Oral discipleship model growing the church in South America, Africa

By Joy Forney
Friday, December 1, 2017

17-year-old Kelvin in Colombia followed traditional religious beliefs as a boy, but he realized he was too dissatisfied with the practices of this religion at the time of his confirmation. He grew increasingly distant from his childhood faith until one day he encountered the JESUS film, followed by an EvangeCube demonstration in the park.

He accepted Christ and soon began attending a small group to grow in his faith. The group primarily learned biblical truth through a method called Tell THE Story – listening to Bible stories and memorizing them. Today, he is part of the youth group and shares his faith with others.

Tell THE Story is already improving discipleship and strengthening leaders like Kelvin in Colombia. Milton Matheus, Colombia JESUS Film Coordinator, said it has provided a solution for consolidating new believers into small groups planted by JESUS Film teams each month. With Tell THE Story in Matheus’ community, about 200 people in 20 small groups recently listened to biblical stories throughout a three-month period.

Tell THE Story is a discipling method that helps individuals present the Bible in a way that is simple to receive, remember, and retell. Rusty Robbins, JESUS Film Harvest Partners (JFHP) Field Services coordinator, explains it as telling true stories in a way that “invites others into a dialogue about the Bible.”

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The method entails a small group listening to a facilitator dynamically recite a Bible story from memory. The stories told are largely from the life and ministry of Christ, such as Zacchaeus, the Good Samaritan, and Jesus calming the storm. After hearing the story once, the group takes turns retelling this story to one another. The facilitator then retells the story intentionally including errors so the group can correct them. At the end of a session, the group engages with five thought-provoking questions about the story:

1. What did you like about the story?

2. What did you not like about the story?

3. What hidden truth did you learn from this story?

4. If you could be any character, who would you be or not be and why?

5. What truth will you apply in your own life this week?

Tell THE Story came out of a need for a simple but effective way for oral learners to remember stories of the Bible, while creating opportunities for the Holy Spirit to bring transformation through the truth they discover in them. According to the International Orality Network, more than 80 percent of the world’s population learns best by listening and watching rather than reading. With Tell THE Story, these oral learners think and talk about events of the Bible by watching and imitating.

Matheus testifies to Tell THE Story’s effectiveness for discipleship.

“It is a powerful resource…it allows us to teach the Word to new people in a simple but profound manner. It has a high rate of learning or understanding that can be perceived through the participants' responses.”

It has also helped with evangelism. To date, more than 62 people have made decisions for Christ and are attending Matheus’ church as a result of encountering Jesus through Tell THE Story Bible learning. Lay people are being equipped as leaders in the process.

"Many people who did not believe in their capacity to lead have found a chance to serve and lead through Tell THE Story,” Matheus said. “It doesn't require a high level of eloquence, only the will to do it and some good preparation.”

Robbins and Daniel Herrera, JFHP Assistant Field Services coordinator, recently spent eight days in Africa intensively training 70 JESUS Film leaders in a customized hybrid of Tell THE Story along with Spoken Worldwide’s method. Spoken’s model integrates the worldview of the culture being reached. By contextualizing local wisdom along with Bible wisdom, powerful implementations develop in a variety of oral and visual presentation styles, including proverbs, songs, dance and drama. This training fulfilled a dream of Tim Eby, JESUS Film Coordinator for the Nazarene church in Africa, and was the first orality training completed on the Africa West Field connected with the JESUS film.

Eby said their vision is to “improve the discipleship follow-up with the JESUS Film teams in order to strengthen the new churches being planted, and provide more support to new believers in learning the Word of God.”

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Following training, JESUS Film leaders had a “purposeful and collaborative narrative,” creating a strategy to share and train other teams throughout the region. The methods learned in training will be further developed and applied in their specific contexts and language groups. Africa West Field appointed Lydie Gomis to the newly formed position of Oral Discipleship Coordinator to demonstrate their commitment to making disciples of all peoples, tribes and nations. New Orality champions were assigned by language groups out of these first meetings with the purpose of training JESUS Film team leaders and other district leaders in using story telling as a primary tool in immediate discipleship and follow up of new church plants.

“It represented a shift for the church to a true orality model for discipleship,” Robbins said.

Oral discipleship models are expanding across the globe and are a challenge to each Christian—oral learner or not.

Matheus gives one piece of advice to anyone considering the discipling method: “Allow yourself the chance to understand and try it, so you can see for yourself how simple and efficient it is.”

Tell THE Story trainings are facilitated by Sunday School and Discipleship Ministries International (SDMI). For a calendar of trainings, go to Nazarene.org/TellTHEStory.

Spoken Worldwide trainings are facilitated in partnership with SDMI, JFHP, and the Church of the Nazarene denomination. For more information, visit www.spoken.org