You Are More Influential Than You Realize: Take An Influence Inventory

As many of you know, I’m writing a book on influence, specifically on ways we make or break our influence in other’s lives. Personal edits are almost done, and then it’s off to a professional editor. More on that soon!

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But the truth is, many people minimize their influence, not realizing how many people or groups they influence (or have the potential to influence). It’s hard to consider ways we might be hurting or helping others if we tend to minimize our connections.

For those of us who think, “I don’t really have a lot of influence,” I’ve got an exercise for you: take an influence inventory. And for those of you who know you have more connections, taking an influence inventory is a powerful way of remembering your responsibility and growing your intentionality.

Take an Influence Inventory

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First, start in close. Who are your primary relationships? Family, close friends, people you’ve worked with for awhile–these are the ones who come to mind first.

Move out from there. Who do you see less frequently? This could be a neighbour that you only chat with over the fence once in a while, or a person you rarely meet–but you do have connections of some kind.

Next, what groups are you part of? There’s the ones that you regularly see, such as at church or a hobby group.  These are societies or sports teams or service groups, addiction support groups and small groups of various kinds. And don’t forget your online forums, which, for some of you, are places you have significant voice.

Within those groups, consider the nature of your participation. Are you in leadership? Do you have a role within that group? Are you considered knowledgeable? Are you trusted? Are you able to be heard and to suggest changes? Are you a donor? A mover-shaker?

And then think of those who watch you from some distance. Nephews, nieces, kids of friends, community members at large, clerks at stores you frequent, servers at restaurants, customers–some of whom you may not be fully aware.

Don’t forget to include people that you’ve struggled with. A strained relationship at work or in the neighbourhood, someone you’ve not seen eye to eye with online or in conversation. You have more influence than you can imagine in those relationships because of how you can choose to go forward in your relationship with them.

Think of non-human relationships in which you have influence: the soil around your house, the air you breathe, the local watersheds, as well as the animals, birds and pollinators who live near you.

What about potentialities? Consider local initiatives you could support, artists you could encourage, youth you could mentor, events you could sponsor and people you could love.

I’m guessing that by now, you’ve got quite a list. Even those of you who thought you had little influence have probably amassed a sizeable inventory.

And what about your Heavenly Father, the one who made you and dwells in you by the Holy Spirit? For the Father is responsive to us, and has asked us to come to him, to express our concerns, to ask him for what we need. Surely, in some mysterious way, you have influence upon him?

Now step back: How big is your list? Are you stunned by the size of your inventory? Who did you miss? What surprised you? What other categories and relationships came to mind that I didn’t suggest?

Reality check: We all have influence–some more, some less, but everyone’s got it. We all have the ability to help others grow, or to hinder people from growing, either actively or passively. And the first step toward better influence is acknowledging who is within our sphere of influence.

Consider your list. I’m guessing there’s quite a few names on it. It might even be a bit overwhelming. To make it actionable, identify just a few of those relationships to give more focused attention. Make sure to include both the obvious relationships, as well as potential relationships and difficult ones, too. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to a relationship that you have been avoiding, in which you really could have good influence. Maybe circle 3-5 relationships in which you will invest time and energy over the next months.

And then pray for how God might move you to increase your influence. It could start as simply as an email or phone call. Perhaps it will mean hanging out a little longer after church or when you drop your kids off at the bus. Maybe it will require something more intentional, like asking a youth out for a coffee or signing up to serve in a ministry or service group. Let the Spirit guide you on that, but do choose to lean into a few of these relationships with more intentionality.

For those who were already aware of their influence, and perhaps a bit overwhelmed by it, what were the relationships that surprised you as you brainstormed your inventory? I know I found a few. Someone you’ve neglected. An area you’ve not been thinking about. It could be that God is using this exercise to recall someone or something to your attention, and you can now give it more of your influence and leadership.

We all have influence. Clarifying who is getting it (and who can get more) helps us become more intentional and specific about the nature of our influence, which is the first step in our reflection on all the ways we can make, or break, the influence we have in other’s lives.

 

20 Lessons/20 Years: Lesson #19: Character Trumps Gifting, Every Time

Would you rather work with someone super-gifted or someone truly trustworthy?

If you had to choose between a leader with skills or a leader with integrity, how long would you have to think about it?

