A common question for children (and even some adults) of all ages is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In days gone by, children might have answered, “a cowboy, a policeman or a fireman.” Or perhaps some might have said, “a teacher, an astronaut, or even an architect.” This is a common question we ask our middle school students to help them with the decision of which high school courses to take. I would have to say that over the years by far the most common answer has been, “a professional athlete”. But that is no longer the case. Now days, what I hear more than anything is, “I want to be an influencer.”
For those of you who don’t get the opportunity to hang out with young people, let me tell you what an influencer is. It’s defined as, “an individual who has the power to affect purchase decisions of others because of his/her authority, knowledge, position or relationship with his/her audience.” A celebrity can certainly be an “influencer” or perhaps someone with authority on a topic. But in recent years, social media has allowed bloggers and normal everyday people to be able to create a platform that engages thousands of followers, which makes them desirable for marketing. Essentially, companies pay these people to post on social media platforms and talk about their products in hopes that their followers (or those they influence) will then purchase them as well. Although it’s much harder work than it may appear to be, young people who know no better are drawn to the idea that they can take some pictures and post some videos and they too might get tons of stuff for free, get to travel the world and hopefully become famous just being who they are. What’s not appealing about that?
As I did my daily reading in the book of Mark last week, the idea of “influencers” came to mind more than once. Let’s take a look together.
In the first verses of Mark chapter 9, we are told of Jesus healing a demon possessed boy after his disciples were unable to do so and then Jesus taking his disciples away from the crowds so he could teach them. His days on earth were coming to an end so his time with them was urgent. I would like to pick up in verse 33:
33 When he was safe at home, he asked them, “What were you discussing on the road?”
34 The silence was deafening—they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest.
35 He sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.”
In Chapter 10, we again see more healing, more travelling and more teaching. Jesus is telling them of what is to come in days ahead and trying to prepare them for when he leaves them soon. Picking up in verse 35:
35 James and John, Zebedee’s sons, came up to him. “Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us.”
36 “What is it? I’ll see what I can do.”
37 “Arrange it,” they said, “so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory—one of us at your right, the other at your left.”
41-45 When the other ten heard of this conversation, they lost their tempers with James and John. Jesus got them together to settle things down. “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.”
These verses remind me that even among those who had the opportunity to live daily side by side with Jesus, there was still a desire for fame. There is something in us that makes us want position. We want to have the power to influence. Knowing the rest of the story and what Jesus would soon endure makes their bickering and fighting for position even more appalling. However, as always, Jesus was patient with them. He explained in both cases that in the Kingdom of God, influence comes from serving others. It is through what we GIVE that we become great, not through what we get. He even reminded them that His purpose for coming was to serve. He is the King of all Kings. The Lord of all Lords. The greatest influencer who ever walked the Earth. Yet, he served others.
Recently my daughter shared something about someone in her life that has really stuck with me. She said of this person, “he’s just kind and thoughtful because that’s who he is. It’s not even like he tries or even notices that he’s doing it.”
As I’ve thought about those words, it makes me wonder about my own kindness (or lack thereof). As a Christian, shouldn’t my life be one of serving just because “that’s who I am”? Not because of my own human effort, but because of who HE is? Serving in my life shouldn’t take effort or be done for the notice of others. I should serve because Christ lives in me and He came to serve. I should love because He first loved me, and I’m afraid it should come more naturally than it does.
Just like my middle school friends, I hope to be an influencer, but not because of social media followers or any notoriety in this world. I want to be an influencer for the Kingdom by serving others as He did. I want to come to the end of my life and hear my master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And I would hope that it becomes such a natural part of who I am that someone could say of me, “It’s not like she even tries, it’s just who she is” because of WHOSE I am. Greater is He that is in me than He that is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
I do want to mention that there are a large number of young people who are using their influencer platforms to share the Gospel and to live lives that are honoring to God. I often pray for those young athletes, actors and actresses, You Tubers, performers, or public speakers who recognize where their true influence comes from and have no fear acknowledging their faith. Satan won’t leave those young lives alone and they must be on high alert. We live in cruel times and it is much easier to be torn down than to be built up, so these folks are very brave if you ask me. I admire their courage and when I hear their testimonies and faith stories, I can’t help but be hopeful for future generations. God is so creative and I’m amazed at what and whom He uses to spread the Gospel to all generations.