo (0)
South Africa

By prayer and mission calling I work along the Congo River and its tributaries. Deep rural and isolated villages often have not met with "outside" visitors. Technology and cultural aspects such as dress and table manners can easily confuse the focus of a message of Creation, Salvation and Sanctification. Orality (storying) and choirs seem quite capable of capturing the basic Gospel Truths in a meaningful and lasting depth - for continued repitition around evening cooking fires of festive occassions. Follow up or continuous church inter-action are unfortunately not practical for villages spread along 14 000 km of riverbanks.

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down Johnnycongo (0)
South Africa

By prayer and mission calling I work along the Congo River and its tributaries. Deep rural and isolated villages often have not met with "outside" visitors. Technology and cultural aspects such as dress and table manners can easily confuse the focus of a message of Creation, Salvation and Sanctification. Orality (storying) and choirs seem quite capable of capturing the basic Gospel Truths in a meaningful and lasting depth - for continued repitition around evening cooking fires of festive occassions. Follow up or continuous church inter-action are unfortunately not practical for villages spread along 14 000 km of riverbanks.

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Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down abloemker10 (1)
United States

Orality is something I believe is not only a positive direction for evangelism in the places where there is no written language but also for the churches in America.   There are many churches where “teaching” is a primary focus yet the people have not heard or know Jesus in their own love language, and don’t fully understand the life transforming power of the Gospel and what that means for them in their life.  
If you think about it, Didn’t Jesus teach through stories?  His primary teaching was not the rules of religion but the exact opposite. The pharisees were really good at teaching rules and regulations of a Religion.  Jesus used parables to share the good news of the Kingdom.  The thing was he didn’t just tell stories, he lived it out and showed us all how to live.
In my own context a couple of years ago we found people in our church had heard about Jesus but all the evangelism tools that were out there fell short.  The people wanted share their faith but it was unnatural and awkward when the majority of people in our context had heard about Jesus.  We had a bunch of smart people in our church that knew something about the  Bible, but had no clue what it looked like to be a disciple of Jesus.
We as a church moved from a “exposition” small group format to a “oral/incarnational” life group format.  We have a set of stories from the Old testament through the New Testament that we use to show the Redemptive plan that God has put into place for his people.  Through us using these stories to share God’s plan, they were able to share the stories with the people around them. It created exactly what the author of the paper was hoping would happen in these places where there were no written language.  We have seen people sharing their faith, through stories of what God did in the Bible as well as what God is doing in their own life.
We still require training for our leaders of these life group with exposition training so that they are able to guide the conversation with Biblical truth and not let stories run in opposite direction of God’s word.  Our leaders are also trained to be ministers/missionaries to their community of people.
So right on, I am for Orality as a method of evangelism and Discipleship, it has proved to be very effective for us and our context.  

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down EuginioMarquinNel (0)
South Africa

Orality, is a method that I believe will have great persuasive influence in the community whereby it is presented. However, how does one marry orality and exposition? For me it will be difficult not to quote verses from other books of the bible. How do we marry orality with exposition? or do we do away with exposition? 

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down khanyisaLeonoraLiwani (0)
South Africa

for me i think this method of storry telling its a good and fast way of evangelism, because what i like about it you dont need to be a good preacher in order for you to deliver a massage. i really thank the Lord for opening so many ways so that His people can know Him and what i like anyone can do we it, for me i dont have a question but i just want to thank the Lord for opening our  minds for evangelism through you God bless you keep up the good work.

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down DuquePaulowilson (0)
South Africa

I have noticed that this method of telling-story is a very good strategy in sharing the gospel especially in Africa conext where we love story so much.

My concern: How do you develop a "Christology" (as mission strategy) through tellig-story for presenting the gospel in a simple way to African Initiated Churches? 

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down RagamuffinRese (3)  
United States

Thanks Ron for sharing the excitement of this crucial issue and one of the strategies for addressing it.

The West, as a largely post-literate culture, would benefit greatly from this as well. 

