Parenting is a crash course in cross-cultural communication. If you want to communicate across the barriers of language, age, or context, don't take a seminar—have a child!
Quickly, after children make their entrance, parents know what they want by deciphering the code of gurgles and coos. A novice might think translation becomes easier as our children grow, but then we enter the pre-teen and teen years. Parents pick up on cryptic phrases and become familiar with hip talk. Be warned: knowing hip talk does not (as every teen will attest) make parents hip. We may understand the culture but not be part of it!
You get my point. University may grant you a degree in communication, but being a parent grants you the street smarts of building cultural bridges. So, what if the same foundations we discover in our home can form principles for communicating outside the home? Every believer faces the challenge of presenting unchanging truth to a culture that morphs every 15 minutes. We are to convey Christ across the canyons of age, nationality, language, gender, cultural bias and spiritual blindness. There is no doubt the truth of Jesus can transcend every canyon, but are we equipped to carry Him well? Perhaps our parental experience can equip us to effectively acquaint our surrounding culture with the Gospel. How? Consider these principles:
LOOK FOR POINTS OF CONNECTION.
Every parent has uttered the phrase, “When I was your age...” Despite the rolled eyeballs from our teens, the words attempt to create common ground for conversation. The same holds true in speaking Jesus with our neighbours. There is common ground between us. To bridge a cultural divide, look for common territory. Remember a bridge touches both sides.
SAY WHAT NEEDS TO BE SAID. HEAR WHAT NEEDS TO BE HEARD.
Parents learn early—if they speak only what children want to hear important stuff gets left out. Our message may not always be their choice but it is their need. So too we can be confident in the Gospel message we convey. It is a Word of rescue and hope even if it is not embraced quickly. Speak with authority, but an authority wrapped in the gentleness of listening. Parents find more of their message is heard when they do some of the listening. Evangelists find the same.
DON'T JUST SPEAK—EXPLAIN.
When my children didn't get what I said to them I just said it louder. It didn't work. I found that I needed to use more words and perhaps different words, and not just in language familiar to me. It took more time, but it achieved more. When we present truth to our friends, we ought to re-shape Christian speech into verbs and nouns, which carry meaning instead of clichés.
DON'T SAY EVERYTHING.
Moms know the wisdom of sparse language. They don't have to tell a toddler about the chemistry of combustion to warn about matches. When we carry the Gospel, we tend to bring a wheelbarrow. We dump all of it at the feet of our friends and think we have been effective by our exhaustive presentation. It may be that a little goes a long way when targeted to specific needs.
MAKE SURE YOUR LIFE IS CONNECTED TO YOUR LIPS.
With my kids it didn't matter what language I used, how gentle my tone, or how witty my lecture. If my life contradicted my lips, everything was undone. There is no greater way to blow up a cross-cultural bridge than to dynamite it with hypocrisy.
How do I speak Jesus to the different sounds, looks, and behaviour of the cultures around me? Good parenting can instruct us. The home is training for our larger world. You may say that bridging barriers within the home is easier because of our love for family. I agree. Love is the motive and means. So, what if we loved the unsaved more? It can only help.