On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit entered the apostles and gave them the ability to speak in other languages (Acts 2:4-8). The Church began with a bang as people from all over heard the gospel preached to them in their native language. About 3,000 were saved that day (Acts 2:41).
From the beginning of the world, God planned for people from all tribes, nations, and languages to worship Him before His throne (Revelation 7:9). As we read through the Bible, we see this plan slowly being revealed as God describes the redemption coming for the Gentiles.
Through the movement of God’s people, the gospel has been spread around the world and continues to reach further. His Church is global and it is growing. As believers, we have an important question to consider:
What does it look like to be an effective ambassador for Christ in an increasingly diverse world?
Multicultural communication challenges
As globalization continues, it’s common to have the nations in your backyard. You likely have neighbors, coworkers, friends, classmates, or even family from other cultures and backgrounds. Ethnic diversity is the norm, not the exception.
Of course, this unique blend of cultures and individual circumstances brings with it some challenges. Clear communication is a huge one.
We’ve all experienced communication barriers. Even when both parties fluently speak each other’s language, frustrating misunderstandings occur. From unspoken expectations to missing the meaning of certain expressions, navigating a conversation can seem like tiptoeing through a cultural minefield. (Wait, did you get that expression?)
When trying to share the good news of Christ, of course, clear communication is crucial! How can we ensure others understand our message?
Stay aware of cultural missteps and common pitfalls
Since we can’t become experts on all the possible cultures we’ll come in contact with, it’s a good idea to brush up on some general guidelines for cross-cultural communication.
Perhaps the most simple is to listen actively. Pay close attention to what the other person is saying, and ask questions to check that what you understood is what they actually meant. Summarize and rephrase what you heard. For example, “It sounds like you’re saying religion is closely tied to family relationships for you. Is that correct?” By doing this periodically, you will usually be able to catch misunderstandings much quicker.
Another useful consideration is to check your body language. As you probably already know by now, the meaning and appropriateness of gestures vary widely around the world. Even though speaking may feel unnatural without them, try to tone down your hand gestures in particular. Also watch for the other person’s use of body language. Do they seem uncomfortable or confused?
Regarding your speech, keep it simple. Avoid idioms or cultural references (to your culture or theirs). A cultural reference could be related to politics, current events, media, brands, and more. Resist the urge to use humor to ease the tension, because as we know from Facebook comments gone wrong, it’s all to easy to misunderstand jokes!
Finally, be patient and understanding. Show genuine interest in the other person, and express a willingness to learn from them. Be patient when communication gets challenging, and be flexible.
Different styles of communication in different cultures
About a year ago when I took a course in public speaking, I was amazed to learn just how many different styles of communication are out there. For example, while we’re used to a standard format for essays (intro, body, conclusion), this is by no means universal. Some other cultures tend to prefer a circular/nonlinear format. Similar differences exist in spoken communication styles.
Ideas about what makes good reasoning and logic vary, too. What seems like “cold hard facts” to a Western society may be shrugged off as irrelevant and uncompelling for an Eastern culture.
As apologists, we need to familiarize ourselves with these differences, and adapt our strategies accordingly. To succeed in our goal to make Christ known, we must be prepared to engage with our diverse world.