Are you are hoping to influence a church, a small group, a neighbor, or your children? Become a life-long learner.
In the midst of busyness we must take time to stretch our minds and be wiling to try new things.
When I left church staff, my leadership role no longer carried any power but was based entirely on the amount of influence I had over others. It’s similar to moving from having kids from birth through high school to having adult children. The power is gone, but parental influence can continue forever.
But for influence over others to last, we need to get current in a lot of ways while staying focused on the unchanging truths of God.
A couple of areas of study come to my mind as essential to Christian influence.
First, become a student of people and culture. What makes them tick? What are their thinking patterns? What are their hurts and fears? What are their lives like? How does their culture see believers? How can I show Jesus’s grace and love through my words, actions, and attitudes to that group? How can I communicate with followers of Christ and encourage them to grow? What is different about the various generations in all these areas?
That means that I read articles and books, listen to podcasts, and watch videos about the culture and about people, I read both fiction and non-fiction for insights into people. I look at data about people’s backgrounds, lifestyles, work involvement, and spirituality.
It means that I listen to Christians who doing a good job reaching people in this culture. What do I learn from their message and their methods? How can I change my conversations to be more current to better communicate the unchanging gospel? How can I engage the younger generations in a way that challenges them as believers?
It means that I stretch myself to read outside my own Christian tradition—those who think just like I have always been taught. We tend to be surrounded by voices that agree with us. I have learned so much from other perspectives of faith and culture. My basic beliefs are unchanged, but I have learned that some my pre-conceived ideas about churches and people outside of my church culture were wrong. My perspectives have changed. I have heard different ways of looking at the great story of Jesus that give me a new awe about him. I have a much better sense of what the church universal brings to our world.
It also means that I have conversations with others about what I read. I am part of a small group of three that reads outside of our box and talks about what we learn.
If we don’t continue reading and listening, we can really miss it. For example, the western church is slowly beginning to recognize that because a huge part of the world has shame-based cultures, the way we communicate the gospel to them should change. They don’t necessarily get our guilt and innocence explanations of sin and forgiveness. If they aren’t learning, our missions agencies and missionaries will just keep doing things as they have always done them, using the same words and tracts that may not communicate the gospel at all.
Similarly, the way you communicate to your millennial children’s friends must be as deliberate as the ways missionaries work to explain the gospel to other people groups. Your influence depends on it.
Second, continue to learn about yourself. Never stop listening to God so he can speak to you about your plans, your methods, and your character. You can only lead people where you have been. If you stop growing spiritually, people will quit listening to you.
That also means that you grow in leadership skills. Do some self-assessment so you know where you need to grow most and then find people or resources that can help you.
So what should you do next? Ask God to give you the resources you need, whether they are materials or people. Answer these questions: Where am I weakest? What people am I trying to influence? Find something to study in those areas.
If we here at BOW can help you find a starting place or good resources, just contact us and let us know. Our help is freely available. If we can’t point you somewhere, we will find someone who can.
What resources have helped you grow as a leader?