Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The power of influence

He didn’t have time to encourage a confused kid, but he did anyway.

He was Hoffman Harris, the busy pastor of fast-growing Briarlake Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga. The confused kid was me.

I was a new member of his church back in the ’70s. I was finishing college and struggling with a call to serve God. Pastor Harris had sermons to write and things to do. He had hundreds of other people and priorities clamoring for his attention. But he made time on a regular basis to talk to me, patiently answer countless dumb questions and connect me to key people he knew from his many years in ministry.

When I became a Mission Service Corps volunteer with the Home (now North American) Mission Board, he persuaded an understandably doubtful mission committee at Briarlake to provide partial support for an untested, untried young man. After I left the Atlanta area to join the International Mission Board staff in Richmond, Va., he kept in touch with me — more faithfully than I kept in touch with him.

There was something about “Hoff.” When he preached or talked to you, he wasn’t just saying words. He was giving you his heart. You felt you were the sole focus of his attention. Jesus’ disciples must have felt that way during His earthly ministry.

If not for Hoffman Harris, I probably never would have gotten involved in mission communication. If not for Bill and Joyce Dillard, I probably would have quit after the first few years. Bill was pastor of Parham Road Baptist Church, the congregation I joined after moving to Richmond. The Dillards not only welcomed me as a member, but fed me countless meals (the sure way to a single guy’s heart) and let me sleep on their couch when I was feeling lonely and discouraged. No advance notice was required: The door was open, the place at the table was set. They had their own sons, but happily “adopted” many guys like me through the years.

I could name other friends, relatives, mentors and missionaries who have freely given me their time and wisdom, with no agenda beyond love and no expectation of return beyond the joy they received in giving. If you look back, you will find people in your life who have done the same for you. They are the people you will remember with gratitude when the finish line comes into sight.

I am amazed at the number of books, articles, speeches, sermons, seminars and videos about “leadership” flooding the market these days when so little real leadership is on display. Never has so much been said about something so rarely practiced. Why are so many institutions, businesses, churches, families and relationships crumbling? There are many reasons, but one of them is lack of authentic leadership at every level of society.

“Leadership is about influence,” writes Jeremie Kubicek. “Influence is power. And how you use that power will affect your world and those around you. Will you choose to empower or overpower? To liberate or dominate?”

Kubicek, who runs a company that coaches and develops leaders, is author of Leadership is Dead: How Influence is Reviving it, published in 2011. Yet another book about leadership, you groan. But Kubicek is on to something. He thinks leadership is dead because many so-called “leaders” have abandoned their real responsibility in pursuit of self-aggrandizement, which devalues others, or self-preservation, which defines mediocrity.

“You don’t need massive power or a prominent position to lead positive change in an organization,” he says. “You need only influence: the most potent and underutilized professional resource on the planet. … Great leaders with true influence build relationships by serving the needs of those within their spheres of influence, even as they serve the needs of their businesses. This isn’t just a business tactic; it is a lifestyle.”

And it applies to every area of life. Influence comes from trust, according to Kubicek. No one trusts — or willingly follows — a leader who looks out only for No.1. But people will follow a generous influencer almost anywhere. “To have influence, you have to reach beyond your walls and give yourself for the benefit of others.”

That takes time, commitment and humility.

Maybe this sounds familiar: “For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed — God is witness — nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:5-8, NASB).

That’s the Apostle Paul, who knew something about leadership, and he didn’t need a fancy seminar to learn it. He mastered the art of true leadership under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit — and the guidance of faithful believers who prepared him to be the great missionary and disciple-maker he was.

Above all, Paul loved and served the disciples he made. His words were powerful, his example more so.

I learned that truth from Hoffman Harris and Bill and Joyce Dillard, who understood what real leadership is all about.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fear itself

Listen to an audio version of this post at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/156/15646/15646-86331.mp3

Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was known as “the republic of fear” among opponents — those who were still alive, that is.

The deposed dictator, who was hanged in 2006, so effectively instilled dread among Iraqis during his decades in power that the mere rumor of a visit from his henchmen was enough to make most citizens tremble and submit.

