Communicating the Gospel Across Cultures

Do you ever feel like you’re speaking a foreign language when trying to explain the gospel to someone who isn’t a Christian? That’s how it sounded to me, before I came to faith in Jesus from a traditional Jewish background. Christians would invite me to church to hear a sermon about Jesus? I’d just respond, “I’m Jewish.”

What I meant was “I’m Jewish and we don’t do church.” The funny thing about it was that we were speaking past each other…like using different languages and we didn’t even know it. We didn’t even realize that we didn’t understand what the other person was saying.

Now I minister among other Jewish people and am working to help Christians communicate the gospel to them with greater understanding. More specifically, I work with Jewish-Gentile couples. Recently, I heard a Jewish partner in an intermarried couple complain that his Christian spouse kept calling him an “unbeliever.”

From the Christian’s perspective, that description was accurate. But, can you imagine how it sounded to the Jewish person? He was more than a little hurt and even said, “Wait, I believe there is a God.” The Christian’s reference was perceived as judgmental and incredibly painful and it was harmful to the relationship. The Jewish partner couldn’t hear the gospel. Instead, he wanted to know why she was saying that about him.

What can we do? Interacting with both Jewish people and other non-Christians might strengthen our communication skills with people who don’t yet share our faith.

Here are some random thoughts to help us create understanding, and maybe connection, with people who do not yet share our faith.

  • Beware of using insider language to describe people as “unbelievers” or “unsaved.” They might not yet get the gospel or believe in Jesus, but you don’t want to alienate them.
  • Try to hear how someone else understands your words. Treat common words like they are from a foreign language. You could ask, “How do you understand the word Christian?” Take it from there to work on clarification for both of you.
  • The spouse who calls his or her partner an “unbeliever” likely hasn’t considered how that sounds to the other. When someone insists that he or she believes in God, he or she provides an opportunity in which he or she can learn something new or more.
  • Ask them what they believe about God.
  • Ask them what they think God wants from them.
  • Ask them how they know their belief about God might be true.
  • Ask them what they want God to do for them.
  • Pray that God would answer their heart’s desire.

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Tuvya Zaretsky | Los Angeles

Tuvya Zaretsky is one of the founders of the Jews for Jesus ministry. He was the first field missionary beginning his service in February 1974. Tuvya continues to serve the Lord, now as the Director of Staff Development internationally, based out of the Los Angeles office. He also chairs the Board for the Jews for Jesus branch in Tel Aviv, Israel. Tuvya was raised in Northern California in the institutions of American Judaism. During his bar mitzvah at age thirteen, Tuvya read from Isaiah 6:1-8 and declared with the prophet, Hineni-Here I am, send me!" However, his search for God and spiritual truth didn't come into focus until ten years later, when a Christian colleague encouraged him to seek God in the pursuit of truth. Tuvya came to believe in Y'shua (Jesus) on December 7, 1970. Ever since, he has been joyfully saying to God, "Hineni-Here am I." The full story is available by that title, in a booklet form here. Tuvya has provided the leadership of Jews for Jesus branches and evangelistic campaigns in major cities of the US and in Israel. He headed up the Las Vegas Behold Your God (BYG) campaign in 2005 and co-led the 2006 BYG outreach in New Jersey. He is now also an administrator for the website In April, 1989, Zaretsky was present at the Willowbank Consultation on the Christian Gospel and the Jewish people, that produced the watershed Willowbank Declaration. Tuvya has presented missiology papers at the Evangelical Theological Society, the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE) and at the Global Diaspora Missiology Consultation in 2006. He currently serves as president for the International Coordinating Committee of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, a networking body of Jewish mission agencies. He was editor of the Lausanne Occasional Paper 60, Jewish Evangelism" A Call to the Church in 2004. He was a contributing author of Israel the Land and People edited by H. Wayne House (Kregel Publishers, 1998). His doctoral dissertation, co-authored with Dr. Enoch Wan, was published as Jewish-Gentile Couples: Trends, Challenges and Hopes (William Carey Library Publishers, 2004). He authored or edited articles for the June 2006 issue of MISHKAN themed, "The Gospel and Jewish-Gentile Couples" (Jerusalem) . And in 2008 he was coordinator and contributor for the World Evangelical Alliance Consultation that produced "The Berlin Declaration on the Uniqueness of Christ and Jewish Evangelism in Europe Today". In 2013 Zaretsky was appointed to serve as the Senior Associate for Jewish Evangelism by the International Lausanne Movement. Tuvya has an M.A. in Missiology concentrating in Judaic Studies from Fuller Seminary's School of Intercultural Studies and the Doctor of Missiology degree from the Division of Intercultural Studies at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is married to Ellen, who is also a Jewish Believer in Jesus. They have three young adult children: Jesse, Abbie and Kaile.

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