Authority has gotten a bad rap for many decades now. One reason is that those in places of authority have abused that stewardship. Thus trust is pretty low amongst society regarding people in positions of authority. But authority is not inherently evil or bad. After all, our good God wields the ultimate authority. He uses his authority to influence our lives towards love and life. Shepherds need not have positional authority to influence others. In fact, it might be best to not utilize any authority in areas of influence even if one does have that positional authority. Yet, God invites us to use spiritual authority – that is his presence and power in our lives – t0 influence others. See the previous entry for more on this point.
So how can we influence others in healthy ways without having or utilizing positional authority? By the way, T. J. Addington posted a great write up on this subject recently – see his post How to influence others without telling them what to do or how to do it.
Motive: Their Good not Yours
Let’s begin with motive. Our motive of influence has to be for the other’s gain, not mine.
Yes, people come to us with pain, darkness, conflict, confusion, sin, and all the rest of their humanity. Shepherds have the privilege to lean into this messiness and tend to the one before us. This type of influence is personal and individualized. This sort of care is so lacking in the world today.
If I find myself getting impatient or pulling back rather than leaning in, that usually has more to do with my heart than the other person. The desired motive is to care for others even if that comes at a personal cost. And often that cost will be far more time than expected, lots of emotional energy, and no guarantee the ending will be a happy one. Where is your shepherd’s heart on influencing others? The shepherd is invited to lay their life down for others. One way we deny ourselves is to lean into other people’s messy lives, even if that takes inordinate amounts of time and energy.
One more thought on motive. It would be easy to take away from the previous paragraphs that we need to muster up the will to deny ourselves and care for others at personal cost. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do not self-generate that sort of love. God gives us that kind of love. He teaches us and shapes us and loves through us. The more we are experiencing the love of God to us as his adopted ones the more than love will overflow. Be loved by God, allow that love to overflow. That is the proper order.
Influencing Skill: Listening
There is no need for me to write much here. There are many great books out there on the subject. Like Proverbs, for example. Let me remind us of a simple truth.
A shepherd’s great opportunity is to know the other’s story. Who are they? How are they experiencing and being impacted by life? How are they experiencing and responding to God? What is God inviting them too? How can I encourage and assist them? We extend lots of questions and few words of advice. Listen. Then listen some more. In many cases, that will be enough. People just need to tell their story; to be heard and know at some level. The burden will be dissipated and they might just think you are a miracle worker too.
Influencing Skill: Journey with, Do not Fix
The principle here is simple: No fixing allowed. Period.
2 Corithians 1 gives a wonderful principle. The God of all comforts comforts us not by removing the various trials we suffer with, but rather promising his coming-alongside-presence. That is the meaning of the Greek in verses 3-7. And that is our model. If God has not fixed their problem, what makes me think I should? My greatest opportunity toward influence is to journey alongside people in their life-struggles. Being a journey-mate is a great honor. Shepherd’s walk along with the ailing sheep. Sometimes they pick them up and carry them for a ways.
In the End, Influence is about Relationship, not Positional Authority
There is much more than can be written on the subject of influence. You get the picture. Influence, the greatest life-changing influence, comes in the context of relational, heart-enagegment. No positional title and authority needed. Just a heart willing to tend to another one. That heart is granted by God to us. As shepherds love, the sheep’s trust will rise, hearts will open, and God will do his redemptive work. It is not a formula, but it is a redemptive way to influence.
Thus, if you do not have a fancy title of some sort, lack top-level doctoral degrees, and have not written any books lately, fret not. Your greatest influence is the presence and person of God in and through you. Allow him to extend himself through you. You will see life transformation happen before your very eyes.
What ways have you been significantly influenced by others? Do you have a short story to share?