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becoming a woman of influencemaking a lasting impact on others
By carol kent
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2002 Carol Kent
All right reserved.
Chapter Oneimpacting lives like jesus did
During our first few years of marriage, my husband, Gene, and I were youth directors in a church in Newaygo, Michigan. During the day Gene taught English and journalism in a public school, and I directed the alternative education program for pregnant teenagers. As director, I individualized curriculum so my students could stay in high school for the duration of their pregnancies. During my last year in the program, I had sixty-eight pregnant, unwed students. Seven of them were only fourteen years old.
I soon discovered something surprising. Teenage girls were hanging out in my office before and after school, talking to me about makeup, boys, babies, life, God, and their relationship struggles at home. The same thing was happening before, during, and after youth events at church. I was being asked all sorts of questions by these teens:
"I'm a new Christian and I have some questions about the Bible. Can you help me?"
"I can't get along with my mother and dad. We fight all the time. How can we talk if we can't quit yelling?"
"When you fell in love, how did you know Gene was the man you were supposed to marry?"
"How can you know God's will for your life? I'm a senior and I have to decide what I'm going to do next year. My parents are putting pressure on me to apply to a college and I don't know what to do."
"I have a friend who needs God in her life, but I'm shy about talking about my faith. What would you say to her if you were me?"
Even though I believed I needed to find an older, more mature Christian woman who could teach me how to mentor others, I began to realize I was already having an impact. These teenagers were looking to me for wise counsel and practical advice. I had never thought of myself as an "influencer," but it seemed natural to build relationships with these girls and to offer solid biblical answers to their questions. I was in a position to influence, whether I felt ready or not!
Each of Us Is an Influencer
Recently a young woman told me about her eleventh-grade math teacher. It was near the end of the year and Meghan McIntyre was feeling isolated and hurt, searching for a reason to live. She said, "I was closer to choosing death than life." Then Meghan asked this teacher to sign her yearbook. Unaware of Meghan's emotional state, he wrote:
"Consider the lilies of the field. They sow not neither do they spin. Yet Solomon, in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." If God so clothes the grass of the field, shall He not much more clothe you, Meghan? You have been a source of joy to me. Thanks for all your help in the math department, and may you achieve your goals with joy. Mr. Ottley
Mr. Ottley's words, quickly jotted down in a high school yearbook, provided Meghan with warmth and with the hope that God might have something to offer her. She was incredulous that she had brought joy to someone else-or that someone might wish that she experience joy. Oh, how she wanted that very thing!
Mr. Ottley's words made Meghan curious-who was this God? Jesus commanded, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation" (Mark 16:15, NIV). Mr. Ottley had taken the time to put in writing the good news that God cared for Meghan. His mission field included the school where he taught-and he proclaimed the good news to her, a student in his calculus class who needed hope. His words prepared the way for Meghan's life-changing encounter with Christ. In her first year of university studies, other Christians came and watered the seed Mr. Ottley had planted, and Meghan finally experienced new life in Jesus.
Mr. Ottley had no idea how his words had affected Meghan until his retirement party years later. As the floor was opened for comments, Meghan told her story, looked Mr. Ottley in the eyes, and said, "Thank you for writing in the yearbook of my life." This man had unintentionally influenced Meghan to search for the most important answers in life. He had simply lived as a Christian teacher should live and responded to her in a Christlike way.
We all influence people, whether we recognize it or not. However, it wasn't until I experienced a significant birthday that I determined to be more intentional about how I was influencing others.
Shaping Hearts into His Image
My decision to be more intentional about how I influenced others was prompted by a personal milestone: another "decade marker" birthday. I had approached it with dread and apprehension, and I wanted this birthday to pass with little fanfare. However, my friends had other ideas. On the evening of "the big day," Gene and I were invited to the home of friends. Upon arriving, we settled in for a night of great conversation. Suddenly there was a knock at the back door and in marched a room full of friends, many of whom I hadn't seen for a long time. Carrying black balloons and gag surprises, they sang "Happy Birthday," and the party began. Their gifts were insulting! Support hose, vitamins, fans for hot flashes, reading glasses, exercise videos, magazines for "retired folks," suggestions for menopausal madness, and laxatives. Lots of laxatives! We laughed, ate cake, remembered old times, and enjoyed the safety and security of relationships that had been forged over time.
The next day another gift arrived from a new friend, someone I had been mentoring by long distance. It was a book with these words inscribed inside the front cover: "Thank you for shaping my heart to His image." The words pierced my heart.
Over the next few months I received several notes from women with questions about God, parenting challenges, relationship struggles, job changes, and ministry choices. Many of these letters were from women who longed for a mentor. With each letter I became more certain that God wanted me to devote the last half of my life to influencing young leaders who would carry His work on to future generations. I could think of no better model to follow than Jesus, so I began to study His life and how He related to people. The Gospels tell us that Jesus poured His life into a few people, and in turn this small group impacted the world and all of history. We can't read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John without coming across numerous examples of one-on-one encounters Jesus had with people-encounters that radically changed their lives.
One of my favorites is how Jesus interacted with Matthew, the tax-collector-turned-disciple. Jesus walked by Matthew's booth one day while he was on duty. There he was: a capable money handler, a leader, a man of authority and power ... someone who might have skimmed some of the profits off the top. But Jesus saw Matthew with different eyes. He saw who Matthew could become-one of His biographers! He saw weaknesses that could be turned into strengths. He envisioned a transformed lifestyle. A new passion. A tenacious loyalty. As Jesus passed by, He called to Matthew, "Follow me." And Matthew did.
