In Acts 17:16-32, we read Paul’s famous preaching of the gospel to the Greeks in Athens. Paul was familiar and aware of their idolatrous culture and it grieved him. Knowing that many of them were probably resistant, and even hostile to the gospel, Paul had to strategically communicate to them. While many were reluctant to hear the Truth, there were also those who deeply longed for fulfillment and were curious about Paul’s peculiar message. With great courage, compassion, and faith, Paul stepped into their world and delivered a challenging message that ultimately brought light in the darkness, and hope to the hopeless. There’s a lot we can learn about how Paul delivered this message and why understanding our audience will greatly impact our effectiveness.
1. Know the culture and grieve over its idolatry
Paul’s method of communicating the gospel to a lost culture first begins with understanding the audience to whom we are speaking. In this training video, Trevin Wax says that evangelism doesn’t start with a heart that just seeks to persuade and win arguments, but instead it starts with a heart that is broken for lost people. In this text, Paul grieves the idolatry of the culture. He is familiar with it but grieves what he sees. If we do not try and understand the paradigm of the people we are trying to reach, how then are we going to present the gospel in a way that touches their lives personally? It is only when the good and healing truth penetrates a heart firsthand that a person will be transformed by it.
We have to study the people we minister to and to eagerly ask the Lord to reveal brokenness and sin in the culture around us. By knowing the culture and grieving its idolatry, we set the stage for captivating our audience with a message that speaks directly into their lives, shining light on their sin and deep need for Jesus.
2. Affirm the good, rebuke the bad, and proclaim the truth
Once you know the culture you are trying to reach, it is essential that you affirm what is good. It is there, on common ground, where you can begin to build a case for Christianity. It is here where people will recognize that you are not solely coming from a place of accusation or hostility but have taken the time to understand them and why they are the way they are. You can then begin to challenge what is broken and proclaim what is true. Trevin says to affirm the deep longings of the people you are trying to reach—the longings that may be misdirected and leading them to idols rather than the living God. Help them see that their longing is placed their by God and can only be fulfilled through Him.
This article originally appeared on NewChurches.com and is used with permission.