Get Your Preaching Passport Today | by David Ireland
Diversity is more important today than ever, especially to the next generation. These strategies will help you communicate effectively to people from all backgrounds.
A passport, as I’m sure you know, is an official travel document that also serves as one of the strongest ways to prove your identity. As long as it’s not expired, you can journey all over the world with it. Playing on this concept, your ability to preach cross-culturally is like a “preaching passport” of sorts; with this ability, you’ll have what it takes to share the gospel globally.
Communicating cross-culturally is a skill that can be learned and mastered.
Speakers who think beyond their comfort zones, communities, and even countries undoubtedly ask themselves: How can I learn to preach so everyone has equal access to God’s message of forgiveness and love?
In answer to this question, here are three tips I’ve gleaned from preaching in some 75 countries and pastoring a multiracial congregation with over 70 nationalities.
1. The Message is Cross-Cultural
Billy Graham preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories. He took Christ literally when He said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).
Thanks to technology, these days you can stand behind your pulpit in a small, obscure community and have a greater reach than Dr. Graham. If I had to pick an emoji to convey this truth, it would definitely be the one with its mouth agape and the top half of its head exploding into a mushroom cloud. Shocking, isn’t it?
Without any physical traveling on your part, your message has the potential to land anywhere on the planet with just a few clicks of a button. Along this same vein, the internet and social media challenge today’s preachers to be global and cross-cultural in their messaging because the content they create won’t just land on one type of ears or eyes.
Cross-cultural preaching gives every culture access to the aim of the message and sees every people group as one in need of experiencing God’s forgiveness and salvation. It accurately represents God’s multi-cultural interests.
This prioritization of diversity is undeniable in John 3:16, the most well-known roadmap to God’s forgiveness. It’s the gospel in a nutshell.
Martin Luther called it: “The heart of the Bible —The Gospel in miniature.”
John 3:16 was the centerpiece of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, the religious leader who went to question Jesus at night. First century Jews like Nicodemus believed and taught that God’s love was exclusive to the Jews.
Jesus blew his mind (imagine that emoji again) by framing a cross-cultural message, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The thought that God’s love was inclusive even of Gentiles was a revolutionary idea to this member of the Sanhedrin Council.
Jesus put it plainly: The gospel is at its core cross-cultural. Presenting it in any other way, namely mono-cultural, is wrong, diluting, and limiting.
In fact, doing so would be committing eisegesis — the inexcusable theological crime of a misinformed preacher.
The message of God’s salvation was and is meant for everyone. It’s designed to be spoken everywhere. What needs to be done on a case-by-case basis, however, is contextualization.
For example, in his book Out of Every Tribe & Nation, Justo Gonzalez asked, “What do we mean by salvation?” He proposes that the meaning of salvation becomes more real to the hearers of a multiethnic setting when the word is tied to the terms “struggle and survival.”
In essence, when you preach about salvation, contextualize the message for a global audience by offering a culturally-inclusive definition.
Gonzalez writes that salvation then “means both the individual daily survival and our survival as a people or a culture.”
I urge you to follow Jesus’ lead by reframing the way you deliver the gospel since it is an inherently cross-cultural message.
2. The Messenger is Cross-Cultural
The Great Commission charges every preacher to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18). This is a direct cross-cultural mandate because the Greek word nation here means ethnos. It’s where the English word ethnic comes from.
As a herald, you’re called to trek through the multiethnic landscape to deliver God’s message, no matter where you were born. Jesus would not have issued this global call if the DNA of His followers boxed them into a mono-cultural worldview. Your cross-cultural appeal jump starts when you accept the fact that you’re called to preach on the world’s stage.
A foundational step in growing as a cross-cultural messenger is forming friendships beyond those with similar skin tones as yours. At first, this may seem risky, scary, and uncomfortable. All valid feelings, but may I gently remind you that the same Holy Spirit who saved you is with you and guiding you into all truth — the truth that God’s love is inclusive.
Given this, you may need to stretch your arms wider to pull in more races and backgrounds into your social circle. Diversity was born in God’s heart, so the love of it should flow from ours.
