Leadership: Being a Person of Influence

One of Aesop’s Fables tells of a community of frogs who wanted a leader. They bothered Jupiter so much that he finally dropped a log into a pond and told them this was their leader. They loved the log- they could jump on it and bounce up and down and it never complained. Pretty soon, however, they got tired of their leader because it didn’t do anything except float back and forth on the pond. So they once again complained to Jupiter that they wanted stronger leadership. So Jupiter replaced the log with a stork. It was stately and tall, and strutted back and forth making all kinds of noise. The frogs loved it, but were horrified when the stork began eating its subordinates.

Leadership is often viewed in terms of one of these two extremes—wishy-washy or tyrant, with the ideal being somewhere in the middle. However, my understanding of leadership is much simpler. A leader is someone who has followers and has an influence over them (for good or ill). By that definition, just about everyone is a leader. I thought about that a few days ago when I was changing my little granddaughter’s diapers. “I’m a leader,” I thought, “and my granddaughter is a follower, and I am having a significant influence over her for good.” Believe it or not, the thought dignified an undignified task.

However, I have had  a few other leadership positions over the years (other than diaper-changing) and thought I would distill just a few things for you that I have learned as essential to developing as a person of influence:

  • Continue to develop a healthy and godly interior life. Just as most of an iceberg is submerged, so most of what makes a person of influence lies beneath the surface. Daily times in prayer and in God’s Word, keeping short accounts by confession and repentance, and being a loving person of influence within your own home. Remember you have people at home who see both above and beneath the surface of your life.
  • Surround yourself with strong and gifted associates. As Captain Dick Winters of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (Band of Brothers) said, “Delegate real responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their jobs.” Some of them will do so well that you might feel intimidated and even struggle a bit with jealously, but your leadership will be demonstrated by forming these gifted individuals into a great team and making them into better leaders than you. Andrew Carnegie wanted his epitaph to read: “Here lies a man who attracted better people into his service than he was himself.”  I have had some incredible associates on my staff teams over the years and have had pangs of jealousy. However, there was also a deeper commitment in my heart to making these younger folks better pastors than me.
  • See yourself as a servant- not a log or a stork, but someone who wants to help others grow and accomplish certain goals. When Jesus heard his disciples arguing which of them was the greatest and in Luke 22 he said, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over the people…but you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who leads like the one who serves.” Haven’t you been influenced most by people who have taken an interest in you, cared for you, and imparted vision to you? These are people who have humbled themselves to listen to you, affirm you, and encourage you. It is such people who are the “myth-builders” and “story-tellers,” and can lead others and motivate them.  Ernest Shackleton was a British explorer who led 3 expeditions to the Antarctic. While he was never successful at being the first to reach the South Pole, his reputation as a leader of teams which overcame unimaginable odds became the major contribution of his life. His leadership focused on relationship and not power, and he was able to take the greatest malcontent and make him a valuable team member by spending time with him and encouraging him.
  • Practice MBWA- a term coined way back in 1982, in a book by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence. It means “Manage By Wandering Around.” It was one of the key leadership principles of Abe Lincoln. It was said he spent 75% of his time meeting with people; he has visibility and availability. Lincoln once relieved Gen. John Fremont from his command because, “his cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows nobody to see him, and does not know what is going on around him.” This is essential to being a person of influence- you must be around your people and know them.

One final thought: care for yourself spiritually (as we have stated), but also physically. Exercise regularly; be careful what you eat; take time away; read widely; build a Sabbath rest into your schedule. As they say on the airplane—”put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then your loved ones.” It sounds selfish, but it is a necessity if you want to be around to serve others. Robert Murray McCheyne, a very famous and powerful Scottish preacher lay dying at the age of 29. He confided to a friend, “God gave me a message to deliver and a horse to ride. Alas, I have killed the horse (referring to his physical health) and now cannot deliver the message.” No one is irreplaceable, but God has made us instruments of his influence. The more in tune the instrument, the more profound and lasting the influence.

May God bless you as you lead today!

