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Maximising Influence for Good
Leadership is about influence. Everyone influences someone. Therefore, in a sense, everyone is a leader. Sociologists tell us that even the most introverted individual will influence 10,000 other people during his or her lifetime (so writes John Maxwell, whose organisations have trained over 1 million leaders worldwide).
As I look back on my life I have been influenced by so many people – my parents, teachers, friends and family. Just as I have been influenced by others, inevitably, what I do and say will influence others for good or ill.
As the African proverb puts it, ‘If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent the night with a mosquito.’ The mosquito makes a difference in an annoying way, but the principle is the same. One person can stop a great injustice. One person can be a voice for truth. One person’s kindness can save a life. One person matters.
History is in many ways a story of influence. In reality we all influence one another in all sorts of ways – from what to have for lunch and what films to watch, to more important matters of truth and ethics.
What we do as individuals, as a community or a nation affects others. How do we use that influence for good? How do we maximise our influence?
1. Use your influence for the good of everyonePsalm 96:1-13
God chose Israel. He blessed the people of Israel in a special way. His purpose was not that they should feel proud and superior to others. Rather, it was that they should be a blessing to the whole world. They were blessed to be a blessing. They were called to use their influence for the good of all nations.
It is interesting to note in passing that their worship was creative and included innovation. They sang ‘a brand-new song’ (v.1, MSG).
After worship comes witness:
‘Shout the news of his victory from sea to sea,
Take the news of his glory to the lost,
News of his wonders to one and all! ...
Get out the message – God Rules! (vv.2–3,10a, MSG).
Lord, thank you that as you chose Israel in the Old Testament, so you have chosen us, the church, in the New Testament. May we never see this as a reason for pride or a sense of superiority over others. Rather, may we see that we are called to be a blessing to all people.
Help us Lord, never to become inward looking or self-indulgent. May everything we do as individuals and as a community be outward focused in order to bring blessing to the world – proclaiming your salvation day after day. Thank you for the influence that you have given to the church. May we use it for good and maximise its impact.
2. Use your influence to spread the good news1 Corinthians 9:1-18
Paul is deeply conscious of his influence as a Christian and, in particular, as an apostle. He is absolutely determined to maximise his influence for good and to ‘put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ’ (v.12b).
It appears that he sees his calling to singleness as one of the ways he can maximise his influence. He is not suggesting that there is anything wrong with marriage. It appears that the other apostles, the Lord’s brothers and Peter (Cephas) were all married (v.5).
Another way he seeks to maximise his influence is by having a second job, working for a living. He is very keen to point out that he does not need to do this: ‘The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel’ (v.14). Or as Eugene Peterson translates, ‘Those who spread the Message be supported by those who believe the Message’ (v.14, MSG).
‘If we have planted spiritual seed among you, is it out of line to expect a meal or two from you? Others demand plenty from you in these ways. Don’t we who have never demanded deserve even more?’ (vv.11–12a, MSG). His point is that although he had this right, he did not make use of it. ‘Our decision all along has been to put up with anything rather than to get in the way or detract from the Message of Christ’ (v.12b, MSG).
Paul is absolutely passionate about the preaching of the gospel. He does not want anything to hinder its maximum impact. Hence, he does not make use of any of his rights – his mission is paramount (v.15a). He is ‘compelled to preach’ (v.16a). He writes, ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!’ (v.16b). He is simply discharging an obligation that he feels.
What he wants more than anything is that people should be able to hear the gospel ‘free of charge’ (v.18). He would rather die than be deprived of the opportunity to preach the gospel free of charge: ‘I’d rather die than give anyone ammunition to discredit me or impugn my motives’ (v.15, MSG).
This is one of the reasons why we are determined that no one should ever have to pay for going on an Alpha Course. And, this is why we need to resist every attempt to persuade us to fundraise from guests as soon as they have finished Alpha. We do not want people to pay directly or indirectly for the privilege of hearing the gospel. Paul says ‘I would rather die …’ (v.15b).
I remember when Billy Graham came to preach the gospel in London in 1989. It was suggested at one point that in order for the tickets not to be wasted, they should be sold for a nominal sum of £1 each. The suggestion was rejected out of hand. Billy Graham had determined that he would always preach the gospel free of charge.
Lord, help us always to follow this example of the apostle Paul and to maximise the impact and influence of the preaching of the gospel by making it available free of charge and to put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
3. Use your influence to plant good seedsEcclesiastes 9:13-12:14
The writer of Ecclesiastes is very aware of the power of influence. This influence can be for good or evil.
He gives an example of evil. He writes, ‘one sinner destroys much good’ (9:18b). One human being can use their influence to cause great harm. Hitler, Stalin and others are glaring examples of this principle.
But, the influence does not have to be as great as these tyrants in order to have a bad effect. ‘Dead flies in perfume make it stink, and a little foolishness decomposes much wisdom’ (10:1, MSG). If even a dead fly can have a bad influence, the least influential human being can have an influence for evil or good. We can all be the fly in the ointment!
The writer has much to say about how to be a good influence, rather than a bad one. For example, ‘If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest’ (v.4). And, ‘Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious’ (v.12a).
We really need to watch what we say, even in the privacy of our own bedroom. ‘Don’t bad-mouth your leaders, not even under your breath, and don’t abuse your betters, even in the privacy of your home. Loose talk has a way of getting picked up and spread around. Little birds drop the crumbs of your gossip far and wide’ (v.20, MSG).
To be an influence for good we need to watch how we live and what we say. To maximise this influence we need to take risks. The writer goes on, ‘Be generous: Invest in acts of charity. Charity yields high returns. Don't hoard your goods; spread them around. Be a blessing to others’ (11:1–2, MSG). In other words, he says ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. As William Ward wrote, ‘To love is to risk not being loved in return. To try is to risk failure. But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.’
If we are too cautious we will never achieve anything. ‘Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap’ (v.4). We could apply this principle to church planting. It will require risk and determination. We must not be daunted by seemingly insuperable obstacles. We must not be put off due to ‘wind’ and ‘clouds’.
In order to maximise influence, it is important not to put all our eggs in one basket. We might have to juggle different opportunities in our own lives for influence. The writer goes on ‘Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well’ (v.6).
Life is short. Our opportunities are limited: ‘Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted. Take delight in each light-filled hour ... You who are young, make the most of your youth. Relish your youthful vigor ... If something looks good to you, pursue it’ (vv.8a,9, MSG).
Generally we can achieve more while we are relatively young. ‘Remember your Creator in the days of your youth’ (12:1). This chapter contains an extraordinarily powerful and poetic description of the impact of aging on our bodies and lives.
He concludes, ‘Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of every human being. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil’ (vv.13b–14).
Lord, help us as a church to push ahead on all fronts. Help us to sow seed in every direction – through worship, prayer, leadership, St Paul’s Theological Centre, Family Life, Social Transformation, Caring for Ex-Offenders, Alpha (UK, the Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe Middle East and Africa), Alpha for youth, students, prisons, the forces, estates, the homeless, etc.
Lord, help me and help our community to make the most of every opportunity that you have given us. Help us to fear you and keep your commandments. Help us to use our influence for good and not for evil. Help us to make the most of every opportunity that you have put before us.
‘Of the making of books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.’
That was a prophetic statement! Had Solomon any idea how many books would be written on every subject over the years? There are so many beautiful, inspiring books, but plenty of others less so. I had some sympathy many years ago when helping one of our children with their reading homework. They commented, ‘I don't like books. They have words in them’!