CTBP Archive

These articles were cross-posted to Church Translating Bible Planters (ctbp.org).

A Few Questions from John Piper about Missions, Orality, and the Bible /

Have you read this short article by John Piper, “Missions, Orality, and the Bible: Thoughts on Pre-, Less-, and Post-literate Cultures”? He puts the orality movement into perspective then characteristically challenges its underlying assumptions and encourages immediacy of the Scriptures. Piper published the article near nine years ago but it should still add to the current discussion.

Whether you aspire to serve across culture and language or to preach the Word in your own, consider what responsibility you have to bring the written Word to unreached oral learners. And then consider what responsibility you have to bring oral learners to the written Word.


Leadership’s First Lesson: Read It /
Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey
Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey

God gave his people a written record of his instruction before they entered the promised land. He said that any future king should make a copy of this instruction for himself and read from it every day:

When [a king] sits on the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself in a book a copy of this instruction, approved by the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read in it all the days of his life. Then he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this instruction and these statutes, and doing them, and his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he and his children may continue long in his kingdom in Israel. (Deut. 17:18–20)

This lesson — the Bible’s first direct word about both reading and leading — teaches one thing a king should do. There are other first things the people are told concerning what a king should not be or do (he should not be a foreigner; should not amass wealth or wives; and ultimately, should not lead his or anyone’s heart away from God; see vv. 15–17). But a king should do God’s Word. And to do it, we’re told, he first must read from it every day.

This lesson is not about the king’s ability as an orator, administrator or strategist. The king’s greatest qualification as a leader is that he is a follower of God’s Word (compare this to the similar qualifications for church leaders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). God’s Word will go to work in the leader who believes it. Then he’ll know his place before God, the One who set his love on the people, rescued them from slavery, made them into a feared nation, and is awesome among them. He’ll know his place in the kingdom, among his brothers and sisters, as one among equals. He’ll know that God has granted in the Word everything needed for the task. And he’ll know this first lesson is also the final: a leader should pass on this legacy to the next generation so that they may “continue long in his kingdom.”

I have worked under men on the mission field who reflect this lesson in their leadership. I’ve traveled abroad with them and watched them speak God’s Word to others with confidence and love. And I’ve also seen them, on the same day, take up their copy of the Book and check their teaching against it. They don’t go back to lessons from leadership gurus, experience or research first. They say instead, like Paul, “bring… above all the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13).

I’ve disagreed with these men also. But we can and should work together. Why? Because they uphold God’s Word above all, not their hearts above their brothers. The basis of a working relationship in the kingdom is God’s Word, and speaking it’s truth in love. Without this we have no way to keep from turning aside, “either to the right hand or to the left.” May God keep these leaders in the Word and give them the reward of spiritual children that continue in it.

Are you preparing to serve in ministry? Seek out leaders who keep God’s Word first of all. And keep it with them. Are you leading? Keep your copy of the Book close, every day. And make this evident when you speak. Lead by following God’s Word so that your legacy may last long in the kingdom.

Reading “Seed Sowers” by Gwen Toliver /
Seed Sowers cover
Seed Sowers cover

In Seed Sowers: Gospel-Planting Adventures, Gwen Toliver gives a series of well-written and encouraging vignettes about the lives of Bible translators.

Another book I read recently, The Multilingual God by Steve Fortosis, detailed the linguistic task of translators. Toliver’s book provides a look into the physical and spiritual side of the task. Both books are less than 200 pages with many short chapters.

In Seed Sowers, you may find yourself hacking out a trail in Irian Jayan jungles or weeping and praying with village friends over their deathly-ill daughter. The experiences of the translators do not feel distant because the author does not present them as exotic. The message is communicated clearly through the stories: God is with his people — us! — not only as we bring his Word to those without it, but live it out as we do.

Bible Translation Movements: Getting the Job Done Faster? /

Below is an article on “Bible Translation Movements” found at paul-timothy.net. The big idea is that motivation and resources for Bible translation should come from out of a movement of people to Christ. The article can be freely copied. I reproduced the text here because the original page was in PDF format.

Can Bible Translation Movements Get the Job Done Faster?

Copyright © 2008 by Jay Pratt
May be freely copied, translated, posted and distributed.

