Discipleship Through Story

Let me tell you a story. 

There were two men, both of whom were in debt to a certain money lender.  One of them owed fifty weeks of his pay, the other owed five hundred weeks of pay.  Neither was able to pay, and the money lender forgave them both.

You probably recognized the little story as being told by Jesus in the book of Luke 7: 41 & 42.  And in a paragraph below I want to share with you what the story can convey to villagers in Bolivia where I do my mission work.    But first I want to talk about telling stories.

It may be called storytelling or storying.  I’ve also heard it called Chronological Bible Storying and Chronological Bible Teaching.  Sometimes it is referred to as orality or an oral strategy, and it may be called One story or simply the story.  But after the dust settles, all these names refer to telling Bible stories as a witnessing tool, an evangelism technique, and even a discipleship process.  But before you change the page, understand that I am not talking about telling children stories before they go to bed (although it is great for that, too).  I am talking about reaching people for Jesus Christ and making disciples who make disciples for two-thirds of the world who do not learn in the same systematic way that the Western world does and also for those great number of people that are from oral cultures and may be illiterate or semi literate.

First, let’s talk about the numbers of illiterate.  Statistics vary greatly, but The World Literacy Foundation states that 796 million people cannot read and write. [1]  I think the numbers may be even higher than that.  According to Unesco Institute for Statistics, Bolivia has a 91.2% literacy, [2] but my experience would say that those numbers are not realistic.  At least in village life numbers of the literate are much lower.  But even if they can read, many don’t and don’t understand what they read.  So, they rely on their historical method of learning—orally.

My wife, Rhonda Haynes (who happens to be a pretty smart person, M.A. Intercultural Studies, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) coined a phrase for me to refer to those who may know how to read, but don’t.  She says they are not literary dependent.  In other words, they don’t depend on reading and writing and in general they don’t learn that way.  They are oral dependent.

So let’s look at the oral world, those oral dependent and eastern thinkers.  They make up some two-thirds of the world.  They learn through story.  This is the method Jesus used most of the time.  Jesus taught through parables, stories that conveyed truths.  So, we have returned to the parable at the beginning.

As a western thinker we may hear the story at the beginning and forget about it, or wait for someone to tell us why it is important.  But an eastern thinker, an oral dependent person hears the story and mostly derives its meanings from it.

Back to the parable

I used the parable at the beginning of this article for a few reasons.  First, it’s a very short parable which is useful for the amount of space we have here.  Second, it lends itself to a particular structure that is a mnemonic, a devise to help the hearer memorize it for themselves and repeat it to others (more on that in a moment).  Third, it conveys a lot of truth and emotion.

Let’s see what those 44 words might say to those who learn orally.

First, the emotion.  Read the story again and imagine yourself as the debtor.  What if you owed 500 weeks of pay?  How would you survive?  How would your family?  The idea of story evokes emotion and in that way makes the story personal and memorable.

Second, what is the truth that is being presented?  Does this story reveal anything about the character of God or about a biblical truth?  We know it does by its context.  Jesus uses it to show that he can forgive an adulterer and in that way he is demonstrating that he, Jesus is God.  But within the story itself, short as it is, there is a message about grace.  The money lender, often painted to be a bad guy, is forgiving debt.  Why?  Why would he do that?  These are the questions that come to the listener almost immediately.  They are expecting the money lender to be a bad guy, but he is not.  He forgives without reason.  And the forgiveness knows no bounds, he forgives the guy who owes a little the same as the guy who owes a lot.

Third, do we learn about the character of God?  Through the context we can go farther, if Jesus is God, and God is forgiving, then he forgives all, no matter how much forgiveness you need.  In fact, he forgives you—no matter what you have done.

Those are 44 powerful words!  But not only is a good story, it is a good story that is memorable.  Jesus uses a mnemonic.  In this case it is in the form of ABCCBA.  Look at the form:

A  There were two debtors

  B  They owed a certain moneylender

    C  One owed 50, the other 500

    C  Neither could pay

  B  When they could not pay the moneylender

A  He forgave their debt.

The implication here in the last A is that they are no longer debtors.  This structure is often used by Jesus as well as some other common structures.  These structures make it easy to remember and carry the stories with us.

 Where do we go from here?

 Hopefully, your interest is now piqued for storytelling.  Within these articles posted we will be discussing stories, strategies and more specifically, we will be publishing stories meant for discipling an animistic culture.  The stories need to be flexible and change with the culture to which you are speaking.  We will also look at that flexibility.  There will be stories aimed at evangelism.  These will be stories that can be taught to short term mission groups.  The stories will be in English, but we will be open to sharing in Spanish or any other language that can be contributed.  From here grows a practical guide until all the world hears.

[1] http://www.worldliteracyfoundation.org/why-literacy/

[2] http://www.uis.unesco.org/literacy/Pages/data-release-map-2013.aspx

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2 comments on “Discipleship Through Story
  1. Howdy would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re working with? I’m looking to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having a hard time selecting between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique. P.S My apologies for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

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