The Responsibility to Influence

Tim Locke

As a young man I found that my concept of leadership had developed through the personalities that influenced my life. I have been under leaders who were direct, intense personalities, and I have had leaders who were gracious and gentle. In trying to decide what kind of leader to be, I often refer to my mentors to determine my course. The problem with this lies in my personality. I am Tim Locke, though sometimes I wish I were a log truck. I find that if I try to be something I’m not, I inevitably wind up causing offense. In desperation I looked for some clarity of what a leader is, to gain the confidence to be me, and still lead.

I found it. It was there all the time in a common definition of leadership that says, “Leadership is accepting the responsibility to influence the beliefs and behaviors of people so that God’s purpose for them is accomplished.” What a relief. I don’t have to be you, and you don’t have to be me, a comfort to many I’m sure. Let’s consider the implications and applications of this definition.

“Leadership is accepting the responsibility . . . ”

Hurray! I can do this. In fact, anyone can do this— so much for feeling special. Accepting responsibility doesn’t take personality; it requires only willingness. Responsibility focuses on what I must do for God and others. It remains the same no matter what the outcome. I may not see much progress, but I can still fulfill my obligation, which is comforting when rearing children since my one-year-old doesn’t always get it. It is my stewardship of that obligation that matters. I will answer for the discharging of my responsibility, not for the response. What a comfort to know that I don’t have to assume another’s personality. I just have to accept a responsibility. Whatever role, I will accept this responsibility.

“ . . . to influence . . . ” ‘ This explains the responsibility. The word influence was a great relief to my conscience because it doesn’t say that I am responsible to change people. That fact is encouraging when I consider leading my three-year-old son. Influencing him helps me stop short of trying to be in control. Influence takes time and energy, but it keeps me from getting frustrated with his behavior. When he misbehaves, I know he needs more influence, sometimes intense influence. As he grows older, I can focus more on his beliefs. This principle applies to husbands, wives, subordinates, employers, pastors, Sunday school teachers, everyone. We are responsible to influence, not to change or control. It also brings a moment of pause to reflect on the unintentional influence I am having.

“ . . . the beliefs and behaviors of people . . . ”

This focuses on the area of influence. First, I’m dealing with people. People have minds (although at times some wonder about me). It is my responsibility to influence those minds, created in the image of God, with truth. People don’t change their minds quickly or easily. Most of my beliefs are the result of careful thought or carnal desire. All of my behaviors are the result of my beliefs. I’m not dealing with robots or animals but with people who have reasoning capabilities. This means that the explanation, “Because I said so,” is a temporary fix at best. Minds change only through illumination, which means the Spirit of God must take my influence and use it. This makes me dependent on God for results and content to pray and wait for Him to work. I must maintain influence until the Lord turns the light on.

It also means that I had better consider my beliefs and behavior. Jim Berg, dean of students at Bob Jones University, has influenced me more than most. The reason is twofold: his teaching makes me thirsty for Christ, and so does his living. His belief matches his behavior, and it looks a lot like my Lord. He offers me compelling arguments with consistent example. I understand that my living is part of influencing others—it’s really the main part. This makes me hungry for God’s influence in my life.

“ . . . so that God’s purpose for them is accomplished.”

Here is the rub. Why am I influencing this person? Why do I want this person to change? “Because he is driving me crazy, and I have only so much hair to pull out.” This is often my motive for influencing my children. But influence for a selfish goal results in manipulation or control. Most people can spot these self-serving goals and resist and resent that influence. Wanting what God wants will remove much of the tension we feel in our homes, careers, and churches. My purpose for influencing others must be for their good and God’s glory.

So put your mind at ease. Be you. Focus on the influence that you are having already and look for opportunities to influence others around you for the Lord. Accept the responsibility, and influence others for God.

At the time of original publication Tim Locke was the Managing Editor of FrontLine magazine and served as an associate pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Taylors, South Carolina.

(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 2003. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)