A few months ago, I had a surprise call from a 22 year old young man named Bailey. We chatted for a moment and then he got to the point; “The reason I am calling you is to ask if you would mentor me?” I hadn’t previously mentored a person from Generation Z, but felt a strange prompt to connect with Bailey and agreed to meet with him.
I was immediately impressed with Bailey’s heart for God and his desire to make an impact with his life in the world in which he lived and the new disciplines he started to develop in his life. One day as he was sharing, he asked, ”Rod, you have lived a life of leadership; could you tell me how I could become a leader?” My reply somewhat surprised him when I said, “Bailey, you are already a leader in the world in which you live. The question is not whether you will become a leader, rather it is what kind of leader you are right now?”
I went on to explain and I started with my definition of a leader, that being a person of INFLUENCE. It is possible for a person to have the title of a leader, or have the academic qualifications needed for a position of leadership, or even have many years experience in a position of leadership, but that does not of itself make a person a leader. Leadership is influence!
Jesus said in many different ways that Christians are people who live as leaders in the world in which they live.
- “You are the SALT of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavour (influence)? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless” (Matthew 5:13)
Salt is an agent of influence in that it adds flavour to its surroundings, promotes healing and it preserves all that is good.
- “You are the LIGHT of the world. A city on a hilltop cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to EVERYONE in the house.” (Matthew 5:14)
Light is an agent of influence in that it removes darkness and helps lost people find their way.
- “The kingdom of heaven is like the YEAST a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour (60 pounds or 27 kilograms), it permeates every part of the dough.” (Matthew 13:33)
Yeast is an agent of influence in that, although small in size, it can transform an unusually large amount of flour into bread.
- The Apostle Paul uses a different analogy to describe the life of influence that characterises a follower of Jesus.
“But thank God! He has made us His captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now He uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume (to be an influence). Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To those who are perishing we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life giving perfume.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)
According to Paul, we live a live a life of influence as God permeates our lives with the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ. “Everywhere we go, our lives should demonstrate to others that Christ is victorious. The most compelling evidence that Christ is alive and triumphant is His activity in the lives of His people. It is a privilege to be the fragrance of Christ by which others learn of God’s life changing power over sin.”
I now turned to Bailey and challenged him; “Choose to be a leader now in the world in which you live. You don’t have to wait until someone gives you a position of leadership because Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are the yeast permeating the dough.” – leadership is influence. So I’m giving you permission now – to be a leader in the world in which you live.”
Now I asked Bailey to describe to me the world in which he has been called by Jesus to be a leader and he identified the following areas:
- the neighbourhood surrounding the home in which he lives with his parents
- the university where he is studying to complete a degree in architecture
- the camping store where he works part time
- the church where he attends
- the friends he spends time with
I repeated to him, “It’s not whether you are a leader or not, rather it’s what kind of leader you are right now.”
Then our conversation moved to another level. Understanding that he already was a leader, Bailey then asked another important question; “What do I need to do to become the best leader I can be in the world in which I live?
I offered the following six suggestions:
1. NEVER STOP GROWING
Leaders realise that when they stop growing, they stop leading and so they are always thinking continuous improvement. They are like tour guides rather than travel agents; they can only take people to where they have been themselves.
Leaders are always on the lookout to get with people who can help them grow to the next level. They are observant and reflective and have teachable spirits. Leaders spend as much time investing in their personal growth as they do in helping others. For them growth is not an event, it is a lifetime process.
2. UNDERSTAND WHO IS THE PERSON JESUS USES
It is one thing to live a life of continuous improvement, but growth must have a specific goal in mind. And the goal is to be growing into the person that Jesus can use.
I remember in my early years as an emerging leader, spending time studying the life of Jesus to understand the qualities He required for those who would become His followers in the world in which they live. Some of the qualities that were impressed on me were humility, a servant spirit, availability, obedience, a heart of compassion for people and faithfulness.
See article: The Person Jesus Uses | Rod Denton (roddentoneng.com.au)
3. FOLLOW THE PROMPTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
A breakthrough moment came to me one day when I read the words of Jesus, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working…..I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; He can only do what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all He does.” (John 5:17,19-20)
Gradually I began to follow the model of Jesus and every morning I would start the day by thanking the Father that He was already at work and that I wanted to follow the prompts of the Holy Spirit so that I might partner with the Father in the work He had planned for me. Slowly my life changed as I learned that my life of influence in the world in which I lived began with a relationship of intimacy and trust with my heavenly Father who was already at work in the world in which I lived.