 Elijah vs. Giant Despair


In Pilgrim’s Progress, the classic allegory of the Christian life, there is an episode where Christian (main character) along with his traveling companion (Hopeful) were captured by the Giant Despair, taken back to Doubting Castle where the giant lived with his wife Gloom, and thrown into the dungeon. You will need to read that episode for yourself to see the outcome, but I will give you a hint– the Key of Promise. John Bunyan vividly portrayed the discouragement and despair which often overtakes the child of God on the journey to the Celestial City.

In 1 Kings 19, we see the powerful prophet Elijah emotionally and spiritually shriveled by the death-threat of Queen Jezebel, after he had singlehandedly defeated 850 of her prophets and priests of Baal. One would think that Elijah would have been pumped and ready for anything, but his condition revealed the vulnerability and exhaustion that often accompanies great victories in ministry or periods of great demands in life. (Just as Christian’s capture by the Giant Despair followed the trauma of persecution in Vanity Fair and his miraculous escape.)

Elijah fled from Jezebel because of fear and went into the wilderness to be alone. The text reveals other symptoms of his condition; he was exhausted, he was ready to quit his job, he was filled with self-pity, and he prayed that he might die. In response, the Lord applied some tender therapy; He touched him, He gave him something to eat, He told him to sleep some more, He touched him again, and gave him more food and drink for the rest of his journey. Compassionate touch, plenty of rest (but not too much), and a nutritional diet were what Elijah’s Creator provided for him in this desperate condition.

(I realize that there are those whose depression is more chronic and for whom the aforementioned therapy will not help much. I might suggest, however, that compassionate touch may include counseling and the dietary portion may also include the proper use of medication.)

Elijah was not out of the dungeon yet. He was still on the run and still alone, although physically he was on the mend. (He was definitely getting lots of exercise.) As he sat in his secure cave on Mt Horeb, where he knew he would not be found, he was in a better place to start working through his issues with God. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God asked. Elijah still engaged in a bit of a pity-party about being the only one in all of Israel who remained faithful and was being persecuted. Maybe there was also a hint of complaint that he deserved better from God.

God told him to get out of his cave and stand before Him on the mountain. Then he was to listen for God- really, really listen. What great advice when we are discouraged; to get out of our caves, stand before God, and really listen to Him instead of our own self-talk. Elijah was able to hear the still and quiet voice of God repeating the same question as before, “Why are you here, Elijah?”

Elijah repeated the very same complaint after hearing God’s voice and yet somehow it was different. Apparently the Lord saw it was no longer tainted with self-pity, but an honest confession of his condition; a sign that Elijah was ready to be put back in the lineup. God gave Elijah three ministry assignments; anointing two kings and selecting a protege. All three tasks had to do with the future; Elijah was out of the dungeon.

There was one more thing that God said, maybe as Elijah was walking away. “Incidentally, you aren’t the only faithful one in Israel. There are also 7,000 faithful ones who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” We often need to be reminded that we are not alone either in our suffering or in our faithfulness.



Yesterday, many people celebrated the National Day of Prayer and Holocaust Remembrance Day. Many Christians around the world also celebrated Ascension Day and will celebrate it this Sunday in worship as it will be the 7th Sunday of Easter, or Ascension Sunday on the Church calendar. It marks the occasion when our Lord went back to his glory in heaven. The Ascension has been seen as an integral part of the great Easter event according to earliest tradition which can be seen (and heard) in all the ancient creeds.

Thus consider my blog this week a devotional or meditation on the implications of the Ascension of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ ascended into heaven so that we mundane and insignificant creatures of the dust might share in his glory and might experience the reality of his presence both in this life and in the life to come. I have arranged an acrostic (A S C E N D) to guide us in this meditation and to help us remember the importance of the Ascension:

A rrange a place for us. John 14:2, 3 – “In my Father’s House are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you with me that you also may be where I am.”  We are not sure what this preparation consists of or what kind of place it will be, but the very fact that Jesus said this assures us that our final home in heaven will be with Him. When you or a Christian loved one faces death, isn’t this truth far more important than the price of gas?

