people, man, woman


Do you remember the Crash Test Dummies’ song “God shuffled his feet?

The people ask God a question, he answers with an obscure story (about a boy with blue hair), and then a spokesman for the people gathers his courage:

“I beg your pardon;
I’m not quite clear about what you just spoke.
Was that a parable or a very subtle joke?”

There are many reasons for the Bible’s use of parable, metaphor, story and proverb. There are many reasons why Jesus told stories. But one of the things to remember in our context; namely cross-cultural communication, is this:

Direct confrontation very rarely does more than offend in an honour-shame culture.

In many places where we are working, people are wired for the everyday dynamic competition for honour, what Werner Mischke calls “Challenge and Riposte” (The Global Gospel).

If you put me down, I must put you down in return. You shame me, I’ll shame you back.

In this context, direct attack upon someone’s beliefs, religion, culture or opinions are an attack on self, on their very personhood. And if they lose face, you have lost the relationship. Attack my faith (my prophet, my book, my logic), you attack me. Attack me, I’ll go defensive or offensive, but either way my heart is not open to you.

Trojan horse

You friend will close and bar his gates, as the Trojans did under siege, and the only way in is a Trojan horse, that sneaks past their defenses and invades the heart. A parable is like a Trojan horse. It enables us to speak truth indirectly so that people can hear without having to respond to the challenge to their honour.

Indirect speech is like a slow-release pill; I swallow it and go away and it keeps working on the inside.

I can process what you are presenting without having to respond immediately. But if you confront me directly, I am compelled to respond directly.

Proverbs are a great example of indirect speech, as they are in the third (hypothetical) person not in the second (combative) person. To a quarrelsome person I can quote:

“It is an honour for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling” (Proverbs 20:3).

He can nod and agree, then internally process whether he is the honourable man or the fool. He draws his own conclusion, not I.

Nathan’s challenge of King David for his sin is a classic example of indirect speech.

In the court of public opinion David would have been compelled to respond to a direct confrontation. Nathan’s wisdom without compromise is a great model both pastorally and evangelistically.

The Apostle Paul was “deeply moved” by the idolatry of the Athenians, but then opened by saying “I see you are very religious” (Acts 17.22). In Ephesus, after preaching for 2 years with the massive temple to Artemis in full view, it was said of Paul and his companions, “They have not blasphemed our goddess” (Acts 19.37).

Nothing is gained by directly attacking the faith of another. You will very rarely shame someone into renouncing their own beliefs.

“Shaming people, even unintentionally, contradicts the gospel of God’s honour.” – Jayson Georges, The 3D Gospel.

Friends, we are never to compromise. However, we hold Christ up, not push other beliefs down. There is no heroism in making enemies of everyone.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6).

Particularly in a country in which you are a guest.

Particularly with honour-orientated people.

Particularly if your goal is not just to win the exchange but to win some.

Andy M has been in a city in the ME since 2009, leading a team, leading his family, planting a church. “We are still very new at this, so don’t take anything I say too seriously!” Click here to connect on Twitter.