4. PRAY INTENTIONALLY FOR PEOPLE
Great leaders of the Bible were great prayers. The great missionary to China, Hudson Taylor said,
“It is possible to move (influence) people, through God, by prayer alone.”
Paul reminds us that there are many expressions of prayer that we can pray for everyone;
“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for
everyone – “ (1 Timothy 2:1)
There is no greater resource available to us as we live out a life of influence than the resource of prayer. We must pray intentionally, expectantly and continually for those around us. It is my practice to regularly prayer walk my neighbourhood, to pray specifically for people in my world who need Jesus and to be generous in blessing people as I go through the day. I recently received an email from a relative, “I want to thank you Rod, for faithfully praying for my children” and she went on to share how two of her adult children had recently come to faith in Jesus Christ. She concluded, “What a miracle, an answer to many years of praying and tears.”
5. ADD VALUE TO PEOPLE
One of the often unpredictable ways I am learning to influence people is to follow the prompts of the Holy Spirit by adding value to people that I meet, people who serve me in shopping centres, people I meet in my neighbourhood, people who knock on my front door, people I meet at church, and others with who I might casually connect.
I am learning to “walk slowly through the crowd” and follow the prompts of the Holy Spirit, to be generous with people for no particular reason, to affirm people, to thank people, to grow in my emotional intelligence and to bless people.
And the principle is that people who value people add value to people, just like Jesus did, and in the process open doors into people’s lives in a life changing way.
6. FIND MENTORS
I recently read of a reputable study by a person who discovered that the one thing that all great leaders had in common, was that each one found mentors along the way that had profoundly impacted their lives. Mentors that enlarged them and empowered them and helped them to see a life they had never seen before.
After one year in full time ministry, I heard a man speak at a conference and I was so stirred by him that I travelled interstate to track him down to ask him to be my mentor, and I didn’t stop asking until he finally agreed to be my mentor, which he was for 31 years. I had the privilege of delivering the eulogy at his funeral.
And it led me to coin a phrase when seeking a mentor, “Start at the top and work your way down; they might say no, but they could say yes.” And if you commit yourself to a lifetime of growing, so that one day you can stand before the Lord and say, “I have completed the work you gave me to do” (John 17: 4) you will need mentors along the way to help you.
So don’t wait for leadership to find you, choose to be a leader now, in the world in which you live – in your home, in your neighbourhood, in your place of employment and study, in your shopping centre, wherever you go. Realise that God takes ordinary people to do extraordinary things as they make themselves available to Him.
“Our growth along the way consists of small, deliberate, many times unnoticed steps. Sometimes when we read the words of those who have been more than conquerors, we feel almost despondent. But they won through step by step, by little bits of will, little denials of self, little inward victories, by faithfulness in very little things they became what they are. No one sees these little hidden steps. They only see the accomplishments. But even so these small steps were taken. There are no sudden triumphs.”
My life is not my own, “I have been bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) And one day I will stand before God and give an account of how I lived this gift of life given to me. And He will say to me, “Rod, I made you a leader of the world in which you lived. I set you apart to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world and the transforming yeast. How did it go, Rod? What sort of influence were you? Did you add value to people? Did you grow to realise the full potential for which I created you? Did you sensitively follow the prompts of the Holy Spirit or were you too busy doing other things? And are there others in heaven because of your influence? Tell me Rod, how did it go?”
And Bailey left me that day with a new perspective on life, to be a leader in the world in which he lived.
And what a meeting we had a month later. Bailey didn’t wait for leadership to find him, he chose to be a leader now, in the world in which he lives. Because he walked slowly through the crowd, following the prompts and adding value to people, he was able to report back to me a month later that leadership had found him. He now had been made a supervisor at his place of employment, he had been appointed a leader in his church’s worship team and three people in his street had asked him to design extensions for their houses because they had become aware of the extension he had recently designed for his parent’s home.
He was now living as the light of his world, the salt of the earth and the yeast that was influencing those around him.
I invite you to choose to be a leader in the world in which you live….now, in Jesus’ name.