The Problem With Chasing Influence (As We Have All Been Told To Do)

February 25, 2015

What is your personal currency?

In the "influence economy" of the modern church, "1%" leaders lecture the 99% on how to be more influential.

In the “influence economy” of the modern church, “1%” leaders lecture the 99% on how to be more influential.

You know, the thing that you strive to collect, to store up, to hoard. That stuff that drives you to do one more thing before you go to bed. The thing that gets you up an hour earlier in the morning. The thing that keeps you up at night, worrying that you don’t have enough.

The American church has done a pretty good job of convincing us that money is not our personal currency. (I suppose it’s easy to tell ourselves that money is not that important to us when we have quite a lot of it, relatively speaking.)

No it’s not money that we are grasping for. Go to churches, go to conferences, go to seminars, read the books. What is the core of what church leaders are peddling?


The church has figured out how to make the pursuit of influence sound noble, righteous, even necessary. Now, all of the books are written and all of the conferences are led by guys who obviously have a lot of it. A lot of people listen to the guys at the top. And so they tell us how we too can have it all.

When we talk about our church’s “relevance,” try switching in the word “influence.” There will be almost no difference.

When a conference speaker is discussing “impact,” just sketch the word “influence” in your notes.

When a pastor is talking about “evangelism,” just imagine the word “influence.”

It is influence that, well, influences most of our pursuits. And I have to admit that for most of my adult life, I have been no different. I have hungered and thirsted after it. I have wanted people to give me attention, to do what I say, to respect my opinions.

What I’ve found is that there are a lot of problems with influence being our personal currency.

You Can Lead a Horse To Water

The problem with striving after influence is that most of us will find ourselves frustrated and anxious over our results. That is because the amount of influence we have is not in our control. Sure, we can be the best, do our best, but we cannot make people look or listen. Even if we can make people look for a moment, we cannot make them pay attention. And even if they pay attention, we can scarcely make them act upon what we have said.

The internet has given us this illusion that attention equals influence. We think that because someone got 20 million views on a YouTube video, that they must have a lot of influence. That is because we think the world is very small. There are about 7 billion people on the planet. And YouTube videos are diversions, nothing more.

You Never Have Enough

Influence is a lot like money for people who lust after it. No matter how much you have, it never feels like enough. I might have felt really good about the job I did as a teacher yesterday. I may have really connected with some students and I celebrated a little bit. But today, it’s easy for me to feel terrible because the same thing did not happen.

No matter how many people we have listening or reading or following, we will always wish we had more. We will always be stuck caring the most about our little thing, while a few people follow along for a little while. It’s tough being the one who cares the most. And all of us care the most about something.

Influence Depreciates Over Time

The final problem with influence is that, like money, it depreciates over time. The value is not constant.

Did you see the SNL reunion a couple of weeks ago? I did and I enjoyed it. I downloaded the app and I’ve been enjoying that too. But guess what? I can scan through all forty seasons of the show and all hundred-and-forty-some cast members, and most of it is a graveyard. Being on Saturday Night Live is not  a guarantee of a fruitful and famous career. In fact, it seems more the rule than the exception that SNL is the last thing that people do.

Did you watch the Oscars? I watched long enough to see the tribute to all the “famous” people who passed away last year. I didn’t know who most of them were. Even the actors. Being “famous” is so fleeting and the value of influence so depreciates that most “famous” people still pass away in relative obscurity.

The Promise of the 1%

When it comes to pursuing influence, it’s a lot like money. There is the 1% and the rest of us are the 99%. The 1% make a living at telling the rest of us how we can be like them (which only serves to grow their influence). But the “influence disparity” only grows bigger.

I think it’s time we stopped worrying about how many people listen to us. Real influence is about depth, not breadth.

It’s time to make small celebrations out of reaching one person, making one person smile, showing kindness to one person.

No one ever felt anxious, frustrated or small for doing that.

2 responses to The Problem With Chasing Influence (As We Have All Been Told To Do)

  1. Yes! I couldn’t agree more. Real influence IS about depth not breadth. The most influential people I ever met were a little-known couple in India who never sought to be “influential”. Rather they sought to serve the poor, the least the last and the lost. Their passion for Jesus and for people has influenced me forever, and the fruit of their lives is immeasurable. They have made many disciples, who’ve gone onto to make disciples who’ve then gone onto make more disciples….. Yet they never sought to be influential; they sought to be obedient to the things God asked them to do. When we’re obedient to what God asks, the natural overflow can often be that we become influential, but it’s influence that points back to Jesus, not to ouselves or our own fame. Thank you so much for this reminder.