Leadership is influence.
Have you ever considered that? I read this in a Bible study a few weeks ago, and it’s stayed with me. I can’t shake the feeling that there is something profound in this observation. Perhaps this is because we so often associate leadership with the exercise of power.
UNCOMFORTABLE WITH POWER
Leaders are often uncomfortable with the word ‘power’. We know that decisions must be made, vision must be given, a culture created . . . yet strong leadership often generates opposition. Am I leading the Jesus way? Am I misusing my power? So, a natural response is to assert that we’re servant leaders. Which is absolutely correct, of course. Servant leadership was modelled by Jesus, and we follow in his footsteps. But we’re still left with the problem of power. Who makes decisions? Who exercises power? Isn’t it in the hands of those with formal roles, those who lead ministries? Pastors, teachers etc?
It must belong to those with job titles. These are the leaders, surely.
Today, I’d like to suggest that leadership in the church often functions outside those with formal roles. Instead of focusing on power, we should think of leadership as influence.
Let me explain.
SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCERS
Beautiful girl in a swimsuit. Handsome young man sporting the latest fashion. Professional photography—or not—and, what?! Three million followers? You’ve got to be kidding me. These, we’re told, are the influencers. A whole industry has developed around beautiful people able to attract sufficient followers on social media. They sell their profiles to companies, who then ask them to model their clothes, sunglasses etc.
What’s actually happening?
They are selling their power to influence millions of people. It has a financial value, because their beauty/charisma/lifestyle persuades others to follow. And those followers will then buy merchandise suggested or modelled by the influencer.
They have followers.
So did Jesus.
And we are followers. Hold that thought.
What is influence? Here’s the dictionary definition.
The action or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of another or others.
Influence is the process whereby we effect change in another person. But here’s the thing. In the church, this change should, if done in a godly manner, be aimed at producing at least one or more of the following.
Christ-like behaviour/disciples who grow.
Promotion of the gospel.
If it isn’t doing this, it isn’t godly influence. Instead, it can sometimes become self-serving or even manipulative. Yet to the degree that we are living obediently and faithfully in relationship to our brothers and sisters, we are exerting influence over them—for the sake of God’s glory. Hence the emphasis on humility and service in the Bible and in the church.
THE FLOW OF THE BIBLE
In the Bible, God begins by using particular people in particular places for particular purposes. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Joseph. Moses. David. The prophets. This is how he reveals his glory and tells a story that leads to the Messiah. But then everything changes. The Lord Jesus arrives and the church is born. No more do we look for a human being to reveal God in spectacular ways. The Spirit has arrived and everyone, everyone who believes is given the job of living under King Jesus, and all that entails. This is why the concept of the ‘Christian celebrity’ is such a nonsense. Who cares if you’re the leader of a huge church?! The only thing that matters is the humble obedience of disciple-making disciples, who exhibit faith, hope and love.
Social media influencers call attention to themselves to sell products. We should be the opposite. We call attention to the beauty of the Lord Jesus, shining a light on the awesome majesty of our God.
And since we’re ALL called to do this, we ALL have influence.
But perhaps you’re wondering why this should be linked to leadership? It’s really down to the purpose of the church and each follower of Jesus. Our purpose is to lead people to Jesus, to help them love him more, serve him better. That’s how leadership should be defined in the church. Leaders are those who lead people to Jesus.
HOW DO WE INFLUENCE?
So, how do we exercise our influence in the church?
Essentially, we influence others by the way in which we live our lives. And here, I think, we find strong backing from the example of the apostle Paul. He doesn’t hold back from using the word ‘imitation’. Here’s a line from his letter to the Thessalonians.
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
1 Thess 1.6
He then follows it up with this line, which drives home the same message.
And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
1 Thess 1.7
So, we follow the Lord. We obey him. We influence others to do the same. That’s what true Christian leadership is all about. And that’s why it isn’t just squeezed into formal job titles.
We are all, in our different ways, leaders, because we all influence others.
I acknowledge that churches need paid staff. These people have job titles. There must be some kind of authority structure or there is simply anarchy. However, when it comes to the idea of leadership, job titles fade into the background. It’s influence that counts.
Let me tell you a story.
In Los Angeles, I worked at the American Red Cross Blood Services. It’s a huge organisation comprised of hundreds of people, all focused on delivering blood products to hospitals in Southern California. A man called Steve worked in IT, an unassuming, gentle man, who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. One day, he retired after thirteen years’ service, and they held a celebration for him. I still remember trying to find a space in the room. It was absolutely rammed. There were probably a hundred and fifty people in there.
Steve’s job title was IT support. He had no authority at all. He just helped people with their computers. That was it. But wow, he had influence. Huge influence. Everyone loved him. He was gentle, patient, kind, and hard-working. So they came to honour and thank him for his service. There were bosses who retired during my time at ARC who were never so honoured.
I know a couple who have served, and listened, and loved, and volunteered in almost every area of our church. I don’t even think they’re home group leaders. But the influence they have is enormous. They model patience, kindness, and love. They are leaders, because of the huge influence they have.
Again, please don’t mishear me on this. I’m not arguing that job titles and formal leadership roles are not important. They are. But don’t confuse formal roles with leadership. At least, don’t confuse an official role with influence.
This Sunday, look around at the people gathered in your church building. Who is serving faithfully? Who is reaching out to the disadvantaged? Who is praying with another? Who is putting away the chairs? This week, who will disciple another? Who exhibits faith, hope, and love in ways that cause the Kingdom of God to grow in the hearts of his people?
These are your leaders. They are your influencers. There is no need to give them job titles. They already have a job title.
Influencers for God’s glory.
Otherwise known as . . . children of God.