Houston, TX (ANS) – More than 45 years ago I heard a message delivered by the late Pat Zondervan. The message was based on the uniqueness and attributes of the Palm Tree, from Psalm 92:12, which says, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree.” It is amazing how much we can remember when there is effective use of image, narrative and repetition. There is a growing recognition that storytelling is a powerful method of communication. Business leaders are using storytelling for improving corporate culture as well as communicating their vision, mission and values. Some church and mission leaders are also becoming aware and using image, storytelling and narrative-based communication strategies.
Having been involved in the Orality Movement over the years, I am increasingly aware of the ways we learn, communicate, process information and remember things. In our Orality Training we emphasize that when we use orality-based communication methods, we use a different part of our brains than when we read texts or use print-based instructional material. Studies show that storytelling and other oral art forms activate our brains and enhance memory.
Lessons from Liberia
One of the observations we made several years ago in an Orality Training in Liberia was the difference in the ways people responded and retained information. In a Bible Storying Workshop with more than 100 people, about half of the participants had their Bibles, note pads and pens, while the other half had none, as they were non-literate/oral learners. At the end of the day of training, we observed that the Oral learners were able to learn and retell the stories better than the literate participants. The Oral learners were more accustomed to hearing, discussing and repeating the stories, whereas the literate ones depended more on text-based methods. It is important to note that even among highly educated and literate populations, orality-based methods can enhance the learning experience and the ability to retain information.
The Mother of all Learning
It may seem like common knowledge, but it is valuable to practice a well-known concept. That is, “Repetition is the mother of all learning.” In our training strategies we emphasis the benefits of learning a little, practicing a lot and telling the stories often. It is better to know a little that we share a lot, than to know a lot that we keep to ourselves. A common theme we use is, “Keep the faith, just don’t keep it to yourself.” More repetition, learning in community and the use of imaginary are great lessons anyone can benefit from.
Some churches and ministries in North America and the Western World are beginning to discover that there are many lessons we can learn from the more relational, communal, Oral cultures in the Global South. In our training efforts we see barriers come down and trusting relationships built. Some still think of Orality and Storytelling as being beneficial for non-literate or less educated people. However, the concepts and principles of oral learning are important in areas where individualism and isolationism are prevalent, such as the USA.
Truth That Sticks
When considering communicating the Gospel and Making Disciples, the Arts Community has much to offer. Not only the visual and performing arts for effective communication, but also areas such as relational, participatory and dialogical arts to develop and maintain community. These are valuable skill for everyday life and ministry. Think of the difference in reading a book, as opposed to seeing a movie and discussing it with friends. Consider how the Lord has used the Jesus Film over the years. Then as viewers discuss it in community, it sticks. The late Dr. Avery Willis along with co-author Mark Snowden, do a great job making the case for the power of orality in their book Truth That Sticks.
Images from Scripture
There are many images throughout Scripture that communicate spiritual truths and life principles. The Lord Jesus used many images, like the vine and the branches, the wise man who built his house on a rock, the parable of the sower, and many others. Jesus is actually our best model as a communicator, trainer, disciple maker and leader. Most people in His day were Oral Learners, as it is today. Even though more people are literate now, the majority of the world would be considered Oral learners, by necessity or by preference. One of the big questions today would be: “How are we going to be able to communicate the Gospel to everyone, and make disciples among all people groups?” Another strategic question is, “Can we communicate, train and make disciples the way Jesus did?” The answer to these questions of course, is “Yes,” because the same Holy Spirit is at work in the world today, and each of us, who are born of the Spirit, have Christ in us.