Everyone Has Influence :: Unlikely Leaders

At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series, Everyone Has Influence .

Each of us is given a measure of influence to build each other up, to serve one another, and to help the people around us become the best version of themselves. Have you taken the time to explore how your personal leadership can make a real difference? What will you choose to do with the influence God has given to you?

Next Steps

These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.

HERE IS THE AUDIO OF THE MESSAGE I SHARED:

HERE ARE THE NOTES FROM THE MESSAGE BY JUSTIN MCCARTY:

EVERYONE HAS INFLUENCE :: UNLIKELY LEADERS

Right where you are is the best place to use the influence God has given you.

In this series, we have been looking at the profound truth that is easy to overlook: each of us has been granted a sphere of influence — a zone/place where we can create change in other people’s lives, either for good or bad. And the leaders among us are those who recognize that influence and begin using it intentionally. A true leader grows in that ability, they develop, hone, expand their capacity. In that sense, all of us lead — or at least have the capacity to lead — in some part of our life.

Our world has a strong sense of gravity — not just physical. Everything is prone to sink, to degrade, to spiral downward — our vision, our sense of purpose, our effectiveness, our passion, the values we say we hold to, even the trajectory of history. Leaders who stand with God join Him in lifting that trend line. They do it in how they choose their attitude, how they speak, how they care for people, how they prioritize their time, what they sacrifice for… Not perfect, but leaders use their influence to lift when everyone else is content to sink. Suddenly, it made sense to me. I wasn’t a general or a CEO, but I couldn’t stand the thought of watching the world sink around me while I did nothing. I deeply wanted to lift, right where I was, no matter who I was with. Which led me to the question: Would I be intentional with whatever measure of influence I have? Rather than going with the flow, would I lift wherever it was needed?

What about you? Maybe you were born a leader and get all this — be patient with the rest of us. Perhaps you’re an unlikely leader. Unlikely leaders like us tend to have a list of reasons why they can’t or shouldn’t lead. Any of these resonant with you?

  1. I don’t have any authority — This is a bad case of the “I’m justas” — “I’m just a fast food worker, I’m just a student, I’m just a mid-level manager, I’m just a…” We think those in authority — the ones who are in charge — are leaders. Perhaps they are. But today we are talking about wielding our influence intentionally — that has never been limited by title, rank or position. You can lead right where you are among those you do have influence with. You might be a stay at home mom, mechanic, secretary, but you aren’t just anything. You are far more because God has given you influence right where you are!
  2. I’m not like them — This is the comparison game. Unlikely leaders are quick to look to other people that fit some kind of leadership stereotype, and then count themselves out. Like I did, they have a false picture of what a leader is — a general, CEO… maybe coach, parent, mentor — and only see how they don’t measure up. Never realizing that leadership styles are as unique as thumbprints — you don’t have to be a certain kind of person to lead; it’s about how you intentionally use the influence you have.
  3. You don’t know what I’ve done — Sometimes unlikely leaders do have a track record of influencing people — only they have led them in the wrong direction. They look at their lives and see the damage and destruction caused by their influence — how they helped others compromise values, breeze past wise boundaries, settle into destructive patterns, even criminal behavior. All they see is failure, shame, disqualification.
  4. I’m nobody — Unlikely leaders often feel like their life is too ordinary, too insignificant to make any real impact on the world. They pay bills, buy groceries, sit in traffic — that can’t be the life of a leader! All the while they overlook that oftentimes the most important leadership isn’t in the spectacular, it’s in the ordinary!

If I’ve described you — then you aren’t alone. The Bible is full of people who were absolutely “unlikely leaders”! People that are now more legendary than relatable, people who we name our children after, but started out with so many of the same issues… people that by all rights should have been forgotten to history. And yet, they are powerful leaders whose influence ripples into today. I would like to introduce you to a few unlikely leaders and point to the incredible lifting they were doing with God to change their world.

RUTH

One of the shortest books in the Old Testament bears the name of one of the most unlikely leaders in history — Ruth. While most of the Old Testament centers around the Jewish people, Ruth was not. She was a foreigner, a Moabite woman who married into a Jewish family. Sadly, her husband died unexpectedly, leaving her alone with her mother-in-law, Naomi. When this tragedy befalls Ruth, Naomi is quick to tell Ruth to move on, to go back to her people and begin a new life. But Ruth doesn’t budge — she refuses to leave Naomi. There’s a fierce sense of loyalty and devotion that comes roaring out of Ruth.   But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.  Ruth 1:16-18 NLT  I think Naomi is a little frightened 🙂 But Ruth doesn’t stick around, she serves and cares for the elderly Naomi; scraping together food and making ends meet.

In time she comes into contact with one of Naomi’s relatives, Boaz, who is utterly impressed with Ruth — her work ethic, her compassion, and her devotion to Naomi. He goes out of his way to make her life easier, arranging protection for her as she labors in the fields to provide for Naomi. When she asks him why, Boaz responds: Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord,the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” Ruth 2:11-12 NIV

How is Ruth using her influence… what is she lifting as a leader? Leaders Lift Character. Ruth has chosen the high road… the way of integrity, loyalty, devotion, compassion, love. It’s not the easy way. The easier way would have been to look out for herself, to go home and build her own life, to look at Naomi and say “You’re on your own.” But she didn’t. She chose to lift character — right where she was, in the ways she could. She didn’t let those lies we discussed earlier — “I don’t have any authority” or “I’m nobody” limit or define her. Not only did she change Naomi’s life, but people took notice. She exerted influence through her character — Boaz saw it, and blessing came her way because of it.

