Communicating In Context


“Without their singing, I don’t know how they would ever get married.”  Sounds strange?  Not to a person serving one group in Asia where their singing is a key component of communicating history, and traditions, as well as many relational issues and spiritual issues.  So, how are we planning to share with them about our relationship with the God of creation?  First of all by building relationships as God permits and living out the life of God in us through our daily walk.  But, how about sharing the Bible, God’s council, that He gave to us?  

When printed materials became more easily duplicated and literacy became a key factor in accessing the Bible, reading the book has largely become the norm for sharing and learning about God.   Hence, mission and Bible translation efforts have historically emphasised literacy and using materials in a literate format as a key component of their work.

We are wondering why the success of our work has been often very limited.  Of course, there are many factors, but most of the time we miss addressing at least one key factor.  We don’t really consider the worldview of the people we are serving and just give them a book.  In the midst of this, from our literate perspective, we quickly justify our approach that print allows people to study the Bible and that print makes the message sustainable.  We also support the print by saying that the Bible says: “it is written”… so everybody should learn to read.  This even happened to the extent where the church in one area in Africa didn’t even reach out to people who couldn’t read.  After all, being able to read was crucial to being a Christian. 

So, what has worldview to do with reading?  Worldview is the framework through which a person views everything that comes into and is part of his or her life.  God has given us our senses to help shape our worldview.  Taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound are all a part of this.  It helps us to learn what is considered good, bad, true, false, etc.  This worldview is also shaped by communication with other people and it includes receiving, interacting with, and processing new information.  The style or form of communication is one key aspect for a person even being able to interact with information.  The simplest sample being that an illiterate cannot interact fruitfully with written materials, but also to the extent that if in your culture new truth is always chanted, truth communicated in any other way may not be seen as truth.  

As we serve people, we need to consider their worldview and with that, their ways of communication.  Since people inherently communicate in ways other than literate, we need to consider these ways.  A broader term for grouping these other ways of communication is also called oral communication art forms.   This relates to a learning style that is oral versus literate.  Does this negate literate materials?  No, but it puts other communication art forms in perspective.  Statistics show between 45% and 70% of the world’s people are using predominantly oral communication styles.  We need to consider how we share the Bible with them.  Interestingly enough the Bible itself uses many different communication art forms including narratives, dialogues, proverbs, songs, chants, poetry, parables, prophesies, thematic questions, letters, and sermons.  On top of that, Jesus is a clear example of a communicator who interacts with people in the context of who they are.  He uses stories, prophesies, parables, questions, and dramatic events. 

How do you see this tie into the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world?