God chose to reveal Himself largely through narratives, songs, proverbs and designed us to respond to His story.  Even the epistles are responses to stories unfolding in the lives of God’s people - though we only hear one side of them and don’t know the endings! 

Paul indicated in Colossians 1:16 that the gospel story has a self-propogating power.  Unleashing it creatively is sound strategy anywhere, anytime.

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down RagamuffinRese (3)  
United States

Thanks Ron for sharing this exciting ministry.

It really is shocking for most of us to know that about 2/3 of the world prefer to learn orally - that they are transformed by those who communicate in this, their heart and life language. It is important for us in the West to recognize that we are in a post-literate culture and many of the strategies for oral cultures would be fruitful for us.

God is a God who chose to tell us of Himself and His plans though a series of stories and designed us to respond to narratives.  Even the epistles are snapshots of stories going on in the early church; though we hear only one side of the conversation, Paul is addressing stories of real people. (And I wish I knew how they all turned out!) Making biblical narratives live and breathe, aware of its self-propogating power and releasing it would indeed be a powerful strategy anywhere, anytime. 

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down ChrisKidd (0)   
United Kingdom

My favourite paragraph was:

In a world of specialization, it’s easy for us to look to those who are called to be translators to own that task for the whole world.  However, if we believe that Scripture access could be an important step in world evangelization, could this be a burden that all believers should carry together?  Our desire would be to encourage, honor, pray for, resource and join hands with those gifted servants who are already engaged in Scripture translation.  Research shows us that there are 2,252 language groups with a population of 350 million people who have no Scripture in their language.  There are hundreds more languages with just a few chapters of Scripture. There are millions who presently have no access to Old Testament passages that can be essential to building bridges of understanding about Jesus, especially among Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims.

I was staggered to read the over 2000 language groups don’t have God’s word in their langauge - that’s huge.  Our aim has to be that every group regardless of size, levels of literacy, or their geographic or political context is able to access scripture.

I liked Ron’s description of small teams living in a local community and the process of engaging the people and how they can establish stories, then an oral tradition, then a written translation.

I still can’t get my head round the fact that over 350 million people still don’t have a word of the bible in their langauge.

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down Ana_M (0)  

I’m so amazed how creative our God is. I’m so excited how He’s making himself known. On the other hand, I’m profoundly ashamed I haven’t been praying for this issue. In my country there are many ethnias who do not have Scripture. I want to pray more about it. Thanks for this inspiring paper.

I know a group of students who started a theatre group. They are performing the whole gospels and traveling around Mexico City to present them. It’s very encouraging to see them taking this vision. Many people have heard the Bible for the first time in their lives although they have one at home.

I pray God use  them in this area in my country.

Ana Miriam 

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down danda (3)  

Thank you for showing us the dream and that there is still hope.

I feal that even today, in every society more and more people that would not read the Bible  would love to hear a good story and song.

With the technology that we have now we can prepare very powerful presentations (Bible stories and songs) to reach the unreached ....

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down Marguerite_Evans (1)  
United States

Thank you for the paper, Ron. This is fascinating to me. I want to learn more about it.


Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down kshalhoub (0)  
United States

May I also add that the parables of Jesus are powerful story telling of God’s intention for people to enter the Kingdom..

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down ChloeRoberts (0)  
United Kingdom

Really helpful.

Yes i would be interested to know where and when training is available too.

And agree with the both/and emphasis of the oral and writen Word.

Reply Flag 0 Thumbs Up Thumbs Down SARAH_MINA_OGAREE (0)  

Thank you Ron for these interesting and most educative insights on Orality. I have suddenly realized that this oral story Bible methodology has been going on for years in my country Nigeria. Even today it is still prevalent in many churches where the illeterate are separated and taught orally through story telling the Bible. My old grandmother before she died knew and understood the Bible even though she could not read nor write.

Because of the urgency of the Great Commission and the slow pace of meeting with translation deadline, I do agree that this form of preaching the gospel should not only be revived but encouraged as a viable means of evangelistic outreach.

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