We all know the answer because strength of character trumps skills and gifting, every time. That’s Lesson #19 of my 20 ministry lessons.

Vintage One Man Band More than 20 years ago, as I was finishing up an internship, a mentor spoke this truth into my life: “Tom, you’ve got lots of gifts, and as a young minister, many people will see your skills and gifts and assume depth of character. Don’t be fooled by that–place the growth of your character over the honing of your gifts, because in the end, it’ll be your character that truly matters.”

That’s the truth, folks. And those words stuck with me.

Because it is easy to see gifts and assume maturity. We do it all the time. When you serve others according to your gifts, especially if those involve worship leading, Bible teaching, and pastoral care, it is SO easy for people to think you are spiritually deeper than you really are. Either we, like the Corinthian Christians, assume spiritual gifts are related to spiritual maturity (they aren’t), or we just never drive deeper than what’s being presented publicly.

SupermanWhat my mentor helped me see is this: it’s deceptively easy to equate the kind things people say regarding my public ministry with the depth of my personal, spiritual growth. Not only would that assumption hurt me, it would eventually hurt my ministry, too. Rather, I must make the development of my character a priority focus. No one else would do that for me; they may even inadvertently help me overlook its importance.

Prioritizing character doesn’t downplay the importance of honing our skills or developing our gifts. Many of you know the frustration of working with someone who refuses to develop more skills or acknowledge weaknesses. The responsibility to grow in gifts is a given–we need to be getting better as leaders or givers or preachers or helpers if we are to truly help the body of Christ mature (see Romans 12:3-8). But make no mistake: We don’t do that at the expense of our relationship with God or the strengthening of our character. In the end, it’ll be depth of our character that holds us true, not the heightened power of our gifts.

So how do we make sure we aren’t blinded by ministry skills? Here are 6 ways to ensure our character growth outpaces our gift development.

  1. Find good mentors, be they dead or alive. Let them challenge you.
  2. Spend more energy on personal growth than skill development. Get practical about this–make a concrete plan, complete with dates.
  3. Deal with heart issues as soon as they are revealed. Don’t dodge them because no one else sees what you see (yet).
  4. Get trusted truth-tellers to help you identify your blind spots. The more you grow in gifting, the more difficult these truth-tellers are to find.
  5. Rigorously grow in self-awareness. Does it sound like I’m repeating myself? The more I lead, the more I’m convinced that self-awareness holds the key to a vibrant relationship with God in the context of sustainable ministry.
  6. Develop spiritual habits that create space for God to speak. Examples include solitude, silence, fasting, journaling and retreats, but there are many more. Find what works best for you. Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook are two very helpful resources.

Let me ask you two questions for reflection. Feel free to comment below.

  • When you consider the leaders who’ve fizzled out or harmed the church, has their failure been a character issue or a gifting issue?
  • What is your plan for expending more energy on the hidden things that matter most?

Spiritual Gifts Don't Ensure Spiritual Maturity


Only one more lesson to go. Here’s the first 18 ministry lessons I’ve posted through the month of May, reflecting on my first 20 years of vocational ministry.

 

20/20: 20 Lessons From 20 Years–Lesson #1: Good Mentors Matter

On May 1, 1996, I walked into the Grande Prairie Church of Christ to begin my first full-time ministry gig. I was 21. The ink on my pastoral degree from Peace River Bible Institute (PRBI) wasn’t even dry, nor were the spots behind my ears.

It’s been 20 years since then. No fireworks went off, and as it was Sunday, I worshiped and connected and preached in our church just as I normally do.

But this two decade mark got me thinking. What have I learned? How have I changed? What has defined my ministry journey so far? So many things rushed to my mind that I thought I’d try something different: I’ll post 20 lessons I’ve learned, over the course of May. (I may intersperse others posts, too). By breaking it down, I’ll keep things shorter and not overwhelm one post. 🙂

So, here goes.

20 Lessons I’ve Learned from 20 Years of Vocational Ministry

Lesson 1: Good Mentors Matter.

From my earliest days growing up, through Bible school and into vocational ministry, I have been blessed with terrific mentors. Alan Jones, as my first vocational ministry leader heads that list, but there are others who’ve significantly impacted my life and ministry. Gerald, Waldie, Al and Duff, all who have walked with me “in the flesh” as it were. But, as I’ve written elsewhere, I’ve been shaped by good dead mentors, too, such as Hudson Taylor, Lesslie Newbigin, Karl Barth, C.S. Lewis and Henri Nouwen. I also have high regard for ministry mentors I’ve happily accessed through books, teachings and podcasts, such as James Houston, Eugene PetersonBill Hybels, Andy Stanley and Carey Neiuwhof.

