13 Jul For the Sake of the Gospel
When your job is engaging people and culture it can be easy to think you’re an expert.
For the past 5 years, my job, on some level, has consisted of engaging people and cultures intentionally and with the goal of gospel-centered restoration. As someone who prides myself on not being the tourist, either in my city or another, I am constantly on the look out for subtle cues of culture – clothes, body language, hair, music, accents, choice of language, to help me blend in. I can identify “my people” through many of the subtle markers in a simple conversation.
Still, within each culture are many subcultures – my Sunday morning experience is vastly different from anyone’s who enters the Children’s building or hallway on a regular basis! Perhaps then, it should come as no surprise that even within Greenville there are many subcultures.
As a child, I was raised to always overdress when in doubt. Speak clearly, make eye contact, shake hands firmly. Smile. All of these markers, along with my clothes, speech, coffee cup, and even hair-style mark me. They help tell my story; even without words.
What happens then, when my story becomes a potential barrier? When my subtle markers make me the outsider, a suspicious person, untrustworthy? In my new job as director of Nasha Lending with Mill Community Ministries I meet with many different people on a regular basis, including entrepreneurs from under-resourced communities. After a while, I noticed a disturbing trend – many of these entrepreneurs were disappearing after our first meeting. Some of this is to be expected, but the numbers still seemed high.
What happens then, when my story becomes a potential barrier?
After lots of thought, I realized the problem was likely me. We were meeting in the coffee shops where I was comfortable. I was dressing in clothes that made me feel confident. My speech patterns reflected my upbringing. I wasn’t meeting potential clients where they were.
Since then, when I schedule meetings with potential clients, I wear more casual clothes, we meet in locations that are fairly neutral, and my language describing the program is different.
None of these changes are false or inauthentic – of me or Nasha Lending. Instead, I am deliberately choosing to present myself in the way that is most easily acceptable. Crossing cultures is difficult. Part of my job is to eliminate as many barriers on my end as possible. Much like Joseph Osborn wearing the same colored shirt, I too, must examine my life (and yes, my wardrobe) to see what unnecessary barriers to the Gospel I am putting up.
I, too, must examine my life to see what unnecessary barriers to the Gospel I am putting up.
At the end of the day, successful businesses and loans are only a part of my job. Ultimately my goal is to build relationships where the Gospel can be presented. In helping people launch businesses, there are many opportunities for gospel conversations. However, if my clothes, speech, or coffee cup prevent me from building the relationship to begin with then I’ve lost much more than a potential client.
What barriers are you unknowingly putting up? What cultural cues mark you as an insider (or outsider)?
To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. // 1 Corinthians 9: 21-23