Thirty-five years ago, I was taught a lesson that would shape my thinking and inform nearly every leadership decision I would make going forward in my life as a pastor, a husband, a dad, and a friend.
Back then, when I served as a youth minister in a large church, our senior pastor of over thirty years, died suddenly. It was a stunning, unexpected loss.
Shortly after his death, I received a phone call from a really big dog preacher from a really big dog church. He called to ask me if I would be interested in leaving where I was and joining his staff as their youth minister. His pitch? A fat salary…more resources…superior facilities…advanced systems…deeper pockets…a larger audience…more prestige…and greater influence.
Who wouldn’t want that?
Honestly, I was pretty offended by his approach. He clearly didn’t know me and what, if anything, would catch my eye or grab my heart. Money… resources…facilities…systems…meh. But there was one part of the offer that created a pause.
He asked me if I was interested in widening my influence. He challenged me with the thrill of reaching a larger audience and seeing my ministry breadth expand. His appeal reminded me of the Bible passage used to appeal to our sense of leadership duty: expansion.
Jabez called out to the God of Israel, “If only you would greatly bless me and expand my territory! May your hand be with me! Keep me from harm so I might not endure pain!” And God gave him what he asked for.
1 Chronicles 4:10
(Btw…I have a few problems with some of the interpretations of this passage in the Prayer of Jabez book that was popular back in the early 2000’s. Anybody surprised?)
But while my sense of obedience and commitment to Kingdom work was being tantalized by the aroma of a godly responsibility to pursue bigger and better and more, Wanda (my personal, tangible voice of God) spoke wisdom and sensibility to the situation:
“Why do you need more influence? Why not be faithful to the people God has already put into our lives?”
And with that, a personal theology of ministry was cemented in our lives.
I used to believe that influence was determined by breadth. I no longer believe that. Although influence can be realized on a grander scale in some cases, I prefer to evaluate my influence by a different measuring stick. I’ll take depth over breadth every time. Increasing the number of people I influence no longer holds an appeal to me. Deepening the quality of my influence does.
After all these years, I know myself pretty well. I am neither wired nor gifted to communicate to masses. I just connect better to people I know. I want to see people’s eyes when I talk and I want to know their stories, if I am going to speak truth to their hearts.
Maybe God really does call some people to have an ever-widening circle of influence. Mega-large church buildings get filled. Jesus books get sold by the truck load. New spiritual conferences pop up like weeds and people flock to them to hear the best, brightest, and most successful. Maybe that’s the kind of influence Jesus died on the cross for. Maybe not. I’m not smart enough to figure that one out.
But thankfully, young skywalker, this one nugget of significant truth seeped into my heart years ago because Wanda had enough confidence…and enough sense… to challenge the dominant church leadership message of our day and speak the words I needed to hear:
We don’t need more influence. We need better influence.
Be faithful, Noob. Be faithful.