Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Myth of Influence

Ever wish you were more influential for the gospel? It's a truly noble desire. Unless, you start to think that your influence might be enhanced, if only you were more successful. It's not uncommon to be thinking along these lines -

“If I could only get this business off the ground, it’ll give me the credibility I need to share the gospel with my business associates”

“Once I get promoted, I’ll be able better positioned to influence my co-workers…”

“If I achieved prominence or recognition in my field, I’d use my position as a platform to honor God…”

It can be tempting to believe that particular success or notoriety would offer better opportunities to influence those around us.... except it doesn't always work that way. Tom Krattenmaker's article in USA Today tells the story of how the late Reggie White, NFL Hall of Famer came to realize that personal notoriety doesn't necessarily make for an effective proclaimation of God's truth.

In the arena of sports, few were as outspoken on matters of faith as the late Reggie White. During his Hall of Fame career as the NFL's leading defensive end, Reggie White would unabashedly proclaim his faith in public settings. Indeed, the “Minister of Defense” was as well known for his evangelistic zeal and commitment to his family as for his uncanny ability to sack quarterbacks. Yet, just before his untimely death, Reggie recognized the folly of the semi-celebrity Christian serving up endorsements for Jesus Christ.

“I used to have people tell me, 'God has given you the ability to play football so you could tell the world about him,' … "Well, he doesn't need football to let the world know about him."

The USA Today article tells the full story of Reggie’s transformation from gospel pitch man to a thoughtful witness for Jesus Christ. It's notable that Reggie White was humble enough to realize he needed to change his approach –

"Most people who wanted me to speak at their churches only asked me to speak because I played football, not because I was this great religious guy or this theologian. ... I got caught up in some of that until I got older and I got sick of it. I've been a preacher for 21 years, preaching what somebody wrote or what I heard somebody else say. I was not a student of Scripture. I came to the realization I'd become more of a motivational speaker than a teacher of the word."

Most of us may not be called upon to offer personal testimonies to the masses. However, we too can fall prey to the notion that our personal success will somehow lend the necessary credibility to our message. The apostle Paul thought differently about the notion of influence for the sake of the gospel. When addressing the Christians in Corinth, he made the point of reminding them that they were nothing special when measured by the world's standards.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

(1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

Paul did this to remind the Corinthians that the calling they received was all of grace and not because of their intellect, position or heritage. By God's design, their election by God was meant to nullify self exaltation and to lead to a boasting in Jesus Christ.

To paraphrase Reggie White - God doesn't need us to be successful or influential to let the world know about him. It may be that the influence we hope to gain with an unbelieving world begins with service, not success. Here's how Jesus viewed this -

"You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

(Mark 10:42-45)

While God does use men and women of standing to accomplish his will, Jesus' words reminds us that true greatness and lasting influence come by way of humble service . Our influence must be rooted, not in our achievements or personal standing but in God who delights in using the weak.

Waiting for success to enable a better testimony? Perhaps there's no need for us to wait after all. With the right perspective, we might find that we're best suited to be used by God right now.

8 comments:

Meng said...

How true. The folly of "being good enough" for the gospel when all He wants is a Life being renewed each day.

Mark Goodyear said...

Great resource, Andre! Kudos to USA Today for such a thoughtful article.

I take White's story as a good reminder that I serve God best in my profession by serving my boss with integrity and passion.

When I was a public school teacher, I did not hide my faith at all. But I also tried to be careful to respect my students by not proselytizing. Occasionally, I did on accident--through my choice of materials mostly.

Once, I gleefully followed up T. S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" with his wonderful Christian poem "The Journey of the Magi." Some students felt a little preached at, I remember.

Mostly, though, I served God by teaching these kids to write and develop logical arguments. If they did well on the AP test, God received the glory.

andre said...

Mark

Thanks for sharing your public school teaching experience. By serving the kids - you were living your faith in full view for their good and God's glory.

I realize we're to demonstrate gospel living as well as proclaim it but sometimes, I often forget the proclaimation part.

Mark Goodyear said...