Whether they be dead or alive, close-up or influencing me from a distance, mentors have made me who I am. These mentors have:

  • Challenged my character
  • Shaped my skills
  • Given me opportunities
  • Pushed me to step up
  • Showed me what truly matters
  • Kept me focused
  • Believed in me
  • Brought me back to the basics
  • Alerted me to pitfalls
  • Taught me God’s Word
  • Cut through the confusion
  • Led me toward health and strength
  • Made me more effective as a minister
  • Nurtured my relationship with Jesus

In fact, many of the lessons I’ll be sharing came from my good mentors.

Mentors have sharpened me, helping me become who God wanted me to be.
Mentors have sharpened me, helping me become who God wanted me to be.

Good mentors matter, not only for how they have shaped me, but also for how they have then helped me mentor others. As I have been led, so I have led. We know that’s how it goes. As I’ve learned and grown, as I’ve been challenged and shaped, what I have experienced I have passed on.  The influence of my mentors continues to extend to those I mentor. May their influence continue.

I’m challenged by this lesson because it reminds me of how vital mentoring is for the church today. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it were not for great mentors. Nor would they.

So who is around me now that needs my close attention?
Who is around you? 

Coming up in my next post: Ministry Happens Best in Teams

 

Top 10 Excuses Christians Give For Not Making Disciples

You had one job. 

Have you seen these funny memes circulating through social media, featuring mistakes made doing one, clear job?

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I wonder sometimes if that’s what Jesus will say to us? Before Jesus left, he gave his peeps one job: make more disciples. Very clear. Not really up for debate. Jesus, possessing all authority in heaven and earth, tells people who are under his all-encompassing authority to do just one thing: Make More Disciples.

Every Jesus-follower agrees. Any church worth the name “church” hails Jesus’ Great Commission as their central mission.

But is that what we are doing? Are we making more disciples?

Sort of.

When I look around the church-scape, I am happy to say that “Yes, disciples are being made.” Men and women, boys and girls, are coming to follow Jesus, and I celebrate that! It’s amazing to see. But–and here’s my concern–making disciples seems to happen more by accident than intention. I’m thrilled for each person following Jesus, but can we do better? I think so.

When questioned about our one job, we often make more excuses than disciples. I’ve hear them from others; I hear them whispered in my own heart. Here’s the top 10 excuses I’ve heard. Do any of them sound familiar?

The Top 10 Excuses Christians Give For Not Making Disciples

  1. I can’t disciple someone because I still have faith struggles.  This one’s a classic. We think we must operate at some higher level of spirituality to make disciples.  Listen, we are not perfect saints; we are forgiven sinners. What matters is who we follow together–he’s got enough perfection for all of us. Don’t let this excuse keep you from obedience.
  2. I don’t know enough.  While teaching and learning are central to discipleship, we don’t need to know everything. Invite people into places where you are learning and praying and serving. And as you do tAccident or Intention?hat, your own learning will accelerate quickly.
  3. I don’t know what to do. Discipleship is not complicated; it’s not about a technique or methodology. Wondering what to do? Here’s my thing: just start. Invite a friend to discuss spiritual things. Take someone to church with you. Pray for a friend. Learn along the way. It’s not nearly as complicated as you think. It’s simply helping someone take the next step after Jesus.
  4. That’s the pastor’s job. I love this one. As a pastor, I want to laugh out loud, mostly because it’s so absurd. All disciples must make disciples. Pastors help us become better disciple-makers, so we can all do our one job.
  5. I don’t want to be presumptuous. Actually, it’s not called presumption to help someone follow Jesus–it’s called loving obedience. Remember: any trace of presumption or hierarchy is evidence that you’ve forgotten what’s going on: we are not making people our disciples but disciples of Jesus.
  6. I’m not an academic.  You don’t need to be. In some circles discipleship has, unfortunately, become a kind of rigorous academic program–read these 40 books, pray 2 hours a day, etc. Discipleship is not primarily academic, though it includes loving God with our whole mind, as well as heart, soul and strength. In the end, we are not becoming religious egg-heads who know stuff but passionate followers of Jesus who serve him in the world. Be who you are.
  7. I tried that once and it didn’t go well.  Yep. Sometimes things don’t go well. That’s just true. And we learn through it. But stopping because it didn’t work out well? I don’t think Jesus left us that option.
  8. I don’t have time. Then your priorities are wrong. At any job, how long would we last if we kept ignoring the one thing we had been tasked to do, claiming we don’t have the time for it?
  9. I don’t feel I have much to give. This one really shuts people down, and often includes a combination of excuses. Here’s the fact: none of us have that much to give, but by the Holy Spirit can give through us. Keep your relationship with Jesus in focus, and simply share where you are growing. Let Jesus be the giver.
  10. I don’t want to. This final one isn’t an excuse–it’s flat out disobedience. If we are honest, there are times when we hear Jesus’ commission to us and we reject it. We don’t want to. What do we do with that? We need to repent, reconnect with Jesus’ heart for people, and get on with the task at hand. Because in the end, we only have one job. Are we getting it done? 

