We don’t have to travel to a foreign country to encounter a different culture. Not only has the world come to America, but also the American culture embraces values far different than the godly standards Christians seek to live by. How can we connect with others so vastly different than ourselves in order to share Jesus and His priceless gift of salvation?
The apostle Paul purposefully worked to fit into the culture where he ministered. He removed all the roadblocks he could and sought to build bridges to earn trust and to gain opportunity to share the Gospel. He kept his prime directive in mind: “My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24, NIV).
Paul did everything he could to open doors to share the Gospel. Most of us probably won’t be given the opportunity to talk to Greek philosophers about Jesus on a hilltop in Athens (Acts 17:16-34) or share our testimony with a king (Acts 26:1-32) like Paul. However, we can work to “become all things to all people so that by all possible means we (I) might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22, NIV).
6 Ways to Follow Paul’s Example to Connect with Others:
- Find a common life experience or interest – In Acts 17, Paul the evangelist found affinity with the Athenian philosophers. They both liked to engage in deep, thoughtful conversation. Even if your new neighbor comes from the other side of the world you can find common ground. Maybe you’re both parents, or like to garden, or are both trying to get rid of fire ants in your yard. Whatever it is, it’s a place to start.
- Adopt their speech – As long as it’s not profane or “unedifying,” use their style of conversation. For instance, when I lived in the north, I said “you guys” and “soda” instead of “y’all” and “coke.” Paul used general sentiments and words his hearers would have known, understood, and accepted. Too often we use words and phrases that are very familiar to Christians, but they sound very foreign to the non-Christian (See “7 Churchy Words”).
- Compliment them – Of course, this must be genuine. Paul found something about which to commend the Athenians (Acts 17:22). Look for something about them on which to positively comment or admire. This small effort will help them understand you’re not “against them.”
- Find a launch pad – In Athens, Paul spotted an altar to “an unknown god.” This altar gave Paul the opening he needed to talk about Jesus. We may learn of a cultural idea we can use as a springboard to introduce spiritual truth. Or perhaps your new friend is struggling with difficult circumstances, and therefore open to words of spiritual encouragement.
- Respect their cultural mores –Paul did not demean or insult their culture or customs. He even conformed to them when they did not conflict with God’s holy standards. When Paul began ministry to the Gentiles, he began going by his given Greek name and did not stick to a kosher diet.
- Serve the truth with grace – Christians sometimes try to force God’s standards of values, beliefs, and behavior on non-Christians. We forget that to a person without the indwelling Holy Spirit, the things of God seem “foolish” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Our first priority should be to introduce them to Jesus. But honest, grace-filled conversations about “controversial” topics within the context of relationship can spark interest in Jesus (Colossians 4:5-6). So let’s always be prepared to lovingly, respectfully, and biblically speak to specific topics when asked (1 Peter 3:15). (See “Grace or Truth?”)
I would love to hear how you have purposefully worked to find ways to connect with the people around you to build relationships and ultimately share Jesus.