I have always been bit of a sucker for a nice aftershave and I always notice when I detect a nice scent on someone else. It is not uncommon for me to ask someone about the type of aftershave they are wearing – of course mostly that is to see whether it is in my budget range or not. There is just something pleasant about a nice aroma, because I am sure we all know how unpleasant it is when there is a less-than-pleasant aroma.
As we start to slowly emerge from the season known as COVID19, there is still a lot of discussion about the new normal. I have noticed that many of my friends have changed their work rhythms, perhaps working at home 2 or 3 days per week, there is more use of online video meetings, people are even more aware of their hygiene standards.
As a leader in a local church, we too are asking ourselves the question of what our rhythms look like into the future. We are using more digital resources, less paper, and we are increasingly validating ways that people participate in church life that were once seen as not helpful.
Because I dream a lot about the future, this has all got me thinking about how the church communicates its foundational message.
This has led me to thinking about our aroma. My aroma. Your aroma. The aroma of the church.
In a general sense, the modern church has a high value on being attractional. A ‘come-to-us’ approach still permeates our practice – come to church on Sunday at 10am, come to ‘the house’, we are waiting for you. But you do not need to be a rocket scientist to know that this is not having the results we desire. Sure, the churches with a great show will attract a crowd, but this is not resulting in sustained spiritual growth that sees people have a life-long journey of following Jesus.
I believe we need to consider new rhythms of how we go about being the church in a post-Christian-post-COVID era when there is an increased focus on mental wellness across the board.
And this is where aroma comes in.
In recent times I have been reflecting on Paul’s words to the church in Corinth. He writes in his second letter, in 2 Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 15, these words, “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”
Let those words sink in. Maybe we can shorten that verse a little bit, We are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ. Perhaps shorten it even more, We are the pleasing aroma of Christ.
In the context of what Paul was writing he was encouraging followers of Jesus to display their lives in a way where people will notice them, that figuratively speaking others will smell them as being different because of their service to Christ.
Of course, this is nothing new, but in an age of programme and performance it does lead us to ask questions about how the aroma of Christ is smelt in our lives; does following Jesus make a difference in the way that we deal with conflict, the way we choose careers, the ways we choose to be generous, the way we cope with each other in the church?
Faith and belief
The 2018 Faith and Belief in New Zealand report, commissioned by Wilberforce Foundation, explored attitudes towards religion, spirituality and Christianity in New Zealand. The purpose of the research was to investigate faith and belief blockers among Kiwis and to understand perceptions, opinions and attitudes towards Jesus, the Church and Christianity.
One of its main conclusions was that non-Christian participants said that ‘seeing people live out a genuine faith is most likely to attract them to investigate religion and spirituality.’ The commentary to this outcome said that Kiwis are most likely to be attracted to exploring religion and spirituality further by seeing firsthand people who live out a genuine faith. Three in five (59%) suggested this would either somewhat or strongly attract them to investigating religion and spirituality further. One participant said, ‘Be a good role model so that many people believe what he (Jesus) believes rather than what the Church tries to get you to believe.’
Living the aroma
The above research is consistent with research undertaken around the world in multiple contexts. Faith is something that has to be lived to be believed.
It is an old challenge, but still a very relevant one and is a question we should be continually asking ourselves, ‘How are we the aroma of Christ that others will ask about because they see it in action?’
I hope someone might see the aroma of Christ in me, and I hope that I’ll be able to smell the aroma of Christ in others, so that I can ask them about their story and the difference Christ has made in them.
It is true that our aroma matters.
Grant Harris is a reformed banker who has been the Senior Pastor of Windsor Park Baptist Church in Auckland, New Zealand, for eleven years. Grant’s passionate about seeing people catch a glimpse of who they are in Christ and living out the difference that makes. He’s tried living according to the patterns of this world and found that those patterns came up short. He’s still a work-in-progress and always will be. You can contact Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org.