The two of us were visiting a friend in a country that is spiritually resistant to Christianity. We were in a tea house during Ramadan watching people go to prayer and talking about what it’s like doing ministry in his city. “All my training in ministry, the seminars and conferences I’ve been to…none of it is connecting with people. You can’t create thriving churches here the way we were trained.”
In the many years he had lived there, he had seen zero people come to Christ and had only a very small number who showed any serious interest. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, but we began asking what was keeping it from sticking with people. He went on, sharing ideas from a recent seminar on differences between literate and oral-preference learners.
Had this conversation taken place in a U.S. church, my wife and I might not have absorbed it as much as we did sitting in a tea shop in a Muslim city during Ramadan. The implications for ministry among hard to reach people groups were unavoidable.
At the time we were working with a large international ministry that was just beginning a division dedicated to oral-learning cultures, so we joined them. After three years of traveling to Central Asia, we found ourselves in a difficult position.
Friends and churches were asking us “We’ve been partnered with XYZ Church in such-and-such country for years. Could you teach them about this storying ministry you’re doing?” The problem was two-fold—these locations were outside the scope of what our ministry was focused on, and I just couldn’t create more time. For two years we kept saying “no” but hated doing it.
At one point, the ministry we were with began several months of restructuring. This time of change provided the right circumstances to make a shift for our family’s ministry. So we left the organization after working with it for eighteen years and began Background Partners. And we were able to start saying ‘yes’.
Through Background we’ve been able to focus on smaller indigenous-led ministries that have not appeared on the radar of larger international ministries. This is not a criticism, just a reality of capacity issues that exist in ministry.
Because we’ve gone this route, we’ve been able to come alongside believers and create localized approaches. For some, this has been the first ‘coaching’ they have received in how specific local realities impact church planting, evangelism, and discipleship.
We want to see people get into God’s Word and God’s Word get into people with the fewest obstacles possible. Storying is very natural, less risky, and highly reproducible in these cultures. Storying—doing ministry the way Jesus did—is helping traditionally resistant people discover God, not ‘western religion.’