Stewarding the Gift of Influence
It was time for lunch, but my fingers were feasting on the keyboard. The document I was doing had truly enchanted me. Lady Catherine’s grub would have to wait for later.
Such is our sacred affliction as life members of the Melancholy Club. There is always one more ‘i’ to dot and ‘t’ to cross! But, without warning, my 3 year old turbo-charged offspring stormed into the sanctuary of our bedroom. She had an important announcement: Daddy, lunch is ready! Stand up!” Now, Janina has discovered a trick to get me up from my work: insisting on a vertical commitment! When I dithered, she put her foot down, “Stand up for Jesus!” It was game over! How could I have led Stand Up for Jesus hymn in one of our previous family devotions, and now refuse to demonstrate my belief in its summons? Without further ado, I stood on my feet. Like a good soldier of the Lord, I followed my commanding officer to the sitting room. After all, where the delightful duty of Momma’s food called, I should never be wanting there!
Wagging my tail
No doubt, I have been trying to teach my girls about healthy assertiveness, plus it is bad manners to disregard instructions. This is part of my little project of cultivating a family culture that values respect, submission and mutuality. I hope not to dither too much on this, though! For that reason, I have had to wag my tail a few times when Janina and Betsy conscripted me to their endless ‘good’ causes! That being said, there was something about Janina’s strategy to get me to lunch that blew my mind: the subtle psychology of “leading up.” If I wasn’t going to easily comply, surely Jesus was a higher court of appeal!
Gift of influence
Unknown to her, my daughter was affirming John Maxwell’s 2nd Law of Leadership: influence is everything. What especially excited me more was that constructive influence can come from any quarters and contexts of life, if only we are open to it. Maxwell offers that influence arises from the appeal of one’s character, relationships, knowledge, intuition, experience, past success and personal abilities. As a Christian, I am challenged to see influence as a gift God has entrusted to us. Therefore, we must exercise responsible stewardship by using the assets of our personal influence to extend the horizons of the common good. This is an integral part of our culture-making mandate (Crouch, 2008).
Hail girl power!
Two influential women in different eras deserve mention.
Susanna Wesley, the wife of Rev. Samuel Wesley, has been regarded as the unsung hero and “mother of methodism.” Unrelenting in her devotion to God and intentional discipleship, this mother of 16 children left an indelible mark in her sons John and Charles’ lives. Through her model of regular Bible teaching and training, she set crucial foundation stones for the Wesleyan movement. While Susanna may only have been fulfilling her obligations as a Christian parent, in line with Deut. 6:4-9 and Ephesians 6:4, this was more than zealous parental duty. Her contributions have long outlived her.
And now to a Kenyan story.
Have you been to Uhuru Park or Karura forest complex lately? Well, these wonderful spaces would be a gated concrete jungle now had Prof. Wangari Mathai been a flower girl in the land grabbers’ party. Despite relentless harassment, she fought the Goliath of corrupt state machinery, and called national leaders to accountability. As the founder of the Green Belt Movement, this Africa’s Forest Goddess rose from humble beginnings to become a trailblazing academic, unlocking women’s potential as green agents of change. By her influence, and others like her, environmental stewardship, sustainable peace and security have irreversibly taken their rightful place on the table of international development politics and policy. So, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 was a well-deserved recognition.
Small Big Voices
The Bible records inspiring stories of individuals, who defied their limitations to change existing narratives and real contributions. In a society heavily tilted against women’s property ownership rights, the five Zelophehad sisters made bold proposals to lobby their inclusion in the land allotments. What is interesting is that God endorsed it as the reasonable thing to do. Consequently, a landmark policy precedent was established in Israel (Num. 27:1-11). What would have happened if they kept quiet? In a different arena, Mordecai’s story demonstrates the powerful influence that a conscientious, ordinary watchman could have. At a critical time when the survival of the Jews hang in the balance, Mordecai challenged Esther to live up to her historical moment, and she did (Esther 4:14). This partnership between the powerless and powerful made possible the deliverance of a whole nation.
Stewardship of influence
What insights can we draw about stewardship of the gift of influence?
To begin with, we need to acknowledge that influence, at whatever level or form, is really a trust given for the common good. Therefore, we should accept it as such, and creatively put it in the service of God’s purposes of human flourishing. It is helpful to ask yourself: How is the power in my talent, position, experience going to be a conduit of blessing to others?
As well, influence is not for a privileged few; everyone has a handle on it. It could be in your character, your special skills and abilities, or your experience. Ultimately then, each of us has what it takes to be an influencer. Still, we acknowledge that influence is contextual. Our effectiveness as individuals is tied up with our being fully present in the time and spaces God has located us. For example, while I am concerned about the Israeli-Palestinian situation, at this moment, my greatest contribution to world peace is ensuring my girls don’t kill each other over the remote control! This is my context, and circle of influence.
However, influence tends to be inversely proportional to its long-term outcomes. While good initiatives and contributions may start small and intangibly, the outcomes will often be surpassed by their compounded significance, over time. Small talk with a disappointed KCPE candidate may fill her tank with enough oxygen to propel her to the top percentile of her class. This is a true story, and that girl has declared my wife her official mentor! And consider Mordecai. Who would have imagined a butler’s initiative to adopt a niece could intersect with God’s sovereign plan to position her on a platform power and influence? In his book, Culture Making, Crouch sees this asymmetry of individual inputs and their “unintended consequences” as critical to the culture-making enterprise. Thus, our influence can have a redemptive, transformative potential, when offered to God in faith and intentionality. This is no where better displayed than in parenting and mentoring relationships with young people.
Lastly, influence demands moral courage. If we hope to be change catalysts, we need the spine to act on our convictions about the ethical “oughtness” of what is at stake. Like Mordecai, or Mathai, we must follow the voice of conscience. As someone has said, good intentions are meaningless unless followed through.
No doubt, God has entrusted us with special personal qualities and abilities, experiences, resources, networks, and more. These are important levers of influence, and everyone has some. Ultimately, the question is never really about how much or little influence you have.
The real question is: What vision of change are you inspiring or pursuing?