It’s an old tactic in the tyrant playbook: Rule by fear. Spill plenty of blood early on. Pit various social, ethnic and religious groups against each other. Crush any hint of resistance. Later, you can make a bloody example of the odd rebel here and there — or even a random victim plucked off the street — to keep the rest of your subjects anxious. They must believe that you have eyes, ears and knives everywhere. If you’re a good tyrant, you probably do.

Arab strongmen who have fallen from power more recently used the same methods to greater or lesser degrees, until their populations had enough.

“[T]he Arab awakenings happened because the Arab peoples stopped fearing their leaders,” writes New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman of the Arab Spring revolutions. “But they stalled because the Arab peoples have not stopped fearing each other.”

The dictators carefully nurtured the culture of fear and ran their countries like Mafia dons, Friedman observes, “doling out patronage and protection, while ruling with an iron fist. But it will take more than just decapitating these regimes to overcome that legacy. It will take a culture of pluralism and citizenship. Until then, tribes will still fear tribes in Libya and Yemen, sects will still fear sects in Syria and Bahrain, the secular and the Christians will still fear the Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia and the philosophy of ‘rule or die’ will remain a potent competitor to ‘one man, one vote.’”

Fear runs deep in human hearts and minds — and not just in tough neighborhoods like the Middle East.

A few years ago I wrote about the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina’s glittering capital, economic hub, cultural center and home to a third of the nation’s 40 million people. If you look beneath Buenos Aires’ frenetic pace, wide avenues, trendy bars, tango cafes and European atmosphere, you find deep undercurrents of isolation and fear.

“In a big city, the spiritual strongholds are loneliness and fear,” said a missionary based there. “People live their lives scared. They’re afraid to go out at night. They’re afraid someone is going to take something from them. People who don’t have anything are afraid they’re not going to eat the next day. Fear drives people to do irrational and immoral things. It makes the wealthy become reclusive. It makes the poor get involved in crime or drugs to find an escape.”

The crime rate in Buenos Aires is no higher than in other major world cities. The metal bars guarding doors and windows there represent something deeper than simple fear of crime. Waves of political violence, economic chaos and social turmoil experienced by Argentines since the 1970s have left a legacy of suspicion, disillusionment and cynicism.

“People just don’t trust anyone anymore,” explained the missionary. “They don’t trust their government. They don’t trust the police. They don’t trust the mechanic they take their car to. … It’s a huge barrier to the Gospel, because it makes it very difficult to approach people and share. You’ve got this priceless gift you’d like to give everybody, but fear keeps them from being open to even talking about it.”

What if fear paralyzes not the person you want to tell about Christ, but you? Another missionary believes that’s one reason many Christians don’t reach out to the spiritually hungry immigrants and refugees who come to America.

“God is … bringing the nations to us,” he says. “But the thing that is driving the church is fear. Until we get over our fear, we will not welcome the lost in our midst. We’re afraid of Muslims and we’re afraid of foreigners. … We’re in a free country, and yet we’re not exercising our freedom to witness to the nations in our midst.”

Fear poisons relationships, or prevents them from ever beginning. It sabotages families and nations, motivates murders and sparks wars. It infects whole cultures. Believers should be immune, but we are not.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt told a nation mired in the Great Depression that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he put his finger on a spiritual reality rarely acknowledged by political leaders. Roosevelt urged Americans not to succumb to the “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” He challenged the country to keep its face turned outward, meeting the needs of others also caught in the global economic crisis: “These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.”

The devil loves fear. He is a master at using it to manipulate, hurt and destroy. But he cannot succeed unless you submit. That’s why the Lord tells His children again and again throughout Scripture to “fear not,” to trust Him, to be strong and of good courage. It’s not simply a reassurance; it’s an order.

“Jesus said, ‘Let not your heart be troubled,’” Oswald Chambers writes, referring to Christ’s words in John 14:1. But it’s up to you. “God will not keep your heart from being troubled. It is a command — ‘Let not …’ Haul yourself up a hundred and one times a day in order to do it, until you get into the habit of putting God first and calculating with Him in view.”

Fearing not is a crucial part of obeying God, which means loving Him. And love casts out fear.