“What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you’re saying” was once noted by American author, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Emerson’s observation speaks to the importance and impact of our influence.
The dictionary defines influences as “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.” Simply defined influence is the sway one has over others.
Leadership guru, John Maxwell, defines leadership as influence. To turn that around our influence has the capacity to direct and lead others. Of course, the opposite is true as well. There’s an old adage that says “He who thinketh he leadeth and hath no one following is only taking a walk.”
This principle of a life that leads is expressed (and highlighted) in Paul’s compliment to the Thessalonians on their reception of the gospel.
For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. (1 Thess. 1:5).
While the power of convict, convince and convert sinners is in the gospel, it is possible for preachers to blunt the gospel’s impact by failing to practice what we preach. The message may be negated by the mess the messenger has made of his life. Paul’s life was known. They could see it. And his practice complemented his preaching.
C. H. Spurgeon expressed the importance of influence when he wrote, “A man’s life is always more forcible than his speech. When men take stock of him they reckon his deeds as dollars and his words as pennies. If his life and doctrine disagree the mass of onlookers accepts his practice and rejects his preaching.”
In his fine book Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders, relates how the missionary, John Geddie, went to Aneityum in 1848 and worked there for 24 years. On the tablet erected to his memory these words are inscribed:
“When he landed, in 1848, there were no Christians. When he left, in 1872, there were no heathen.”
In fact, a preacher’s influence is felt in the pulpit, not just by what he says, but how he says it. If we disrespect God’s Word by being unprepared, people soon take note. If we speak the Truth without love and compassion for our hearers, they may tune out the message because of the attitude and demeanor of the messenger.
Of course, this principle applies to Shepherds, deacons, and all those in positions of leadership in the assembly and the work of the local church. What do the brethren see? What influence are we exerting? Would a visitor who knows you be shocked to hear you leading a prayer?
The application of this principle is far-reaching beyond the church building.
Christian wives can influence their non-believing husbands to obey without preaching, or nagging, but by the sheer impact of their godly influence (1 Pet. 3:1-6).
What about our influence in our daily lives at work? In the community? In our clubs? Or a social setting? As we shun evil, do good, and engage in honest and honorable conduct, people see that we’re serious about our faith. However, if they hear out of our mouths foul language, see shady business dealings, and observe us compromising our convictions, any efforts to invite them to church, or study the Bible will fall on deaf ears.
Parents also need to realize how powerful their example is to their children. Do they see regular church attendance as a priority in our lives? What about daily prayer? And Bible reading? Does our own language match what we preach to them? What about controlling our emotions? Or telling the truth?
There’s a poem by James Gibbeon, entitled “The Little Chap Who Follows Me” which in part goes like this:
A careful man I want to be;
A little fellow follows me.
I do not dare to go astray
For fear he’ll go the self same way.
I cannot once escape his eyes,
Whate’er he sees me do, he tries.
Like me he says he’s going to be;
The little chap who follows me.
Paul said, “you know what kind of men we were among you.” People know. Your brethren know. Your co-workers know. Your friends know. Your children know. And, of course, the Lord knows.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman