Basics of Orality

Orality is one of the primary challenges facing Western Christians today. Through emphasis on education, we have effectively disjoined ourselves from 75% of the world's population. The manner in which we communicate is radically different from oral learners. Since communication is of utmost importance for the witness of Christ, we must retrain ourselves.  We must train ourselves to be oral communicators. It can be done and the benefits go well beyond effective communication of the gospel, though that in and of itself is sufficient motivation!

I offer a few beginning steps. 



I know what you are thinking. Aren't we supposed to be moving away from print? Yes. But, print is an important pathway to get there, especially for us literate thinkers. We need information presented in a format that we can handle, and, for now, that's print.  

Lots of good resources have been written for those wanting to learn more about orality.  Making Disciples of Oral Learners is a great starting point. Tex Sample's book is also very insightful. Boomershine's Story Journey is excellent. And, for practical instruction, Basic Bible Storying is a must have.

There are also a number of journals for free online that focus on orality. See Oral TraditionOrality Journal and William Carey IDJ.

Also, some helpful websites:


Flip Your Priorities

Oral learners value people over tasks. Relationships take precedent over completing a job. Westerners are the opposite. Though we'd like to say we value people, that rarely bears itself out in our daily living. 

  • We do self-checkout because we can hurry up and avoid the nuisance of human interaction. 
  • Our daily To-Do lists rarely (if ever) include items such as "Spend two hours listening and talking to Sam" 
  • We feel accomplished when we get a lot done. 
  • We feel frustrated when we get hung up in a long conversation. 
  • We evaluate our worth and others' worth based on their accomplishments. 

On the other hand, oral learners...

  • Feel accomplished when they have strengthened relationships. 
  • Spend time interacting in meaningful dialogue with those that they conduct business with. 
  • Evaluate worth based on connectedness to community. 
  • Relish long conversations and hours spent with others. 
  • Don't make "to-do" lists. They make "to visit" lists!

To learn to think like an oral learner, start valuing people more than tasks. 


Take Your Time

Literate learners manage their time carefully. Every waking hour has been allotted to some task and very little margin remains.  Oral learners have much more margin.  

That's because relationships take time and can't be relegated to the "1pm-2pm Meeting w/ Rick" time slot. 

Leave more margin in your life. And, as you value people more than tasks, you'll find that they margin fills up with relationships. 

J.O. Terry told me, "Patience means taking cues from the oral learner about the need to slow down, take time to eat together or drink tea, or to wait without fretting about the 'lost time' due to delays. I once had an older farmer in the Philippines to say that if I left my watch at home, I would be much happier. Of course, I was trying to speed things up when the most important thing to him was to enjoy some fellowship in his home."


Practice the Disciplines Orally

A great way to develop oral skills and also gain a better perspective of how learners grow in Christ is to put away print materials in your times of devotion.  

  • Use an audio Bible instead of your print Bible.
  • Instead of using a journal, try reflecting and meditating on what is going on inside your heart. 
  • Recite a Biblical narrative to yourself. 
  • Tell a Bible story to another person.
  • In church, refrain from using any of the available print resources. Listen only. Try to remember.

J.O. Terry offered this suggestion to me, "In the worship service when the pastors says for everyone to open their Bible or take one from the pew rack, I do not. Instead I focus on listening carefully. I know that if I open my Bible that I will keep reading and tune out what the pastor begins to say after reading the passage. So I commit myself to staying focused on what the pastor is saying orally."