Question 1: What’s the culture of your city?
The first thing we notice about Paul’s visit to Athens in Acts 17 is that he has his eyes open to what’s going on. And in a spiritual way. When I go to a city, the first thing I notice is where the nearest bars and restaurants are. Paul notices that Athens is full of idolatry. The people in this city were worshipping lots of different false Gods (verse 16). So the first point is that Paul is aware of this culture. He’s only been there very briefly but he knows what’s going on at a deeper level, what the issues are of this culture.
To engage with a city, we need to have our eyes open for what people value, what people do with their money, their spare time, what they enjoy. This might be really straightforward— this might a be a city that you’ve existed in for a long time, and the culture might be second nature to you. Or, maybe this is something you’ve never really thought about. Paul’s reaction wasn’t a positive one, he was shocked and saddened the culture of Athens. What do you think Paul would say about your city if he visited it today?
Being aware of the culture requires us to notice what happens, not to exist separately or independently. It can be very easy as a Church or a Christian community to create our own culture, to exist with our own set of values, beliefs and even language and jargon. What we miss when we do this is a real engagement with the world around us. We fail to notice what God is doing in our city and ultimately when we try to engage, we are entirely alien from the culture. So it’s important that our eyes are open to the culture of our city if we want to be people that engage with the world.