This article by a long-time mentee of mine deals with a fascinating and little-discussed factor in Church Planting Movement (CPMs), the role of local adaptations of the Bible. As a CP mentor-trainer, you may have to advise those whom you [mentor] on this topic. — George Patterson

The term Bible Translation Movement (BTM) was first described to me by a colleague in a nearby country, where the largest turning of Muslims to Christ in history is happening. What can we learn from what the Lord is doing there? BTMs and CPMs both see rapid multiplication of God’s Word in various languages. Thus, rapid refers not only to numbers of new translations and churches but to rapid obedience to the King. A BTM happens when new churches start to multiply in an unreached people group and new believers and leaders start to translate God’s Word into their own language. Such new believers will also, normally, prove motivated to help translate God’s Word into neighboring languages, which are culturally similar to their own. BTMs are not currently a missiological fad or dream, but they are happening, often in the second generation of new churches.

While Bible translators should normally have proper theological training, the mentoring relationship that I have with my apprentices remains their only theological education, yet they are leading more of their Buddhist friends and family members to Christ than the salaried, professional church planters working in the same area. These Buddhist-background believers’ BTM started spontaneously as churches were multiplying among receptive people who saw the need for a relevant translation in their own tongue.

Twenty-five years ago, Dr. Viggo Olsen of the Association of Baptist for World Evangelization and his colleagues undertook to retranslate the entire Bible into a Muslim majority dialect. This proved a groundbreaking work of contextualization that helped stimulate an unprecedented CPM in that country. The standard Bible translation had been made in the minority Hindu dialect a century earlier. Today, at least a quarter of a million Muslim-background believers have been baptized across several CPMs where Dr. Olsen’s translation is used. This movement has spilled over the border to every adjacent country. Praise be to the Most High God! Jesus is fulfilling His Mission, sometimes allowing us foreigners to be a part of it.

Most animistic, tribal and illiterate people groups now have Christian churches. The days of a missionary couple venturing into an isolated area to start churches, and spending twenty-five years to translate God’s Word into the local language might be at an end. Most of the remaining, unreached people groups live within reach of national or trade language learning centers.

Something similar to that BTM is happening in Buddhist background CPM that I work with. The new church leaders in this unreached people group did not regard the traditional-language Bible translation as relevant to the Buddhist masses that avoid the minority, predominately tribal churches that are scattered in every corner of our country. Not long after I arrived in the area, a handful of believers from a Buddhist minority people group came to find me. We began to translate gospel tracts and multimedia materials into their language. However, there was no Bible translation with which to disciple new believers among them. So, we told Bible stories and had leaders learn those stories in their local language, but they said this was not enough.

Some “orality” experts writing today have little or no experience with Church Planting Movements. Most of their experience and materials have been written in the contexts of animistic, tribal peoples. They have their own views on Bible “storying” and avoid producing practical, hands-on tools that relate to making disciples of leaders. Some orality specialists teach about the “scarlet tread,” the sacrificial atonement theme in the Bible. My Buddhist friends would say, “You serve a blood thirsty God who demands so much blood!”

The new believers I work with wanted the Word of God written in a language that speaks to the very soul of their Buddhist communities. The main apostle of this movement laughed out load as he and I read the words of Martin Luther, “I do not want a Bible in German. My people need a German Bible.” When I asked him why he laughed, he pointed to a contemporary language version lying on his table. “That is not a Bible in our national majority language, for it is not of our culture. It was not translated by our people but by a foreigner.” I thank God for the traditional scripture translations that He has used to bring many into the Kingdom, and that have helped westernized, tribal churches to communicate and theologize between themselves. The existing translations will never lose their predominance in the established church. However, if churches are to reach both majority and minority Buddhist peoples, they must use other versions and adaptations, as well.

I thought that we had planned for a successful CPM by translating the eminent Train and Multiply leadership training course and Activity Guide written by George Patterson. However, the Buddhist background leaders turn up their noses at the existing Bible translation that these excellent materials were based on. Many of the exercises in those materials that we translated read, for example, “Find in Acts 10, whom Peter brought with him to start the first Roman church.” Well, they could not “find” anything, because they did not have Bibles, and my apprentices would not distribute the Bible in the majority language.

Currently, these new church leaders from a minority people group have formed their own translation committee and are translating from the United Bible Society’s Contemporary English Version into the majority language. They have completed the synoptic gospels and Acts as of first importance for them. New believers and seekers prefer Matthew’s Gospel, after asking for evaluations from their Buddhist family and highly-educated monk friends. In contrast, most international Bible consultant organizations have agreements with the national Bible Society that they will not work on newer translation of the existing Bible.

The minority translators follow Jesus’ example in adapting key terms. For example, Jesus redefined the traditional Jewish terms kingdom (basileia) and God (Theos). Jesus also added meaning to traditional terms. For example, He called Theos “Abba” (Father). Calling the Old Testament God “Father” imported a scandalous new meaning into the Jewish community, which it still has in Muslim cultures. He redefined old key terms by pouring new meaning into words like “Kingdom” through his parables and similes (“The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”).