Who we do life with is evidence of that.
Look at how mono-cultural-Peter was unsuccessful in the multi-cultural church of Antioch. “Why?” you may ask. A likely culprit was his uneasiness to include Gentiles into his social circle when fellow Jews were present (Galatians 2:11-13). This discomfort caused him to lose face with the Gentile believers. He could not advocate on their behalf if called upon. This means he lacked the awareness of how his actions impacted their feelings, perspective, and sense of belonging.
In fact, Peter’s mono-cultural behavior had created a problem of inter-cultural cohesion in this diverse church. It formed an “Us vs. Them” culture — placing the Gentiles and the Jews at separate tables during fellowship times.
Fortunately, Paul — the seasoned cross-cultural messenger — stepped in to remedy the problem by publicly, yet respectfully, confronting Peter. Paul provided Peter with some cross-cultural coaching, which simultaneously conveyed to his Gentile congregants: “I got you!” This is true advocacy on display.
Now assume for a moment that you were one of the leaders in the Antioch church during this period. I’d like for you to wrestle with two questions, which both assume that the Gentiles’ only perspective of you is based on your current social circle and cross-cultural appeal.
First, could the Gentiles have asked you to advocate on their behalf with Peter?
Second, would you know how to hold a vulnerable conversation with the Gentiles about the pain they were feeling brought on by their racial and cultural wounds?
If both of your answers are “maybe” or “no,” might I suggest that you need a diversity coach? Why limit the reach of your ministry to the borders of your culture?
A diversity coach will challenge you to rethink your preaching style and help you discover ways to widen your social circle. You can’t present a cross-cultural message until you become a cross-cultural messenger.
3. The Method of Delivery is Cross-Cultural
Preaching that is cross-cultural connects with the cultures represented in the virtual or physical room. It’s relatable, as you artfully incorporate illustrations that seek to include customs, phrases, sites, and clichés that resonate with a global audience. At times, I even repeat key points in multiple languages.
Some time ago, I was preaching a sermon, entitled How to Deal with Loneliness. One of the traits of chronic loneliness is: You don’t have a best or “close friend.” I then repeated the point by saying in Spanish, “You have no amigo,” and in Italian, “You have no caro amico.”
When people hear their native tongue spoken during a talk or sermon it brings a little piece of home to their hearts.
I understand you may argue: “That’s doing too much! It takes too much time to look up a word and learn how to properly pronounce it.” You’re right. It does take extra effort. But the dividends of this extra time investment are huge. Those few words convey a powerful point. People hear: “I belong here. I am welcomed in this community.”
Finally, preaching cross-cultural sermons lends itself to a more conversational approach over a “proclamational” delivery style. “Proclamational” communication is preachy, in your face and blunt. It’s punchy. Direct. Pro: It can be very motivational and uplifting. Con: Its appeal is largely mono-cultural.
A conversational style — on the other hand — is infused with reasoning, containing a well-presented argument with broad appeal, which has great advantages.
Be mindful, if the conversational style is monolithic and monotone, the audience will be mono-racial, a heart-breaking disadvantage. However, if the conversational sermon has highs and lows, humor, and thoughtfulness that appeals to the head and heart, you will no doubt have a multinational audience.
The conversational-styled preacher must pay attention to both the content and the delivery, much like a highly-rated chef uses the right amount of seasoning when serving a sumptuous meal. Cross-cultural preachers season the delivery style of their sermons for the multicultural palate.
Which one of these two preaching styles best captures you? Maybe you could survey a cross-section of your audience to compare notes on how you think you’re coming across versus how you’re actually being received.
Over the years, I’ve had multiple conversations with people across the racial, cultural, and ethnic divide about my method of delivery. I sincerely wanted to find out how my sermons landed in the hearts of Whites, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, etc. Full disclosure — it was scary putting myself out there. But think about it: People are critiquing you anyway, so why not ask the hard questions and grow from their feedback?
Given our racially diverse society, I count it a great privilege and honor to preach Christ to a multicultural audience. I pray these three tips afford you the same privilege.
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