Born into a Hindu family in the state of Odisha in eastern India, Chandra had grown up without running water and electricity. Most of the people in his small village could not read or write. While training to become a Hindu priest, Chandra was miraculously converted to follow Jesus. He wanted to learn more about Jesus, so he left his village and attended a Bible college in New Delhi, many miles away from home.
At the Bible college, Chandra immersed himself in study, spending countless hours buried in theological volumes at the library and absorbing the classroom lectures like a sponge. He was a star student. After graduation, Chandra was selected to teach at the college, and he eventually became a key leader of the school. But over time Chandra felt burdened to return to Odisha and minister among the people in his native village and the neighboring areas. So he resigned from his position at the Bible college and returned to the land of his childhood. Upon arrival, he wasted no time scheduling church services, preaching sermons, and teaching doctrinal truth. Surely the people would come to Jesus!
But no one responded. The people’s attitudes appeared to be as hardened as the well-trodden paths in their village. Leading them to become followers of Jesus seemed impossible. What had gone wrong? Chandra became discouraged.
In 2006, Chandra was invited to a workshop that introduced him to the idea of storycentric communication. At first he was highly skeptical of this new approach, but he soon became convicted that storycentric methods of learning were more appropriate than literacy-based learning for his people. So instead of teaching them through lectures and systematic theology, he began to incorporate biblical stories, drama, and traditional music.
The results were dramatic! People responded to the storycentric methods beyond Chandra’s imagination. Since 2007, the ministry he leads has planted more than 860 house churches throughout Odisha.
However, Chandra’s story doesn’t stop there. After the people of Odisha had responded to the gospel and house churches were launched, many congregations struggled due to the shortage of good leaders. Some of the churches even closed. Chandra realized he needed help. “How do I provide the leadership that is so crucial for these new believers and their churches? How do I develop effective Christ-centered leaders in the storycentric villagers and urban centers of Odisha?”
That is when Freedom to Lead International met Chandra. Since then Chandra has grown as a leader. He has also developed other Christ-centered leaders, and his ministry has blossomed in new and exciting ways. Chandra’s experience highlights a rising phenomenon among ministry leaders who are employing storycentric communication to reach people.
Thinking back to 2009, Rick recounts the journey God led him on. He shares these words:
I served on the leadership team that prepared for the Lausanne 2010 Cape Town Congress. I remember well the day in Budapest when we received the global report and heard about the rapid increase of conversions and church growth in many nations due to storycentric strategies. I paid close attention to the part of the report that described the great need for leadership development in storycentric communities. To put it simply, churches are growing, but leadership development was not being provided. This is where our story and Chandra’s story intersect.
I have invested the majority of my ministry career coming alongside leaders with teaching, mentoring, and executive coaching, but the tools of my trade were mostly literacy-based: concepts, abstract ideas, and systems thinking. The notion of employing storycentric methods like story, images, dance, drama, and music as strategies for developing leaders hand never occurred to me. To be honest, I just assumed that a person had to read in order to lead. I had never stopped to consider that if this were true, then the early church would have been largely devoid of leaders since only five percent of the population was literate. Contrary to my assumptions, some of the most astounding movements in the church’s 2000-year history were lead by God’s storycentric servants.
The Lausanne study increased my awareness that someone needed to take on the daunting challenge of launching an initiative to cultivate Christ-centered leaders through storycentric methods. Only then could the whole gospel be unleashed in local communities. However, I struggled to reconcile my responsibility to tackle this massive need. I was not a natural candidate for the task. I would need to unlearn much of what I had learned; I would need to start over or at least “reboot” my teaching style. I never heard an audible voice, but in the end I sensed God was telling me the responsibility was mine. So, in 2009 I founded Freedom to Lead International.
Since meeting Chandra in 2010, we been wrestling with the same questions he had. Freedom to Lead International works on communicating what we have learned to this point. We haven’t solved all the problems. Others who follow will certainly improve upon what has been started. But this is a beginning, and this is our story.