Many Bible translation consultant groups will not work closely with church planters, for they have written agreements with national traditional churches that they will only work on languages where those churches focus, and will not tamper with traditional key terms and phrases. Over the past five years of watching a minority-people CPM, I meditate daily George Patterson’s words, “Just trust the Holy Spirit in the hearts of obedient believers… Trust the Holy Spirit!” “Help seekers and new believers to obey all of Jesus commands in love.”


StoryTogether Strategy /

StoryTogether is the IMB’s latest effort to reach oral people, a development in partnership with The Seed Company.

A call to the IMB offices by anyone interested in Bible translation might (today) go something like this:

“Hello. What are the opportunities to serve with the IMB in the area of Bible translation?”

“Have you tried Wycliffe?”

“But I would like to stay connected to the local church and be a part of planting local churches.”

“We don’t do Bible translation per se. But let me put you in touch with our orality department.”

The orality department would be glad (today) to tell you about StoryTogether. On paper, something like StoryTogether is an acceptable way to work within the IMB and reach people with God’s Word. This is not the IMB’s first attempt at an orality strategy that tries to encourage Bible translation and church planting. Some may feel it’s not Bible translation enough; others that it’s not church planting enough. But many have been using the strategy to effectively make disciples. It’s worth the time to look at it, especially the detailed answers to the Questions.

Storytelling and Translation Podcast /

When you aspire to make disciples of all nations, you must prepare to work among people who cannot read and leave them with what they need to carry on the work. The story4all podcast provided a testimony and summary of one worker’s approach in Southeast Asia that considers orality, written translation and church planting. If you’re preparing your strategy now, think about how to bring these together.

Below is the audio of “Story and Translation, Part 1” (and here’s Part 2).

Download audio

Faith, Hope, Love: A Brief Description of Our Discipleship Process /

“Faith, Hope, Love” is the outline of our discipleship process. We implemented “Faith, Hope, Love” when we were using the practical three-thirds plan of T4T (“Training for Trainers”) by Ying Kai and Steve Smith. Although “Faith, Hope, Love” looks like T4T, we wanted our training to align more closely with Scripture. We were also informed by The Universal Disciple Pattern by Thom Wolf, who introduced us to the idea that faith, hope and love can be a part of a framework for discipleship. You could say that we mashed-up one “fruitful” and one “faithful” idea.

Faith, Hope, Love is based on a pattern the apostles used (see Rom. 5:1–5; 1 Cor. 13:13; 1 Thess. 1:3, 5:8; Col. 1:3–6; Heb. 10:19–24). It’s a summary of Christian health, a paradigm that helps us to evaluate and encourage the growth of the gospel. Faith, hope, and love are the biblical measures of missions.

This process reminds us to build up each other in these three major areas. We spend a third of each discipleship meeting focused on love for God and one another; a third on faith in learning God’s Word; and a third on hope in preparing to obey. This pattern can be followed in thirty minutes or three hours, in a one-on-one setting or large church gathering.

Faith, Hope, Love activities. These three outline Christian growth in general and so guide our discipleship meetings in particular. Here are activities we have used to build up faith, hope and love.


  • Worshiping God
  • Thanking God
  • Listening to one another
  • Caring for one another’s needs
  • Reporting and being accountable
  • Inviting and welcoming others


  • Preaching and hearing God’s Word
  • Reviewing and retelling God’s Word
  • Studying God’s Word
  • Believing God’s Word
  • Singing God’s Word
  • Sharing God’s Word


  • Casting vision
  • Blessing and warning
  • Applying God’s Word and planning obedience
  • Equipping and practicing to disciple others
  • Committing and commissioning
  • Praying

The order of activities may not matter and they can weave together (as seen in the overlap of faith, hope and love in some epistles). Various people can facilitate activities and discover or apply their spiritual gifts. When we meet, we put Love first because it’s the greatest (1 Cor. 13:13) and it builds on the Faith and Hope of the previous meeting in terms of review, accountability and care (see figure below). It happens that much of what we do first, in Love, looks back and last, in Hope, looks ahead.

Faith, Hope, Love movement. The discipleship process links together meetings and supports obedience. We meet to hear the Word (Faith), prepare to obey (Hope), and check in (Love) when we meet again.

