Which do I want more, to impress or to influence? Why humility is a prerequisite for leadership.

Today is the day Sandi and I have been waiting for since June of last year.  Today is the day our book, Marriage on Mission, becomes available for download on Amazon.

Which means today is the day that people start discovering the truth about our marriage: we have experienced brokenness and pain during our 26 years together.  We have enjoyed the blessings of a good marriage for the most part, but there were a few dark chapters.

This book pulls the curtain back on the difficult, messy, and embarrass-
ing passages in our relationship.  We speak candidly about panic attacks, deep disillusionment with God and one another, and feelings of failure and intense frustration.

To be honest I felt a twinge of panic at 6:30 a.m. this morning when I downloaded the Kindle version onto my iPhone.  There it was, our story, for the ENTIRE WORLD to see.  Uh…Was this a good idea?

I mean my mother is going to start reading this book today!  My neighbor picked us his paperback copy yesterday – and I am going to see him again soon.  Will I feel ashamed?  Will he lose respect for me after reading about my failures?  I have a seminary degree, I have 25 years of experience as a professional Christian leader, I coach pastors on how to pastor more effectively – will our transparency call my credibility into question?

The sad reality is that yes, some will think less of me after reading this book.  A few that may have been impressed with my credentials or talents will be less impressed (and some will write me off altogether).

Am I OK with that?  Not really.  It bothers me.

But, I have to come the place where I can accept it.  I found peace through an important decision I made about four years ago to prioritize influencing people over impressing them.  I remember the coaching call like it was yesterday.  My coach (Steve Cockram) said the following:

“Tom, you are the kind of leader who wants to excel in your chosen field and then leverage all of that expertise and experience to help others excel also.  You want to lead from a position of strength and confidence.  But God has other plans.  Your greatest contribution will come through your brokenness.”

I was speechless.  In my gut I knew he was right, but I was still fighting it.  I so desperately wanted to be good enough!  But that day I took the first step toward surrender.  That day I began embracing the image of a flawed and cracked clay jar with God’s grace leaking out of those broken places.

What does a commitment to this kind of influence really look like?  Here are a few lessons I’ve learned in recent years.

  1. It all begins with a life worth imitating.  Let’s face it, if I am a lukewarm, Sunday-only Christian I don’t want anyone getting too close.  It would be much easier to look and act the part of a committed Christ follower at church and keep people at a distance.  I have heard it said, “People don’t need a perfect example, they need a living example.”  The pathway to becoming a living example that points people to Jesus passes through the wilderness of confession and repentance.  And to have an authentic life worth imitating you not only confess your sins to God, but also to a few safe people who love you enough to tell you the truth and hold you accountable.  It is when we confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that we are healed (James 5:16).  To repent means to change my mind, to turn around.  An ongoing lifestyle of repentance equals growth.  If I am growing and traveling in the right direction I am someone worth following – no matter how far I have yet to travel.  I know it at a gut level, and this gives me the courage to open up to people without fear of hypocrisy.  Tomorrow morning I meet with a couple of men for breakfast.  We encourage each other in reading God’s word and hold one another accountable to living a life worth imitating in our relationship with God and people (UP, IN, and OUT).  I need to confess to them the struggle I am having right now with anxiety.  Our financial situation in 2016 has several God-gaps, and I have found myself obsessing over these gaps in recent weeks.  When I confess this struggle my sin is brought out into the light, and I will find healing.  We are only as sick as our secrets.
  2. You can impress people from a distance, but you can only influence them up close.  Just take a moment to think about the people who have most influenced your life.  They were probably your parents, your spouse, a teacher, a coach, or a youth leader.  For the most part these were ordinary folks who loved Jesus, loved you, and made space for you in their day-to-day life.  Dave Roberts, a youth leader during my high school years, had a huge influence on me.  He wasn’t a flashy communicator.  He didn’t run the largest youth ministry in town.  Rather, he took time for me.  He invited me into his home and his dinner table.  He played basketball with me.  He hired me to work part time in his office.  He shared with me what he was learning in his own walk with God – even when it wasn’t flattering.  Dave’s influence in and through my life lives on 35 years later.  I want to be like Dave when I grow up!
  3. Influence comes at a cost.  Jesus warned his followers to count the cost before choosing to become his disciples.  We are wise to count the costs when it comes to living an influential life.  Some of those costs include:
  • To say “yes” to life-on-life relationships means saying “no” to other things.  These gut checks come quickly in the process and deter some of us from ever having true influence.  This past year we have said no to a kitchen remodel, a new car for me, a well-paid job for Sandi (thus the car and the kitchen!), privacy, and relaxed Monday nights at home.  These “nos” enabled us to say “yes” to Sandi gaining the margin and energy to begin investing in people.  We have also said “yes” to some close friends from Michigan moving in with us while they build their house next door (this will certainly impact our privacy).  By making a commitment to serve the youth of our church on Monday nights we have said “yes” to making the best investment known to man – building into the lives of young people.
  • Life-on-life relationships are messy, and I hate messy.  This is a big deal for me as my personality thrives on order and disdains chaos.  Anytime you invite someone into your life you invite the mess and baggage they carry with them (we all have it).  If influence is the goal than I must give up my preference for order and control and embrace those God sends into my life.  This is part of dying to myself daily, and it is hard.
  • To value relationships over things or accomplishments probably means I will choose a lower standard of living than I could otherwise afford.  Let’s be real, if I am working 65 hours a week and willing to do just about anything for that next promotion or bigger office, I just don’t have time for people.  Now, maybe I have to work excessive hours to meet the needs of my family, but maybe I find my identity and worth in power and prestige.  Jesus said it straight – “You can’t serve both God and money”.  So, Sandi and I share a car right now.  This fall I will get a vehicle back from our daughter that has about 175,000 miles on it and a dent in the passenger side.  Would I like to get that dent repaired?  Would I like to buy a new Toyota 4-Runner? YES!  But, am I willing to see my wife go back to work full time and lose my partner in life and ministry so we can afford a new car?  No way.

So, writing this book flows out of my decision to go for influence as the higher value.  I want to look people in the eye and say with all sincerity, “follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).  And only the humble can ever say that with conviction.

Today my commitment is to live my life wide open, knowing some will look down upon me for my many flaws.  Tomorrow my hope is to share in the glory of Jesus – the one who left the splendor of heaven to live a life of rejection and ridicule by those he came to save.  I am casting my lot with Jesus – how about you?

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