Intro to Deaf Ministry: Methodology Part 2
I said last time I would talk about the methodology of Deaf preaching. Let’s take a look.
I must begin by first settling on the foundation for all preaching: the Bible. The Deaf minister must be committed to the Word of God as God’s revelation to humanity and the only authority for our behavior, beliefs, and practice (see Statement of Faith). Without this foundation, there can be no Deaf preaching. Instead, the minister is left to practice Joel Osteen-type ministry — that of a “life-coach” who never preaches the Gospel but instead teaches self-help with Bible verses thrown in to make it look good.
Further, we must be committed to the Scriptural ideal that no Deaf person will be saved unless someone preaches the Word to them (Romans 10:13-17). The Deaf must “hear” the Word through the minister, and as such the minister must know with certainty the terrible duty he is taking in bringing the message of salvation to the Deaf. Failure to preach the Gospel, he must believe, means dooming Deaf people he loves to eternal punishment.
Flowing out from this commitment is the understanding that because it is the Gospel alone that saves, the salvation of Deaf people is not up to us. It is the Word that saves us by telling us what God has done in Christ and calling us to repentance. It is God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, who takes this Gospel and convicts those who hear to repent. There is nothing the minister can do to bring a person to salvation. His responsibility is simply to faithfully proclaim God’s Word and leave the results up to the Lord.
For many of us who read that statement, you may think this is all we really need to worry about. We don’t need to worry about the method the Word is delivered; we only need proclaim it rightly. In Deaf ministry, this is a dangerous assumption.
First, the minister must evaluate his listeners. What kind of Deaf people are in my audience? Do I have ASL speakers, PSE speakers, Signed English, Oral? Are my people institutional (Deaf schools) or mainstreamed? Do I have high-function or low-function Deaf? Do I have a mixture of these?
Generally, most Deaf ministries I have encountered contain a mixture of these. My own church is a buffet table of these different kinds of Deaf. We are primarily a mainstreamed church, with many of those very much leaning towards “cultural” Deafness. As such, we must begin by understanding that the language we use must be that which communicates to them most clearly. In my church, that means a strong mixture of ASL and PSE, so much so that conceivably one or the other could be used interchangeably.
Further, the Deaf minister must preach from a Bible translation that facilitates clear communication in the language. I’ve said in the past that I can’t use the ESV with my congregation for two reasons. One, the reading level is too high for many of them; two, I cannot preach the ESV clearly. it is difficult to sign words like justification off the top of my head, but when a Bible instead spells out the term by saying made right with God, I can easily sign that without having to mentally translate the text into sign language as I go. For that reason I tend to use translations such as the NCV or the CEV, or a blend of those plus the ESV. If I’ve been working on my Greek, this process gets even easier because I can then directly translate into sign language what I am preaching from. Find a translation (preferably one with a good level of accuracy) you can comfortably sign from and use it in your preaching. Even better, shepherd your church towards using that translation, if they are willing to do so.
My senior pastor does this remarkably well. I have observed that he prepares his messages from the NASB, but preaches in the NCV. As a result, he knows the Scripture for that message well from his preparation, and that only makes using the “easier” translation in preaching result in a better flow of thought. He does not have to pause, translate the Scripture into sign language mentally, and then sign it. He can continue right on with his train of thought and keep the listeners with him. In other words, it allows the Gospel to be the only stumbling block between him and his listeners.
Next, the Deaf minister must realize that Deaf preaching is a visual medium. Sign language is not an auditory language, it is a visual one. That means the majority of Deaf people, if not all of them, are visual learners. Deaf people, generally speaking, must be shown something in order to understand it. The use of visuals to explain the Word is a necessary part of Deaf preaching.
This means the use of illustrations, both verbal and physical. That’s right, I said pictures. Often, you must explain a concept, and then give an example that can be seen. I currently have a new hire at UPS who is Deaf. I cannot just explain the job methods to the new hire and expect the new hire to understand, I must demonstrate the methods if I expect the new hire to be able to apply them. I can do this personally or show a picture or video, and the new hire will grasp the explanation at that point. The same must be done when explaining the Word to a Deaf audience. Freely use pictures in your preaching. Sometimes a picture can explain the concept you are preaching about more clearly than merely explaining in sign language. Jesus did this often, using parables to reach his own audience; as did Paul with his skillful use of athletic language to describe the Christian life (the “run the race” verses). Throughout the Word, pictures are used to describe God’s revelation in a way people could grasp.
I will stop here for the evening; I have written 1000 words. Tomorrow I will go further into Deaf preaching.