Following Jesus: The stewardship of influence

[Part 1 of a blog adaptation of Sunday’s message at The District Church: “Come Follow Me”]

Jesus says, “Come, follow me …” and we have a choice to say yes or to say no, to follow Jesus or to walk away, to step into a new life or to stay where we are. There really isn’t a place of equilibrium, where we can hold Jesus at arm’s length while also trying to keep a tight grip on the reins of our lives, where we can say maybe and try to navigate the path of most convenience, the road more traveled, the more comfortable journey. John Ortberg writes:

There is danger in getting out of the boat. But there is danger in staying in it as well. If you live in the boat—whatever your boat happens to be—you will eventually die of boredom and stagnation. (If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat)

I always need to be reminded of this truth: life with God is what we were made for. Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life to the full.”

We’ve just started a series at The District Church called “The Stewardship of Influence.” If you’ve been around church circles for any amount of time, you’ll often hear the word ‘stewardship’ used in the context of money—how we look after the financial resources that God has given us—or perhaps more recently, in the area of environmental stewardship—how we look after the world that God has created. But stewardship isn’t limited to those things. In Luke 12:48 (one of my favorite verses), Jesus says,

“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

It’s about stewardship, being responsible for what we’ve been given, being answerable to God for what resources we have, not just of money but of time and relationships and, zooming out, your life.

despicable-me-2-minionsAnd what we’re focusing on is the stewardship of influenceEveryone has influence. You may be thinking, “I’m just an intern; I don’t have much influence,” or “I’m just a student; I don’t have much influence,” or “I’m just a minion,” like in Despicable Me, “I don’t have much influence.” But everyone has influence—you may have a large circle of influence or you may have a smaller circle of influence, but everyone has it. You have influence:

  • through your friendships: what you do or say or how you’re just present in a particular situation to a friend who’s going through a rough or difficult time is influence.
  • in your families: how you react to the dysfunction in your family or how you contribute to cultivating a culture of peace in your family is influence—it’ll impact other people, whether you see it immediately or not
  • at work, wherever on the ladder you are, or at school: how you work at something, regardless of whether or not that particular spreadsheet or paper or project or admin is life-giving, is influence.

So, to define these terms:

What you have = influence.

What you do with what you have = the stewardship of influence.

And here’s the key: it’s about what you do with what you have, not what you don’t have. In those last days, Jesus isn’t going to ask you what you did what what you didn’t have; he’s going to ask you what you did with what you had.

Here in DC, it’s real easy to point out examples of people who have influence—we usually understand that as political power. It’s also real easy to point out examples of people who have not stewarded that influence well, who have abused and misused that influence: council members who’ve used public funds for their own pleasure, elected officials who have betrayed the public trust for their own gain.

But even outside the realm of politics, it’s not hard to see where influence has been misused:

  • just this week the story surfaced about the coach at Rutgers who would throw basketballs at athletes’ heads and yell slurs at them;
  • we’re still recovering from a financial crisis where some folks who were entrusted with the influence to take care of other people’s money instead took some calculated gambles that blew up;
  • there are countless celebrities who have no idea what to do with fame and use their platform and influence not to help other people but simply for self-aggrandizement and preening in the glow of others’ attention;
  • the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church, where men entrusted with the pastoral and spiritual care of souls misused that influence and abused vulnerable children.

I point these out not as an exercise of looking out there and saying, “Oh, that’s a bad example.” As Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It’s just as important–perhaps more important–to be looking at yourself and saying, “Oh, I’m tempted too:

  • I’m tempted to use my influence in my family to side with one parent against the other.
  • I’m tempted to use my influence in my workplace to whine to others and with others about our boss.
  • I’m tempted to use my influence to work my connections so that I can get ahead at the expense of others.
  • I’m tempted to use my influence over my girlfriend to get her to please me sexually.
  • I’m tempted to not use my influence over my kids to raise them in a way that talks about tough issues of life and faith and sexuality, because, man, those conversations would be awkward and tough.”

The thing is, I think, these aren’t always conscious decisions as much as they are unconscious decisions. And by that I mean that we just don’t tend to think about these things or to talk about these things.

  • When we don’t think about these things and talk about these things, then we fall back on what we’ve been conditioned to do;
  • What we’ve been conditioned to do comes from what we’ve spent the most time being around;
  • What we’ve spent the most time being around is usually TV shows where sex just happens or movies where violence is the way to solve problems or magazines or blogs or websites that tell us that we need things, that we need to live like these people and we need to dress like those people.

How much time do we spend being immersed in the word of God and the community of God and the Spirit of God, who instead challenge us to seek right relationships with everyone, to live holy lives, to defend the poor and the widow and the orphan, to be humble and loving above all, to seek the peace of the city for in that you will find your peace, to care for the least of these, to die to yourself so that you might truly live?

Jesus says that to truly live–to experience life to the full, to do life with God–we will die to ourselves–we will put others before ourselves, we will not seek our own good but we will seek God and his kingdom.

So, as people who follow Jesus, as people who call him our Lord and our King and our Teacher, we want to be good stewards of the influence we have, to use it for his purposes rather than our own: in our relationships, in our workplaces, in our homes, in our schools, in our neighborhoods, in our city, in our political system, and, yes, in our social networking—because we live in a world where I can put something on Twitter or on Facebook or on a blog and people half the world away whom I’ve never met may read it and be impacted by it.

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.

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