As I studied the life of Christ, I wanted to know more so that I could follow His example of how to influence people in ways that would make a lasting difference. Once I had identified my purpose -studying how Jesus influenced lives, integrating those principles into my own life, and passing them on to the next generation-I experienced a freedom I hadn't felt for a long time. Always busy "doing," I often felt pulled in too many directions. I now had an outstanding reason to say, "No, I won't be able to accept that invitation because I am convinced God wants the concentration of my energy in another direction." It became easy to quickly and efficiently say yes to opportunities for ministry that were in line with my mission to evangelize, equip, encourage, and empower people to impact others with their God-given potential.
An Invitation to an Adventure
What would happen if you decided to influence lives on purpose? I want to challenge women to become more intentional about how we influence others, not because we have to, but because we want to. Not because it is our Christian obligation, but because it brings great meaning and joy to our lives. Not because of duty, but because of love. Let's be like Jesus. Let's be women of conviction and passion. Let's intentionally influence other women because it is a high calling and a part of our predesigned purpose.
I didn't write this book to make women feel like failures as Christians if they have not made a lifetime commitment to mentor a younger woman, nor did I write it to present this model as the correct way to mentor. The sole purpose of this book is to inspire and equip women to impact lives as Jesus did. Many of us have dreamed of having an older woman with whom we meet on a regular basis who will point out our gifts and provide advice, encouragement, and resources. Someone to give us wise counsel day or night, someone to whom we can speak our mind and tell our secrets, knowing they will be guarded carefully. Someone with whom to pray and dream. But sad to say, this "idealistic dream" is usually far from reality.
As part of my research for this book, I designed a survey that I sent to almost one hundred Christian leaders. One question asked whether the person had had a lifetime mentor. To my surprise, only a handful of these gifted Christian leaders had one mentor for life. Almost without exception, the respondents talked of many people who had influenced them in positive and life-changing ways. Sometimes this occurred through a one-time encounter; at other times these mentors were influential for a period of time. A few of the individuals I surveyed said the person who had influenced them the most was a historical figure-obviously someone they had never even met!
As I've studied Christ's life, I've come up with six principles for impacting the lives of the people around us in profoundly meaningful ways. Whether we act as lifetime mentors, friends, encouragers, or seasonal mentors, we can embrace and pass on the principles Jesus lived by. They are powerful and purposeful illustrations of what mentoring is all about.
What would happen if we took Christ's example seriously? Even if the results were only a small percentage of what Jesus accomplished, the results would be remarkable. Jesus influenced individuals from a wide variety of educational and vocational backgrounds. Some were from dysfunctional families. A few were professionals; many were common laborers. Some were fearless, and others lacked courage. However, He saw in each the potential to become great leaders, and He inspired them to commit time and energy to learn from Him. He motivated them so much that they longed to be with Him, and even after He ascended into heaven, they carried on His work because they knew they would be with Him again.
Jesus' life gives us an example of how to live. His principles for influencing lives are timeless and, more than that, they are available for us to use today. Are we eager to discover what they are? Are we willing to be accountable for what we learn? Have we avoided the responsibility of mentoring others because we feel inadequate?
Jesus had only three years of public ministry, but the impact He had on those He mentored still influences you and me today. If you long to bring the essence of Jesus Christ into the space you occupy, if you desire to influence lives as Jesus did, if you are eager to live for something that will last forever, read on. Come and join me on this adventure!
1. If you don't already know the members of your group, please introduce yourself. Then think of one older person (outside your family) who has influenced your life in a positive, spiritually challenging way. Describe for the group what this person did to affect the direction of your life.
2. Reread the story of Meghan and her teacher, Mr. Ottley, on page 10. Carefully look at the inscription this influential teacher wrote in her high school yearbook. What in Mr. Ottley's words do you think gave Meghan so much hope and pointed her toward Christ?
3. The word influence has to do with a person's wisdom or force of character that makes a lasting impact on the behavior or choices of another person. Read Matthew 9:9-13.
a. How did Jesus influence Matthew?
b. Matthew began to influence his friends when he barely knew Jesus. How did he influence them?
c. What do you learn about Jesus' character and values from this passage?
4. In John 10:10, Jesus stated the purpose of His life: "I came so that they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of."
a. What are some of the ways Jesus gave people a better life when He walked on this earth?
b. How has Jesus impacted your life?
5. Read Matthew 5:13-16. Who do you know who lives as light in a dark world? What is it about that person that makes him or her a light?
6. What are some areas of your life in which you have the opportunity to be light in the world, or a source of influence (for example, with your children's friends or with coworkers)?
7. Take a moment on your own to review the following longings. Circle the ones with which you currently identify. Then share your responses with the group to the degree that you feel comfortable doing so.
"I wish I had someone who would mentor me."
"I long for accountability in a friendship with someone who has known the Lord longer than I have, but the people I know are so busy I don't know who to ask."
"I wish I knew someone with whom I could share my dreams and who would listen and give me honest feedback."
"I long to connect with a younger Christian woman who I could encourage, support, and challenge to be her best for Christ."
"My marriage is less than I had hoped. I thought I was marrying the strong, silent type, but now I know I just married a man who doesn't know how to communicate. Who can I talk to without embarrassing my husband?"
"My boss has been unfair. I'm not given the respect I should have for my position at work. I need this job, but I need to know how to confront my boss in an appropriate way. Who can I talk to?"
"I'm a new Christian. I want to learn about the Bible and I long to know how to pray, but I need guidance. Do you know anybody who could work with me on my spiritual growth?"
"I wish I had a younger woman in my life who would be interested in personal and spiritual growth. I long to help someone else through the hurdles I faced in earlier years."
Excerpted from becoming a woman of influence by carol kent Copyright © 2002 by Carol Kent. Excerpted by permission.
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