FELT NEED DISCUSSIONS
By Richard Chowning
"Jesus has given me power over the ancestors. I do not fear them."
A felt need was met for this Kipsigis women. She would be able to live without fear despite her sins. They had been erased by Jesus' blood. She had the power to repel the devil's darts, her ancestors.
The felt needs of any culture can be met by God in Christ Jesus. Considerable church growth can be caused by properly communicating Christ's answers to a culture's frustrations. Lessons directed at felt needs can lead to conversions while, at the same time, mature Christians.
The First Stage
There are eight stages to a good discussion dealing with a felt need. The first stage is to present the same, or similar, felt need as it occurs in another culture. The discussion is not threatening if it initially centers around the predicament of an outside community.
Even if you work with one culture you can find parallels in other cultures. In informal settings, ask the tribe you are working with what other tribes do about themes such as death, birth, sin, initiation and others. Write and
talk with fellow missionaries who work with other tribes.
Ethnography's are written about many tribes. Put some on your bookshelves and cull examples of felt needs from them. If you are inclined, you might want to fabricate a fictional situation portraying a people who are faced with a similar felt need.
Whether fiction or fact, present the situation as dramatically as possible. Third-world people are great story-tellers who listen attentively to a well told tale. Start as close to the crunch, or felt need, as possible. Extensive introductions make a boring story, besides you do not have the time. You are just beginning the lesson. Tell the details down to the expressions on faces, but do not let the details get more attention than the predicament the characters find themselves in. Bring the story up to the point that the predicament - the characters' felt need - is at its peek, then stop. Do not give any solutions.
Check to see if the audience has understood the dramatic story. "Do you see the problem?" "Why is there a problem?" The answers to these questions will let you know if you have presented the felt need well. Do not ask them if they have the same problem in their village, at this time. Keep the situation at a distance.
The Second Stage
The second stage is to pose the question, "what should these people do to deal with this problem?" or "What would you advise these people?" Let them say as much as they will. Do not tell what you think to be the best solution. Let the audience wrestle with the remedy to the felt need, at this point. The correct answer to the problem will come latter. They need to learn to solve felt need dilemmas on their own. They are being given a skill not just answer an to a specific problem.
The Third Stage
When the discussion has stagnated the third stage begins with a Biblical example of the felt need. If you have not been able to find a real-life similar felt need from another culture you might want to start your lesson with a the Biblical example. The best sources are the Old Testament historical literature, the Gospels, Acts and, to a lesser extent, the Revelation. Use a concordance or a topical Bible if you do not have a passage in mind. Naive's topical Bible has a section at the end of each article entitled "examples", which is helpful.
The best Biblical example is one which has both the felt need and the solution in the same passage. But do not give the solution now. Save it for a latter stage. Tell the Bible story in your own words using the story telling skill discussed above. You need to add a few words to get across that these Bible characters have similarities to the audience. Communicate, too, that God has preserved this portion of history to teach that He can deal with all problems of life.
The Fourth Stage
"Right here in this village there are people struggling with this same problem." This is the statement to begin the fourth stage. Present the felt need in a real-life situation as you have seen it in the area you are working. The more relevant the detail the better, but it would not be proper, in most societies, to mention the names of those involved. Do not say what the problem or felt need is. Show it.
The Fifth Stage
In the fifth stage ask for a solution or remedy to the felt need. You might have to prime the discussion by giving some solutions you see others experimenting with. These solutions should be incorrect solutions. These examples or solutions will come primarily from the lives of nonchristians. The audience may struggle at this point, even be silent. But after you have given some input, if necessary, wait for them to offer some solutions.
The Sixth Stage
When the discussion stagnates give some Biblical teaching on the subject - the sixth stage. Begin with the solution to the Biblical story you first presented in the third stage of the discussion. Then add some words of Jesus or some passages from the Epistles. Let the audience know that the scriptures are God's advice on the matter. The advice will come in generalities when dealing with maturation matters, it will be more specific in gospel lessons.
The Seventh Stage
The seventh stage is to give them some examples of people in their own tribe or caste who are attempting to use God's remedy.
The solution will be more understandable and appealing if the listeners can see what life is like for those who have chosen this solution. If they are individuals they know by name, all the better. Tell them of villages and individuals who have just begun to deal with the solutions as well as those who have made a definite change. Most third-world people do not like to make changes as individuals. These examples will give them the confidence that others, like them, have accepted God's remedy.
The Eighth Stage
The conclusion should press for action. In the case of a gospel lesson the audience needs to be challenged to be in Christ. If it is a maturation lesson, the congregation should be motivated to set goals and act on them.
Press for action. Missionaries and national evangelists are motivators, they need to be persuasive. You may help the listeners by showing them ways they have already changed their lives. This will give them confidence to more dramatic changes.
Developing lessons after this pattern will take time, but the results will be well worth all that preparation. When this pattern is used regularly by missionaries, the national evangelists will begin to use a similar style of teaching. Sit down and outline some felt need lessons now.