Our world is in desperate need of leaders who will lift character. We are inundated with so many influencers in our 21st-century, Instagramed & media saturated world. But we are short on people of character… people we can trust, people of integrity, people who serve rather than demand to be served. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Philippians 2:15 NLT You, right where you are can choose the path of character — not perfectly — but intentionally. And Philippians says it lights up our world, light shining in darkness. Right where you are — you can lift character in your office, your classroom, your neighborhood, your social media voice, etc. Not only will you impact the lives of the people around you for what is good, others take notice and blessing often comes your way. Incidentally, Ruth turned out to be great grandmother to King David, and ultimately part of Jesus Christ’s lineage. Amazing what happens when we lift character.

JOSEPH

Another one of the unlikely leaders that you’ll find in the Bible is a man named Joseph, his story is found in the book of Genesis. Now, if you know the end of the story, Joseph ends up as an astounding leader — entrusted with the entirety of the Egyptian government and, through wise management, subsequently saved the entire region from famine. But, that’s the end of Joseph’s story — at the beginning, he’s a rather unlikely leader.

His time in Egypt starts as a slave — he’s been betrayed by own family and is sold on the block to an Egyptian official named, Potiphar. Far from home, enslaved, nobody, right? But almost immediately, there’s some different about Joseph uses his influence, even as a slave. The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. Potiphar noticed this and realized that the Lord was with Joseph, giving him success in everything he did. This pleased Potiphar, so he soon made Joseph his personal attendant. He put him in charge of his entire household and everything he owned. From the day Joseph was put in charge of his master’s household and property, the Lord began to bless Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake. All his household affairs ran smoothly, and his crops and livestock flourished. So Potiphar gave Joseph complete administrative responsibility over everything he owned. With Joseph there, he didn’t worry about a thing—except what kind of food to eat!  Genesis 39:2-6 NLT When, as a slave, Joseph basically takes charge of everything that Potiphar owns — that’s influence, people! But what was he lifting in how he exerted that influence? Leaders Lift Competence Joseph worked diligently and faithfully, stewarding well what was given to him. I think Joseph attacked whatever he did — even as a slave — with a desire to bring excellence to it. He worked at his responsibilities and got better at them, and as a result, it was natural for Potiphar to entrust him with more.

How are you doing with competence, right where you are? Do you show up in your home, at your office, in your class, at on the field, wherever you are — with Joseph’s attitude? Whatever I’m doing right now, but my desire is to bring excellence to it? Many of us see the things we’re doing as beneath us, or unimportant, or just a distraction. But to a follower of Christ, there are no small jobs. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.Colossians 3:23-24 NIV (Incidentally, this was written from the apostle Paul directly to slaves, just like Joseph.) Whether it’s flipping burgers, performing surgery, changing diapers, or taking exams, our influence can be exerted by doing it with excellence and striving to get better at it. If Christ followers taking Paul’s words seriously, then we ought to be the best bakers, construction workers, mechanics, nurses, IT professionals, government workers, whatever — every sector could be lifted because a Christ-following leader is there, lifting!

By the way, if you’re listening to this, and thinking, “you don’t know the challenges I face and how hard my life is,” I encourage you to keep reading the story of Joseph. It turns out he wound up in prison through no fault of his own. Not the place you tend to go to for world class leadership right ? But guess what he did there? Went right to work lifting competence — as a prisoner!

BARNABAS

The last unlikely leader I want to introduce you to is a disciple of Jesus named Barnabas. Barnabas was one of the early Christ followers, first shows up in the Book of Acts. However, he’s not one of the main leaders, not an apostle. His name means “son of encouragement” and he’s super generous, so he’s probably super optimistic, maybe a little gullible, good guy — not necessarily a big influencer.

That is until this anti-Christian, hate-filled person named Saul has an unexpected encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Saul is utterly transformed from the inside out. Despite being a persecutor of Christians — meaning he cheered on the death of Christ followers and used Gestapo-like tactics to drag them off to prison — he suddenly takes up the cause and starts preaching about Jesus. He even tries to go to Jerusalem, the epicenter of Christianity at the time, to get to know the apostles. But no one is buying it! They think he’s just conning everyone, trying to lure Christians out of hiding, so no one will even meet with him!

Except Barnabas. When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. Acts 9:26-28 NIV Barnabas used what influence he had to vouch for Saul (who later became Paul and incidentally wrote most of the New Testament). When no one else would even get close to Saul, Barnabas was the first one to cross the line, to make himself vulnerable, to listen to Saul’s story, and then go to the mat for him. Because we weren’t there in first-century Jerusalem, I don’t think I can adequately convey how gutsy this was for Barnabas to do. Not only could he have lost his life, but he also could have cost countless other Christians theirs, but he defied fear and chose to step into what God was doing. Leaders Lift Courage.

I promise you, someday soon — maybe tomorrow — there will be a need for courage, right where you are. Courage to speak up to what you know is wrong, courage to step across the line like Barnabas did, courage to do the right thing when everyone else is taking a pass, courage to stand up for someone, courage to resist the voice of fear yelling in your ear. You have a sphere of influence, and without lifting courage, that sphere is prone to sinking. Sometimes, acts of courage aren’t breaking news headlines — in fact, most of them aren’t. But when each of us sets aside our own comfort or convenience to lift in our world, lots of small acts of courage combine into a giant impact.

Our world needs lifters — people who lift character, competence, courage. Even if you’ve never considered yourself a leader — you have influence. Everyone does. What if each of us took responsibility for whatever measure of it we had? What if, like Ruth, we picked the higher road — even when no one is looking? What if like Joseph, we worked with all our hearts even on small, seemingly insignificant things like it was foremost on God’s mind? What if, like Barnabas, we stepped forward boldly for what is right, even if everyone else cowers in fear? Then, instead of sinking, the world rises, my friends — one life at a time.

 

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