Impact or Aroma? An important distinction
Pastors, just like real people, have trade journals and magazines, which of course, are filled with advertisments and articles intended to make us better at what we do. A quick purusal of these tools reveals that a recurring theme, in both articles and ads alike, is how important it is to make an IMPACT for Christ. "We're going to impact the world by planting one thousand churches." "How to impact your neighborhood with the gospel." "The impact factor!" "Impact your city for Jesus!!" "Real leaders make an impact!!"
"...to affect or influence, especially in a significant or undesirable manner..."
"...to collide or forcefully strike..."
It looks like Dobson's now famous letter intended to scare America away from Barack Obama.
I don't want to make too much out of a single word, but I'm afraid that overusing the word "impact" as it applies to our calling might not be wise. It can have the subtle effect of creating Christ followers who are militant, ambitious, unduly confrontive, and intent on overhauling the culture "for the cause of Christ." What does this look like?
It looks like calls to boycott certain companies because they offer employee benefits to same sex partners.
It looks like pastors and organizations with large audiences decrying a certain few sins, centering in on sexual issues and declaring that the future of the free world hangs on our wholesale condemnation of these issues, while turning a blind eye to the greed, militarism, and nationalism that might just be the bigger problems.
It looks churches driven by ambition and lofty goals, mobilizing their congregants to activist lifestyles that are ultimately exhausting. Working hard, like Martha, to make in impact, while neglecting the more important things. Thus do emotionally, phsyically, and spiritually spent pastors, flame out in nervous breakdown, financial misconduct, or sexual sin, in spite of their impactful message. IMPACT for certain, but too often, in the worst sense of the word. Did I mention that a quick look at my concordance revealed that this word is entirely absent from my Bible? There's a different word used by God to describe influence...
It's liberating for me to realize that even the great Paul, whom none of us could possibly characterize as a spiritual slacker, chose a gentler word to describe what He knew God was doing through him. In II Corinthians, he declares his confidence that God is expressing, through him, the sweet aroma of Christ.
It's the difference between a wrecking ball and the smell of your morning coffee, the difference between blowing up a building, and walking through a forest wet with fragrant morning dew. Which is noisier? Which elicits more public response? Which is more appealling?
I'm increasingly convinced that our ambitions related to making an impact are misguided, nothing more than a cloak to cover our own insecurities with God's 'blessing'. Instead of an impact, our ambitions ought to be related to being an aroma, as Paul says, "TO God... AMONG men." Aromas are a byproduct that reveal the essence of something. They don't set out to BE aromas, they simply are: Pine trees smell like pine; cigarette smoke like tabacco; coffee like heaven. That's the way it is.
Christ followers, when they're living in the moment as worshipplers, listening for the voice of Jesus and stepping into His calling, smell like Christ. They're bringing words and actions of hope. They're following their master in a thousand little acts of self-denial, putting their spouses needs before their own, loving, giving, encouraging. They're living creatively, embodying beauty in unique ways, whether through the cooking of a meal, the healing of a body, the encouragement of a tired soul, or the empowering and liberating of someone held in bondage, for whatever reason.
It's these unheralded, unprogrammed, un-noticed acts that are filling the world with the incense, the sweet aroma, of Christ's life. When I was young, I was obsessed with impact. As I grow older, I'm less impressed, even increasingly wary, of impact. Aroma is where it's at, becoming the quiet fragrance of life in a world where the stench and pollution of death is everywhere.
The aroma ambition is liberating, in that it frees me from the ambitions, constant measurements, fears, and obsessions, that are necessarily wed with IMPACT. I've pretty much traded in IMPACT for AROMA... wake up and smell the coffee. You'll like it better here.