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The Effective Communicator

Dialogue in the Devil's Den
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

The communicator may get caught in a situation where he or she is not in charge, in unfamiliar territory, on uncertain ground.  We may feel intimidated, uncertain, when we are the stranger yet expected to fulfill the role of communicator.

But often they are not really waiting to pounce. If we can meet on personal terms rather than as an authority with a position to defend, it may be easier.  Dialogue is a form of communication.  There is lecture, preaching, teaching; and then there is dialogue.  Acts 17:16-34 describes how one effective communicator dialogued in what could have been an intimidating situation, one in which he was the guest “on trial.”

Become a Greek
Setting: Paul is in Athens awaiting Silas and Timothy.  The Greeks express interest in his teachings.  He is invited to speak to the city council in open session where philosophers debate their ideas on the Areopagas (Mars Hill).  These are elite, educated, mostly rich, pagan Greeks.

Paul “becomes a Greek in this discussion.  Paul knows the Greek format of their thought.  He was in a foreign thought-environment.  But he had training in Greek thought and culture.  He spoke the language.  Paul was confident to speak on native ground in native terms to the Greeks.  This tells something about the preparation a communicator needs for such a situation.

Local Worldview
He made reference to their local situation and religion.  He quoted not from the Jewish scriptures, but from Greek poets, and found the basis of proclamation there.  Then he clearly presented the key points:  not the history of the Jews and what they believe, not the theology and the rites of his religion, but the way God had spoken decisively in Jesus.  All in the Greek format!

Paul had an advantage over some of us.  He was a Jew, but he was born in a pagan city of Asia, Tarsus, and was a Roman citizen, the son of rich merchants, was educated in both Jewish and Greek backgrounds, spoke several languages.

But wait – doesn't that show us just what is necessary to be a successful cross-cultural communicator? These characteristics made Paul the one needed for the development of the church.  This is our challenge.  To so open ourselves up and prepare ourselves that we will be the ones God needs and uses for the special work needed in our place of the world in this time in history!

Alternative Cultural Patterns
Paul often used alternate cultural patterns to get the gospel message across.  In 1 Corinthians 15:29-30, he mentions baptism for the dead.  He doesn't condemn the practice, but he doesn't specifically approve it either.  There is no other reference to this practice in the New Testament (though there are a couple of hints in church history).  It is not required or discussed in scripture.  Yet he uses this reference, apparently one of the practices this church knew, to make a point about a more important concept.

In Romans 1:18-21 and Romans 2:12-15, Paul explains that there is a universal knowledge, which God has made plain to people even in their remote or deprived situations. Paul indicates that the alternatives of salvation or judgement is based on conscience, not a specific tradition or knowledge.  This is a challenge to our information society.  The effective communicator will look for these clues to universal truth hidden in different form in the target culture.

Free to Testify
But this frees us from responsibility of converting people ourselves, which is the work of the Holy Spirit, leaving us rather with the role of witness.  Just tell your story!  Tell the story of the Good News!

The message seems to be that those who are seeking, in good conscience, will seek and recognize the truth and respond as they are able.  We are allowed to be God's partners in that process!  We don’t have to win them.  God wins them.  And he uses our story as part of the process!

We are agents in God's search and call for the lost.  The Spirit is the Power.  We are called to renew our minds (Rom 12:2).  If we have the mind of Christ, we will find ourselves in outreach, in contact.  We will carry the good news naturally into normal situations, we will be agents of reconciliation.  We will have the flexibility to deal with the different cultural situations, as Paul did.

The Faith Way
As children of God we have different spiritual gifts (Rom 12:6).  But we have the gifts according to faith.  So it follows that our gift will grow as our faith grows.  So faith, as the basis of salvation, is also the basis of witness.

Paul used dialogue, rather than confrontation.  Yet he clearly presented the message, and called for repentance.  Dialogue can be an indication that you are open to them.  Why do some people think they need to intimidate people into the Kingdom of God?  Or browbeat them into faith?

What kind of faith is that?  Faith drives out fear!

Launch out in faith!  Step into their world, learn their concerns, concepts, assumptions.  Incarnate yourself – and thus the gospel – into their culture.

Faith is the foundation.
The Spirit is the Power.
The source is unending!


Originally published in the series “The Effective Communicator” in Focus on Communication Effectiveness, a cross-cultural communication newsletter, Nairobi, Kenya, December 1993
Rewritten for Strategy Leader Resource Kit 10 October 2008
Posted 13 October 2008

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 1993, 2008 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

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