Missions Misunderstood » Blog Archive » Mind Your Accent

Posted June 1st, 2009 by E. Goodman

If a New Yorker stepped the pulpit of a Savannah, GA church to preach on a Sunday morning, his accent would undermine his message. To Southerners, a “yankee” accent means a person isn’t trustworthy. A Northerner is seen as “slick” and “smooth talking.” When he comes in to preach, even if he’s preaching the infallible and inerrant Word of God, people aren’t readily going to trust him.

Consider the reverse situation- outside the deep south, a strong southern accent (or southwestern drawl) makes a person seem stupid and slow. One man’s “Good Ol’ Boy” is another man’s “Country Bumpkin.” Just ask George W. Bush or Perry Noble. Respected in their neck of the woods, ridiculed elsewhere. This is why newscasters work hard to lose their accents. It’s why politicians play their up. An accent either says “I’m one of you,” or it says, “I’m an outsider.”

Consider the accents you might find just within the U.S. and what they might mean to different audiences. A Surfer Dude’s “bro’s,” “dude” and “right on” make him seem irresponsible and aloof to others. A Floidian’s Latino twang might make his message seem a bit foreign around the Great Lakes.

So it’s not just what you say, but how you say it that makes communication effective.

This brings me to another missiological concept- contextualization. A person needs to hear the gospel in a way that makes sense to him. Of course it needs to be in his own language. But it also needs to be in his own dialect. Indeed, his own accent. Is your church preaching the gospel in your community’s accent?