What kind of excuses do you hear the most? Which ones do you use?

How can we become more intentional disciple-makers?

10 Actions I Took When Mentoring One Young Leader

Mentoring young leaders is top priority. If the crush of life squeezes that out, then we’d better reevaluate what’s truly important. Dare I say it? Jesus placed mentoring young leaders as his top ministry priority. So should we.

I’ve had the privilege of walking alongside many young people as they follow Jesus. It’s one of the most influential things I’ve done.

Most recently, I’ve walked alongside one young follower of Jesus, from her pre-teen years through to college. Her name is Maddie.

How did the mentoring start? Not as mentoring, I assure you; it emerged from normal life. Our families are friends, and I connected with this little girl, just like I’d do with anyone. In 2011, I had the privilege of baptizing her into Christ. As she became an early teen, we chatted about books we loved and shared favourites.

As a violinist, Maddie has faithfully served our church, first as a budding, and now accomplished, musician. Our friendship grew, and in conversations with her, I saw a growing interest in science and faith, as she considered science for future study. Knowing how critical the integration of science and faith is for students, I asked if she wanted to meet for a coffee once a month to discuss some reading. Yes, she did. And so, mentoring began more formally.

After some time in the early chapters of Genesis, we dove into Ephesians. Why Ephesians, you ask? My vision for her was larger than just science and faith. To grow,  she needed to know how to read and receive God’s living word into her life. She was eager for that, too.

We then read and discussed a couple books on the topic of science and faith. Our conversations ranged from science and faith and into life, relationships, future plans, work struggles, God’s work in her life, her ministry in the church, and her family.

Maddie Preaching
Maddie preaching in our summer 2015 Proverbs series on “Making Good Plans”.

Seeing her deep engagement in Scripture and her passion for Jesus, I asked Maddie to preach during our summer 2015 Proverbs series. Initially taken aback (she was 16 at the time), I saw the passion flicker in her eyes. She leaped at the opportunity. Along with my close coaching, she chose her Proverbs theme, researched, prayed, studied, wrote, and then practiced her message delivery, many times. And then she preached it! It was a powerful experience of growth and development for her, for me, and for congregation. (You can listen to her message here.)

That preaching experience confirmed something that God had been growing in her–a desire to give herself fully to God’s kingdom work, using her spiritual gifts to help people grow in their relationship with Jesus. Where will that lead her? God only knows, but his path is beginning to unfold as Maddie leaves college science to pursue theological studies this fall. Wherever Jesus leads her, being invited into a mentoring relationship, being coached, encouraged, trusted, and affirmed by her community–all of that has shaped Maddie’s understanding of God, of herself, and of God’s passionate call on her life. I’m thrilled with her and thankful for God’s work in her.

Can you see why it’s such a privilege to walk with young leaders? 

As I reflected on our mentoring experience, some principles emerged. While happening naturally and intuitively, there are 10 actions I took when mentoring Maddie. I hope these encourage you as you walk alongside young leaders, too.

