Spreading the gospel across cultural boundaries

April 7, 2020

If you’re familiar with North Carolina’s pockets of lostness, you probably think of circles on a map. However, if you get out and drive through one of these pockets, you’ll quickly discover that each one is made up of different groups of people. Discovering these groups is important because the gospel often runs into barriers when traveling from one group to another.

As a fictitious example, let’s say a pocket has two main groups of people: long-term North Carolinians and people of Chinese descent. In this example, the gospel moves with fluency among the long-term North Carolinians. They have numerous churches, Christian schools and Christian radio stations, all of which speak their heart language — English.

The Chinese-American group, on the other hand, has little gospel fluency. Therefore, they have little access to the gospel.

They have not rejected the gospel, they simply haven’t heard it.

Cultural barriers
Let’s say that a group of long-term North Carolinians hear the call of God to go to their Chinese-American neighbors. The first thing they might do is translate some of their gospel material from English to Chinese. These dear believers might cross the language barrier with the best of intentions only to run headfirst into a cultural barrier.

This is exactly what happened to me while trying to reach Chinese-speaking people with the gospel. I took an English-Chinese copy of “The Four Spiritual Laws” by Bill Bright and shared it with numerous people. When I did, I received a tepid response at best. Only later did I discover that the number “four” in Chinese sounds like the word “death.”

Many Chinese people avoid the number four at all costs. They do everything they can to avoid phone numbers that end in the number four, especially numbers that end in the digits one-four, which sound like “I want to die” in Chinese. They seldom marry in April (the fourth month) and apartments on the fourth floor are cheaper in China because you can’t get people to take them.

I enthusiastically encourage you to share the good news of the gospel with your Chinese-American neighbors, but I certainly don’t recommend using “The Four Spiritual Laws” to do so.

Different groups of people often require different approaches to evangelism and discipleship because the gospel can run into barriers when traveling from one group to another.

Differing approaches
Different groups of people often require different approaches to evangelism and discipleship because the gospel can run into barriers when traveling from one group to another.

This idea is modeled for us in Scripture, when the Apostle Paul used different approaches to share the gospel with different groups of people across the Roman Empire.

When teaching Jewish people, he rooted his teaching in the life and words of Jesus, and he probably spoke and wrote in Aramaic and/or Hebrew. Paul was able to center his teaching around Jesus because the Jews had more biblical understanding than the Gentiles. Jewish people already believed in God as their creator, that man is sinful, and in a Messiah that would save them. Paul preached the person and work of Jesus, showing from the law and prophets that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Paul’s Jewish audience listened with a high degree of gospel fluency.

When Paul taught and discussed religion with philosophers in Athens, he started with their altar to the “unknown god,” probably speaking in Greek and/or Latin. He couldn’t start with Jesus because the philosophers had a low degree of gospel fluency. Paul encountered the barriers of ignorance and misunderstanding, so he had to fill in a lot of the back story of the gospel before the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus would make sense.

This year, our articles will focus on some of the different groups of people (population segments) found in North Carolina’s pockets of lostness. Not all differences will be as dramatic as the differences between Aramaic and Greek or English and Chinese, but these groups often require different approaches to witnessing and discipleship.

We pray that these articles will help North Carolina Baptists discover beauty in cultural diversity, as well as what potential gospel barriers may lie within each group of people so that the gospel will flow unhindered through North Carolina’s pockets of lostness.

 by Cris Alley  /  Strategic Focus Team  /  Baptist State Convention of North Carolina

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