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The Battle of Competing Influences

I’ve been thinking lately about influence—not my influence on others, but how others have influenced me. I think of my “formal” mentors who influenced me in college and graduate school. I think of preachers who influenced me from their pulpits. I think of Sunday school teachers who brought influence even when they thought I wasn’t listening.

But there are also “informal” mentors who influenced my thinking and worldview. Movies I’ve seen. Books I’ve read. Friends whose approval I’ve sought. In many respects, the informal influence in my life has shaped me far more than the formal influences, and often I’ve been unaware. Informal influence seeps into our minds. Formal influence enters by way of invitation.

Often, these two realms of influence compete with each other. I’m formally taught that racism is wrong, and I agree. But the informal influence of primarily homogenous friendships plants seeds of subtle separation. More formal influencers guide me to a spirit of humility and generosity. But my informal influencers tug at my desire for recognition and accumulation.

Zack Eswine calls this the difference between the “Big T” and “Little T” (The Imperfect Pastor, 47). Each of us walks around with theologies, worldviews, and perspectives developed in formal processes of education and training (“Big T”) and informal processes of culture and upbringing (“Little T”). The problem is that regardless of what we profess about our theology and worldview with a “Big T,” all of our little theologies and worldviews show up in the most unexpected ways.

For example, Jesus taught His disciples to love their enemies (Luke 6:27). I imagine the disciples would have been shaking their head in agreement with this “Big T.” But as soon as some Samaritans gave offense to Jesus, James and John wanted to kill them in the name of God (Luke 9:54). The informal influences in their lives overshadowed the formal influence brought by the words of Jesus.

So, what do we do? First, we acknowledge the influence of culture, family of origin, and friendships. We “own up” to the fact that we have a shadow side that needs to be brought under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Second, we come under the formal influence of biblical teaching, preaching, and study so that we re-shape our “Little T” theology into conformity with “whatever is true, honorable, just, and pure” (Philippians 4:8).

Surround yourself with people of faith, hope and love in Jesus Christ, so that the informal influence that seeps into your mind is consistent with the formal influence you gain by invitation. And then go and influence others.

3 Simple Steps to Minimize Mistakes

Sometimes it’s easy to look back over your life with regrets. “I wish I would have spent more time at home and less time at the office. I wish I wouldn’t have taken that new job and moved our family across the country. I wish I wouldn’t have started down that path with that woman (or man).”

Ian Cron tells the story of two young pastors who met at a clergy luncheon. They were new dads and “secretly beginning to wonder whether deciding to go into the ministry was like deciding to get a tattoo when you’re drunk—something we should have thought through a little more carefully” (The Road Back to You, 112).

Most of my mistakes happened because I didn’t think through things a little more carefully. Regrets are the outcome of poor thinking, poor planning, or poor execution. We will never be mistake free, but we can minimize being mistake prone by a few simple steps.

First, pause. In The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, Steven Sample writes that most leaders believe that action (any action) is better than inaction. Why sit around and do nothing when you could at least be doing something? But Sample points out that if your some-thing is the wrong-thing, you’ll spend more time undoing that “thing” in order to do the right-thing. And that leads to regrets. Wouldn’t it be better to hit the pause button and make sure you’re ready, before you hit the play button?

Second, pray. This almost goes without saying, but I’m amazed at how many times I jump into something and then pray after the fact. Too often I find myself praying the Lord will bless what I’ve decided to do rather than guide what I should do. The words of Jesus are crystal clear, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). This is not a wholesale promise of God saying, “Yes,” to every prayer, but it does place the emphasis on the One who moves mountains in response to a mustard seed of faith (Matthew 17:20).

Third, prepare. Some of my greatest regrets have come because of a lack of adequate planning. As the old adage goes, He who fails to plan plans to fail. One of our elders says that every change must include five ingredients: Vision, Skills, Incentive, Resources, and a good Action Plan. Over the past few years I have been learning this all too well.

Once you have paused, prayed and prepared, then you’re ready to hit the play button and move forward. But even then, things might not turn out the way you hoped. If so, take five minutes to throw yourself a grand-scale pity party, and then move on. Stop beating yourself up. If you made missteps along the way, own them and learn from them so as not to repeat them. Whether things went south because of you, others, or uncontrollable circumstances, give it over to God, and leave it with Him. Accept His grace, receive renewed strength, and keep in step with His Spirit. He’s moving on, and it’s best that you go with Him.

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