Christianity is a religion of influence. From the first, Jesus' invitation to follow him was an invitation to impact people. Jesus didn't say, "If you want to go to Heaven, come follow me." More like, "If you want to impact people, come follow me." Literally, Jesus said, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19). What would you think if I told you that your primary task as a Christian is to impact people?
In some sense, all of us are already in the business of impacting people. My barista impacts me by providing something I need, my morning coffee. Nurses and doctors impact their patients by healing them. Artists impact people by impressing them with images, sounds, feelings. We thrive on impacting people. We enjoy making someone laugh, providing needed help, teaching, impressing, ingratiating. Lack of impact is death. If we can't impact someone, even negatively, we stop feeling human.
So Jesus, when he invited people to join him in the work of impacting people, wasn't inventing a new concept. He was giving it greater specificity. What kind of impact would the followers of Jesus have? To be sure, the felt impact would vary. Jesus himself impacted people in a variety of ways. Some, no doubt, felt judged by him, condemned, like the Pharisees in Matthew 23. Others felt enlivened by Jesus, forgiven, loved, renewed, or healed. And Jesus was clear that people would respond similarly to his disciples (some would love them, some would hate them). But ultimately, the impact of his disciples was singular in its intent. The impact the disciples were taught to have was the same impact that Jesus himself had, which was to turn people's hearts back to God.
The impact a Christian is supposed to have on his/her neighbors is to turn their hearts toward God. It's interesting to think about your life through this lens. Ask yourself that question: Does my life impact people by steering their hearts toward God? If you're like me, the answer to that question is a partial 'yes' and a partial 'no.' But God knows that I desperately want the answer to be 'yes.' The question is, how can I be the kind of person that impacts people in this way? Or maybe a better question is, how can we as a church be the type of community that impacts our city in this way? What will it take for our witness to effectively impact New Yorkers by turning their hearts towards God?
We've tried various things. We've hosted community events, concerts, movie nights. We've preached good sermons that tried to address people wherever they were at. We've started community groups for people to grow. We've led Bible studies. We've done service events. We've prayed. A lot. But still, I wonder - are we turning hearts toward God? Every year, less and less people identify themselves as Christians. People, especially the 20-somethings, are converting, but not to Christianity. Many more young adults are leaving the church than are finding God. Clearly, we, the church, are failing to do what Jesus taught his disciples to do - to turn people's hearts towards God. How should we respond?