What does it mean to "proclaim the gospel" though? Christ is the Word. We are the body of Christ. In our work, we literally embody the Word.

I try not to hide who I am--though this is more a matter of living with open honesty and integrity. Partially, it means I try not to hide whose I am. I belong to Christ.

I go to church. I worship God. I give him the glory (on my best days).

And everyone knows that I am willing to discuss these things if they are interested.

I think of my relationship with Jesus as similar to my relationship with my wife. It makes no sense at all to twist a conversation so that I can talk about how great my wife is.

But I love her. I really really love her. And anyone who spends a lot of time with me will hear that refrain.

Similarly, I love Jesus. I really really love Jesus. And anyone who spends a lot of time with me should hear that refrain too.

(Dude, I didn't realize your blog was so hot! Technorati corrected me on that one. You should claim your blog there.)

andre said...

Mark

I totally buy into the idea of living out the gospel. In fact, Phillipians 1:27 exhorts us to live in a manner worthy of the gospel. I understand this as "gospel demonstration" - living in such a manner to demonstrate that the good news of Jesus' life, death and ressurection to atone for our sins is true.

However, "gospel proclaimation" which I understand to be preaching or presenting the gospel in words to be essential. I think when Jesus said in Matthew 24 "and this gospel will be proclaimed to the ends of the earth...", he didn't only or primarily mean "gospel demonstration" but "gospel proclaimation".

We know that both are necessary - however, I increasingly find in myself and also in many Christians in the marketplace a reluctance to proclaim/preach/share the gospel overtly. It's like we've been conditioned that it's not cool to be so overt in our faith.

By the way, your enthusiastic affirmation of love for your wife and the Lord Jesus is evidence of the grace upon your life. And, I have a feeling those interacting with you hear that on a consistent basis. That's a great example to others.

Also, thanks for the Technorati tip...I will claim my blog.

Andre

Mark Goodyear said...

It is so important to proclaim Christ. I agree.

I know you live the message yourself. This blog makes it obvious! In fact, this blog is a powerful proclamation, Andre.

For some reason your comment triggered a memory of Bultmann. He wrote extensively about Kerygma (kerugma) and myth. He definitely went too far--claiming we needed to "demythologize" the entire Bible to make it acceptable to the modern world. (And he became a Nazi sympathizer.) Those ideas led to the wacky Jesus Seminar from the 1990s--which are addressed incredibly well by N. T. Wright.

But Bultmann raises some real concerns. How do we preach the Gospel boldly when even the churches themselves can't agree on the precise details of the gospel?

The only answer I know is that we preach Jesus himself, not some abstract theological doctrine. And we do so with fear and trembling and by the grace of the Holy Spirit like Paul talks about in 1 Cor. 2.

andre said...

Mark

I've come to enjoy these interactions with you - I learn something new each time. I am not familiar with Bultmann but I can see why some of his ideas led to the Jesus Seminar. If we start with the notion that the word of God is not absolutely inerrant, we're easily led to constructing our own "wacky ideas" about Jesus.

You asked "How do we preach the Gospel boldly when even the churches themselves can't agree on the precise details of the gospel?"

I'm not sure what you mean on the precise details of the gospel but it appears to me that the basic understanding of the gospel is held consistently and uniformly by most evangelicals.

You offered this comment - "The only answer I know is that we preach Jesus himself, not some abstract theological doctrine. "

The only reservation I have with that comment is that doctrine matters. The minute we "preach Jesus", we're delving into doctrine because there are various notions of Jesus that exists in the world...including the one you mentioned from the Jesus Seminar. I suspect what you mean is preach Jesus as he's revealed in scripture which includes all of his life, death and resurrection. As we understand who Jesus is, his mission, what he said and what he accomplished, we are automatically led into doctrine.

You also said "And we do so with fear and trembling and by the grace of the Holy Spirit like Paul talks about in 1 Cor. 2."

Amen. I absolutely agree - may we live in the good of the gospel and proclaim the gospel in fear and trembling.

Once again, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

luke middleton said...

So glad I got to hear about Reggie's realization. Humbling and challenging.