Is Orality the Enemy of Expositional Preaching?

This article originally appeared on the Southeast Asia Reformed Network blog on November 3, 2014. Scroll to the bottom of this post to download audio for the accompanying workshop.

In recent years, the concept of orality has gotten a lot of attention in mission circles… and not all of it has been good. Proponents of orality hail it as a key insight into the way in which some people learn orally, and not by the written word. Thus, we should focus our evangelism and discipleship around the oral communication of Bible stories when working with people who can’t (or won’t) read. Critics view orality as a dumbing down of biblical teaching, which underestimates people’s ability to understand doctrinal truth, and thus substitutes stories for meaty teaching from the Word of God. So who is right? Is orality a friend or foe in the battle against biblical illiteracy? Can this practice further the cause of discipling the nations?

As with many things, the answers are somewhere in-between. Those who praise orality and fly under its banner are not a monolithic group any more than traditional expositional preachers are. While there are some people who turn expositional preaching into little more than academic lectures, there are also some people who (in the name of orality) allow Bible story-telling to degenerate into irresponsible eisegesis. For this reason, those who have a high regard for the Word of God and value the importance of expositional preaching sometimes brush aside orality as irrelevant at best, and heretical at worst. But for those who find themselves among the skeptics, there are two important points to understand about orality:  


In Praise of Mission Support Workers

When talking with people about our financial support, one the questions that I like least is, “How much goes to admin?”  It is a valid question, but I don’t like to answer it because there is often an unspoken assumption that paying admin costs is little more than flushing money down the toilet.  Everyone knows that some amount needs to go to admin because donations need to be processed and receipted (at the very least).  But admin money isn’t “really” used for ministry, but just for someone to push paper (or pixels) in an office somewhere.

For many people, admin fees are an unpleasant reality. They are part and parcel of working with a missionary organization, in the same way that paying taxes are an accepted part of being a citizen of a country (or should be).  They need to be paid but there is a suspicion that they are probably not spent well and would largely be better used elsewhere.  Therefore, if someone asks me, “How much goes to admin?” I feel like the lower the number that I give them, the happier they will be with my answer.  I am not going to doctor the numbers, of course, but I am never sure how my answer will affect the attitude and willingness to give of the person asking.

But the longer that I serve with a missionary organization that assesses so-called admin costs, the more grateful I am for all the people behind those admin fees.  All that money that goes to behind-the-scenes admin enables other people to do things that I would otherwise need to take time and money to do myself.  And in many cases, those support workers who are in the home office or field office or in cyberspace somewhere are doing jobs that that I am not equipped to do.


When New Missionaries Hit the One Year Wall

For many missionaries, the road to the mission field is a long one.  From the time that they first decide to go, to the time that they actually go, it can be many years.  There have been applications, candidate courses, church visits, theological studies, support raising, and a thousand other things to be done before they can finally leave.

But that day does come.  And it is fantastic.  You are finally there!  After so much preparation and waiting, it is time to begin the ministry that you’ve been dreaming of.


First comes language study.  After all the hurdles that it has taken to get to the mission field, it feels like once you get there, it is time to begin what you’ve always wanted to do.  But you can’t.  Alas, there is more waiting to do before you get good enough in the local language to say the things that you’ve so desperately wanted to say to the people that you’ve come to serve.  But for the moment, you are in no condition to serve anyone because you don’t even know where to pay your electric bill or ask for simple items at the store.  But that’s okay, because as you buckle down into language study, your ability to fend for yourself grows by leaps and bounds each day.  Everything you are learning is immediately applicable to daily life.  Numbers. Colors. Weather. Food. Directions. Months of the year.  Past, present, and future tense.  You are barely a few months into language study and you can do so much already.  Okay, so you can’t share the Gospel yet but, you just wait!  At this rate, I’ll be preaching in the streets a year from now.

But a funny thing happened on the way to fluency.


Why Missionaries Can Never Go Home Again

When a new missionary first gets to the mission field, it is obvious where home is.  It is that place where you just left.  It is the place where you grew up, went to school, got an education, discovered a church family, and formed your most important relationships.  

But when you live overseas long enough, a strange transition takes place.

Your “home” country doesn’t quite feel like home anymore.  When you “go home”, some of the same people and places are there, but life has moved on in your absence.  When you show up for the so-called “home assignment” or “furlough,” you can not just pick up where you left off.  You are a visitor.  An outsider.  A guest without a permanent role.  Your close friends have made new close friends.  Half the people in your home church only know you as a line item on a list of prayer requests.   Some new technology, slang, or cultural trend has become common place… expect for you because you missed it when it first came out.


Announcing the 2014 Southeast Asia Reformed Conference

In the world of evangelical missions, there are lots of ideas, methodologies, and strategies. Some are biblical and helpful. Some aren’t. Few are developed from a consciously Reformed framework. What should the Reformed faith (what's that?) look like in Asian soil? What does it look like to proclaim and live out the implications of a Reformed, Gospel-centered faith in Southeast Asia and beyond?

Earlier this year, a missionary friend in a nearby country asked on Facebook if their were any Reformed conference in Southeast Asia.  No one could think of any, so some of us decided to do something about that. Started by four missionaries from three organizations in two countries, the newly launched Southeast Asia Reformed Network aims to bring together Reformed believers (and those open to Reformed teaching) to answer those questions. The Southeast Asia Reformed Network's is a network of Reformed believers who want to see an increasing number of missionaries and Christians in Southeast Asia grounded in a Reformed worldview and able to apply the Scriptures faithfully to life and ministry in Southeast Asia.


3 Reasons Missionaries Should Learn Biblical Greek and Hebrew

John 1:1 in Greek New TestamentHow should missionaries best prepare themselves for the field?  What do they really need to know in order to serve God overseas?  In many places in the world today, the greatest need is basic evangelism and foundational biblical teaching in the local language.  So obviously, a growing personal faith in Christ and knowledge of the Bible is necessary.  And skills in cross-cultural communication and language are a must.

As a result, many missionary preparation programs (both formal and informal) focus on culture learning, anthropology, communication skills, and some basic Bible courses.  And there is often a lot of talk about strategy and methods.  But higher level courses in theology, biblical interpretation, and the original languages (Greek & Hebrew) are often left out, either because of time constraints, or because they are thought to be not very useful on the field.