10 Actions You Can Take To Mentor Young Leaders

  1. You look for promise. Ask the Spirit to give you eyes to see the potential that lies in the person.
  2. You commit to guide, gently. I wouldn’t rush this. Don’t be overbearing. Let it develop slowly. Be present. Be Jesus placed mentoring young leaders as his top ministry priority.encouraging. Build trust.
  3. You look for response. At certain points, response is needed. They must take initiative.  This is important. Maddie said yes to reading and meeting for coffee.
  4. You provide opportunities for leadership, service and growth. If there’s no interest in serving or growing, they aren’t ready. That’s okay. Stay present. And keep watching.
  5. You speak life into them.  Tell them what you see. Encourage them, notice what is happening, fan the flames of their gifts. Cheer them on.
  6. You step out and call them deeply, onto risky paths. And then, because of trust, moments will arise when you can challenge them. I invited Maddie to preach; later, I raised the question of God’s call on her life. For each young leader this will be unique. But the challenge should be something that, though stretching for them, is within the realm of their developing gifts.
  7. You pray for them. Yep, lots. And their family, too.
  8. You help them grapple with possible paths. The future can look daunting, but having a guide to define and describe what a few possibilities might look like helps. A few months ago Maddie asked me to help her envision a couple future possibilities. It was exciting and I think she found that guidance helpful.
  9. You let the Holy Spirit lead. This is so crucial. We are not the ones leading a young leader’s life–the Spirit is. Our role is encouragement, support, cheer and challenge, helping them learn to follow the Spirit’s lead.
  10. You stay connected. Young leaders usually move on. But we still play an important role in their lives. Over the last year, Maddie and I haven’t met regularly as she’s been away at community college. But we stay connected through social media, as well as on weekends at church, and I keep encouraging her (and she keeps encouraging me!) as we follow Jesus.

Mentoring young leaders is top priority. So many things demand our time and our energy but none so important as this. Young leaders are worth making sacrifices for, so they become all that God has created and called them to be. Are you in?

How can we make sure young leaders are being mentored as they grow up?

What would you add to this list of 10 actions?

 

Finding Dead Mentors

Looking for a mentor? Your best spiritual mentors are probably already dead.

Really.

Living saints make good mentors, but don’t overlook the depth of spiritual direction we’ve already received from brothers and sisters gone on before us. Joining in the “communion of the saints” is a vital way of growing and learning, walking our days in the company of good men and holy women of old.

Over the last number of months, I’ve been walking more closely with C.S. Lewis again.Lewis bio After reading an early biography of Lewis by Hooper and Green in December, I dug into Mere Christianity (on audio from the library), a book that I’ve read a few times in the past. I couldn’t get enough of it, listening three times through, reflecting on his depth of insight and how his view of the Christian life helps me personally and pastorally. As I listened, there were moments of insight regarding situations I was facing, people I have been counseling, priorities I was struggling with. Like any good mentor, he has been able to speak into my life and guide me toward wisdom.  After reading The Great Divorce over Christmas, I then pulled a Lewis anthologyIMG_1665 off my shelf for 2016–The Business of Heaven takes short portions from Lewis’ theological works and sorts them into 365 daily readings. Other writings will round out the year. Lewis has mentored me in the past, and I’m walking with him again this year. More than once I’ve thanked God for his gift of Lewis to me.

There are many other mentors. Some are contemporaries, having passed into glory only recently, like Henri Nouwen, Elizabeth Eliot, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Lesslie Newbigin.  Reaching further back we can walk with George MacDonald or even Teresa of Avila. For the stouter of heart, we can be mentored by some of the prolific theologians who’ve shaped us as a church, men like Augustine, Calvin, Luther and Wesley. And then we can venture further back yet to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the early church fathers, saints of old who offer a stunning depth of insight crossing time, space and culture in surprising, Spirit-filled ways.

Lewis himself, in his introduction to Athanasius’s work On the Incarnation, extolled the value of old books, arguing that by accessing writers of old (dare I say, dead mentors?) we are able to recognize errors of today.

Here’s how he said it:

“The only palliative [for our contemporary blindness to shared error] is to keep theCS-Lewis-on-the-Reading-of-Old-Books clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.” (C.S Lewis, from the introduction of On the Incarnation.)

We can find live mentors, and we should read contemporary authors. But let’s not forget the riches of the past, the depth of insight waiting to be given, from saints who’ve trod this very soil, faithfully following the same Jesus we follow today.

How have you found Christians from the past helpful in your walk today?

Do you have a favorite dead mentor?