S ession. This old term used to mean “the act of sitting down,” and it contains the thought of Hebrews 10:11, 12:  “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifice, which can never take away sin.  But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”  By design, there were no chairs upon which a priest could sit in the Jewish Temple.  This was to demonstrate that the priest’s job was never finished since sin could not be ultimately dealt with through animal sacrifices.  But when Jesus Christ, who is both the final Sacrifice for sin and the Priest who makes that sacrifice, completed his work on the cross, He sat down in heaven. This means that all the work needed to obtain our salvation was finished.  There is no longer any sacrifice for sin (Heb.10:18). For what I am powerless to do (save myself) God did for me “by sending his own son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering” (Romans 8:3).

C oming Again.  In Acts 1, the angel told the disciples that Jesus would return in the same way he had been taken. Hebrews 9:27, 28 – “Just as man is destined to die once and after that face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”  At Christ’s return our mortal bodies, whether dead or alive, will be changed into glorified spiritual bodies and our salvation will be complete. Thus without the Ascension, there is no second coming; and without the second coming there is no resurrection from the dead; and without the resurrection, there is no hope.

E xalted over all Creation. Jesus is at the right hand of God, which indicates that he has received authority over all creation. “Jesus Christ…has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand- with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Peter 3:22). “God raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in this present age but also in the age to come” (Ephesians 1:20-23).

The Ascension is seen in Scripture as the coronation or enthronement of Jesus as King over the universe. The right hand of God is a position of honor and power (Ps. 110:1).  Satan once tried to tempt Jesus to attain the kingship of this world without suffering and death. However, Christ refused and was faithful, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).  Jesus is now is the supreme ruler of the cosmos and all heavenly creatures are continuously worshiping him (Rev.5:8-14). All authority has been given unto him in heaven and earth, and that is why we go and make disciples of all nations, spreading the gospel of the kingdom of God revealed in Christ. That is why in most Byzantine Churches there was an icon of Christ Pantokrator– Ruler over all.

N egotiate on our behalf. Romans 8:34 – “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus, who died- more than that, who was raised to life- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Negotiate is probably not the best word but I had to find a synonym for intercede that started with an “N.”)   Jesus’ ascension into heaven means that he is using all of his authority to represent you and me before the Father (Heb.9:24).  In 1 John 2:1, we read “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” Jesus is called our Advocate- paracletos– one who speaks to the Father in our defense. Although Christ has completed the priestly work of sacrifice, his work as our Mediator before God continues. Would you rather have more money or know you are forgiven by God?

D ispense the Holy Spirit. John 16:7 – “It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”  This has always intrigued me.  It almost seems like Jesus was saying that it would be better for us that he leave and goes back to heaven, so that the Holy Spirit could come. Why? Why was it important that Jesus leave and the HS come? [Try and answer that before looking at what I wrote next.]

  • Jesus is at God’s right hand interceding for us- constant representation before the Father.
  • If Jesus had not ascended, even though resurrected, He would only be available in one location at a time- He would not have been glorified and therefore share in the attribute of ubiquity or omnipresence.
  • The Holy Spirit (paraclete) indwells every believer so that each of us may have a personal relationship with Christ and may experience His presence.
  • The Holy Spirit imparts to us the character of Christ (fruit), the power of Christ (gifts) for ministry and witness, and the counsel (wisdom) of Christ.

The secret of being less overwhelmed by life is to be more overwhelmed by God. I pray that the reality of the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord Jesus may show us that since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all to accomplish these eternal matters, will he not also in Christ give all that we need?  

PRAYER:  Our God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you for the mystery and beauty of the story of Jesus’ return to you. We praise you for reminding the disciples and us, that when the Lord Jesus returns for us is none of our business, so that we can concentrate on being your witnesses right where we live and to the ends of the earth.  We thank you for the men and women through whom the good news of Jesus is being proclaimed around the world and through him the love of Jesus is being demonstrated in care and compassion for the poor. Help us to be glad that our Lord Jesus is sitting on His throne next to yours and that he is in charge of getting a place ready for us as well as praying for us and preserving us.  Thank-you for giving us your Holy Spirit to help us live like Jesus in our homes, schools, jobs, and churches.  Make us more keenly aware every time we celebrate Communion to remember the Lord’s death until he comes back for us. In Jesus name, we pray. AMEN.