Besides encouraging spiritual growth, Faith, Hope, Love is also a diagnostic tool to evaluate it (as seen especially in 1 and 2 Thess.). This is another good reason we put Love first. We listen to others in love and discern which Scripture we need to teach or re-teach in Faith. As an example, if we listen and learn that believers are not sharing the gospel, we know to teach Scripture that builds faith, before commanding obedience; if they are not serving their families, we know to build love; if they are intimidated by persecution or temptation, we know to build hope. We know this because of how the apostles address problems in the New Testament. You can know a tree by its fruit; you can grow a tree by its root.

We aim to build faith, hope and Love with God’s Word in cooperation with his Spirit. The Faith, Hope, Love process does not replace good teaching and Bible study. We use the process early on with a set of Bible stories or lessons about the gospel and God’s kingdom. Then we continue with it as we study Mark, Acts, Ephesians and beyond. It makes obedience-based discipleship more healthy by strengthening the roots of obedience, and Bible studies and story sets more healthy by putting the products to work and cultivating the fruits of obedience.

The Faith, Hope, Love discipleship process is a simple (not easy) plan to equip believers for ministry. It works when we plan on God’s Spirit to work according to his Word. We have seen disciples grow and multiply, across languages and cultures. Notably, the disciples are themselves changed and have caused others to take notice. Personally, it’s helped my own growth in Christ and in ministry to others in many discipleship contexts: in Bible studies and Sunday school classes, as an outline for prayer and songs for worship, in conversations and letter writing, and in personal and family devotions.

In short, we meet regularly and be accountable to each other for what God taught us in his Word. We look for obedience that is grounded in faith, filled with love and inspired by hope. We celebrate when this happens and patiently warn, encourage and help each other when it doesn’t (1 Thess. 5:12). We model this process to equip others to make disciples. We aim to fulfill Jesus’ command together to, “Go… make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:20).

Reading “The Multilingual God” /
The Multilingual God cover
The Multilingual God cover

I just read The Multilingual God by Steve Fortosis. It’s a compendium of Bible translation fascinations, a popular-level work for those interested in the exotic experiences of translators and their rewards.

I benefitted most from the final chapters which discussed hard sayings in the Bible (different for each culture!), the need for humor when translating, and the implications of divine inspiration on Bible translation philosophy.

This book can help you appreciate the difficulties of the task but don’t let fascination with it distance you from personal, prayerful involvement. If you learn anything from a work like this it is that problems arise when translators work alone and solutions arise when we involve others.

“The first thing that happened in the life of the church was translation” /

The first thing that happened in the life of the church was translation. On the day of Pentecost, God’s powerful wind swept through Jesus’s followers, filling them, like the sails of a great oceangoing sailing ship, so that they could take God’s good news to the ends of the earth. And they found themselves speaking other languages, so that everyone in the crowd could understand. …

So, right from the start, they translated. Sometimes it happened, as at Pentecost, by the direct action of the holy spirit. Mostly, though it was through people eagerly turning the message into other languages.

—N. T. Wright, preface to The Kingdom New Testament

Homes Have Languages /

Many minority languages are endangered. When are they a strategic priority?

Photo by Steve Evans
Photo by Steve Evans

We’ve been learning the trade language, or lingua franca, of the eastern Himalayas. Learning the trade language is important not only for getting around and shopping in the market but also for catalyzing work across the area. We interact with speakers of minority languages through a language of wider communication (LWC) just as they do whenever they are away from their community. We can work widely in a trade language but not always deeply. We’re trying to communicate spiritual things to a person’s heart through language meant for business.

“Heart language” is an expression to describe the language that matters most to a person. It’s a useful refrain of Bible translation. But for our purposes it might better be called “home language.” Sociolinguists observe that this one factor more than any other is what makes a language vital: that it’s spoken at home, by parents to children. It is, in fact, a mother tongue.

Consider also that our church planting work centers around the home. From “person of peace” (see Luke 10) to house churches, we look for homes that welcome God’s message and messengers. Many missionaries use the Greek word for ‘household,’ oikos, to emphasize the significance of these homes in the biblical accounts and in their strategies.

We train the members of this kind of home to spread the good news across its network of relationships. We look for opportunities to get the message into the language of the home, even if we ourselves don’t speak it. Every community already has communication paths and patterns to bring outside news in.

It may not be strategic for outsiders to learn minority languages (though it shouldn’t be beneath us). It’s not even a possible task for one person or team — there are at least thirty spoken in our vicinity. But it is a priority to make room in our strategies for the good news to get from trade languages into “home languages.” For both Bible translation and church planting, the home is at the heart of our concern.