Have you ever traveled to a foreign country or been somewhere you didn’t know the language?
You struggle to understand what the people around you are saying or to even ask something simple (but important) like where the restroom is located.
In that moment, who would you rather have: someone with a loud voice to shout your requests with more volume or someone who knows the native language and can help you communicate?
Obviously, the greatest need you have is for a translator to make your words understandable to your audience, not for someone to amplify your already misunderstood words.
Where Are We Now?
Whether we realize it or not, this is the situation in which Americans Christians find ourselves. We are in a tower of Babel culture. Like those working on the infamous skyscraper in Genesis 11, we suddenly find ourselves surrounded by people who don’t understand us and who we don’t understand.
Not long ago, this was not the case. Our shared culture created a shared language. Everyone—even the unchurched—possessed some type of a Judeo-Christian background. They may not have been followers of Christ, but they respected the Bible and those who followed it.
But things have changed. Even if we are all speaking English our words mean something very different to each other.
You could probably think of numerous examples from your own personal life where you’ve tried to talk about your faith only to have the other person completely misunderstand you.
Maybe you talked about the love of God and your family member heard that as God accepting and approving of all of their decisions.
You may say have told your friend you disagreed with a moral choice they made. They may have only heard, “I hate you.”
Where Do We Go?
Despite this reality, some still think the solution is more volume. They see the Western culture growing increasingly secular and assume what we need is more voices in more prominent positions.
If we have enough loud voices talking about Jesus in positions of power, we can reshape culture. We need more celebrities who can yell our message on TV, movies and the political stage.
But we don’t need more famous Christians who can speak loudly. We need more faithful cultural translators who can speak clearly. We need those who can communicate a biblical message to a biblically illiterate culture.
There is a simple reason the people split after they began to speak different languages at the tower of Babel. It was frustrating to be around people who didn’t understand you, so you simply grouped together by language.
But as Christians, we do not have the option of retreating into our own subgroups where we all understand each other. We’ve been called to be God’s witnesses. We are to be salt and light in the world. We are His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Who Will Go?
Think what an ambassador does. They live in one country representing the agenda and desires of another. They must learn the language of those around them, so they can speak with them. Ambassadors must take care to learn the customs so as to avoid unnecessarily offending someone.
But all the while, they are there on behalf of someone else. They want to influence their new home country in a way that benefits their actual home nation.
For too long, Christians have focused on creating advocates, when we really need training ambassadors. We want people talking loudly, without ever considering if they are effectively communicating to anyone.
That’s why throughout her history, the church has needed individuals like Paul and Augustine, C.S. Lewis and Tim Keller.
But most of us do not have the abilities of those individuals. You could get overwhelmed thinking about trying to communicate as intelligently and effectively as Lewis or Keller.
But there’s good news. You don’t have to be them or talk to their audiences.
Unless you find yourself there, God’s not asking you to be an ambassador to New York City like Tim Keller. He has sovereignly placed you in your family, your circle of friends, your job, your neighborhood to be an ambassador to them.
He has empowered you to be a translator to the culture in which He has placed you. But it does require work. A good ambassador works to know their new country extraordinarily well, but more than anything they knew the plans and desires of their leader back home.
As a cultural translator, you need to know well the “language” of those around you. Understand who they are and why they do what they do. Get to know them. Love them.
But at the same time, devote yourself to knowing God more and deeper. Spend time in His word, in prayer, in community with other believers. Grow in your knowledge of who Christ is and what He has called you to do in the world.
Know your surrounding culture, but know better your sending Christ.
Don’t wait around on a loud voice to reach those in your life. Recognize our tower of Babel world. Accept your calling as an ambassador.
And dedicate yourself to being a cultural ambassador to those who are waiting to hear the gospel in their language.