I was never very good at algebra, no in fact, if I am honest, I was terrible at algebra. Could never get my mind around X = Y etc. However, I was immersed in 1 Thessalonians chapter one last week and a formula came to my mind.
Its I = Em x Ex
Maybe I should explain, it’s the formula for missional impact I see in 1 Thessalonians chapter 1.
I = IMPACT. Paul describes how this small group of new believers had an incredible impact on the community and area around them. He writes that
“Your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore, we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” 1 Thess 1:8-9
There had been such a dramatic change in these new Thessalonian believers that they were the “talk of the town.” Their new faith in Jesus was the topic of conversation among the people in Thessalonica and the surrounding area. People were sitting up and taking notice, the Gospel was having a huge impact.
How did that happen? Well, that is the second half of the equation.
EM = EMBODY …. I think the main reason that people took notice of these new Christians was that they were like Christ. “You became imitators of us and of the Lord” v6 to put it simply, they embodied their message. They didn’t just talk about the Good News of Jesus’ love and forgiveness; they became more loving and forgiving people. Their lives were good news to the people they met before their lips shared the Good News with them. The Gospel made an impact on other people through these Thessalonian believers because people could see it had made an impact in them.
Now many people want to leave it there. That the Gospel makes an impact when we as Christians live lives that remind people of Christ and so draw people to Christ. This is called “presence evangelism” and it’s important but on its own, it’s not enough.
The final component of impact is Ex = EXPRESS
Recently I have been reading a very challenging little book by Rico Tice called HONEST EVANGELISM. In that book, Rico talks about what he describes as THE PAINLINE. This is the moment in a relationship with someone when as a Christian you actually have to tell them what the Gospel is knowing that they may well be offended by it. Rico says that all too many of us, to avoid the pain, of a strained or broken relationship, or to avoid offending people or being embarrassed, never cross the Gospel Painline.
These very first generations believers crossed that pain line. Paul says of them, “The Lord’s message rang out from you” v 8 What he means is that the Gospel came to other people not just embodied in their lives but expressed by their lips. They told others about Jesus, and it was definitely a painline for them, Paul talks throughout Thessalonians about the persecution they received as a result.
I have a little book with an interesting title HOLINESS AND MISSION. In it the NT scholar Morna Hooker says
“The New Testament suggests that mission was accomplished by embodying the Gospel, as much as by proclaiming the Gospel” Hooker
In other words … I = Em x Ex