“Influencer.” If you spend any time on social media, you’ve heard this word, and you’ve probably met someone who is an influencer or is at least trying to become one.
The term inherently means someone who can affect the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviours of others. It’s kind of intangible. “What exactly does an influencer do?” Sometimes people who describe their profession as being “an influencer” are mocked as if influencing people isn’t a real contribution to society.
And whether or not the people you see on Instagram are really creating a better or worse world, it is important for us to ask this question: what exactly is influence, is it okay if I have it, and how do I use it?
In the Bible, this idea of “influence” as we use it today when talking about social media isn’t really present. But the basic concept of “influence” definitely is. In Deuteronomy (6:7, 20-25), the Israelites are instructed to pass on their faith and their heritage to their children, helping them to carry forward their traditions and preserving their identity. Our parents are usually our earliest and most powerful influences over our whole lives.
But there are all kinds of influential forces that appear throughout the Bible: powerful kings change the fates of nations, prophets and false prophets sway the actions and beliefs of those kings, and all sorts of different spiritual beings influence the words and actions of the prophets. Empires rise and fall, cultures conquer one another, and in all of it, we see human and supernatural influencers shaping and re-shaping the world as we know it.
The nation of Israel was conquered by many of these powerful empires, and they expected that a powerful warrior called The Messiah would appear, conquer the greatest empire of the time - Rome - and establish a kingdom for Israel that would rule the whole world.
But when a man named Jesus arrived, he envisioned this kingdom in a much different way. He believed that God’s kingdom was like a small seed growing into a tree where birds can build nests (Luke 13:18-19), or like the joy of a woman who found a lost coin while cleaning her house and celebrated with her friends (Luke 15:8-10), or like an employer paying his employees generous bonuses over the expected wage (Matthew 20:1-7). In all of these illustrations, Jesus wanted to show that God can be found in the simplest and most commonplace moments of everyday life. The Kingdom of God can be found in the smallest details of an average life.
Paul's own teachings among the early Christians give us further insight into the "life ethic" of simplicity that seemed to go hand-in-hand with following Jesus. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul advises:
9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more,11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you,12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 NIV)
"Leading a quiet life" doesn't exactly sound ambitious to our modern ears, but Paul suggested that this should be a goal for the average believer - not to raise one's own status, but to live simply and focus on doing the right thing for the people in one's immediate sphere of ... influence.
In 1 Timothy 6:3-10, Paul goes even further, pointing out that many ambitious false teachers with a not-so-subtle love for money and personal gain have been stirring up conflicts and disagreements, apparently trying to twist their influence into getting money. Paul counters that "godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Timothy 6:6 NIV), and that "we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it." (1 Timothy 6:7 NIV)
While the status, likes, and engagement that many people get out of a social media following may seem desirable, you also have to consider what you sacrifice. Privacy and online security are valuable things that often have to be sacrificed in order to perform for the public eye. It's not wrong to pursue a career as an influencer, but it does require that you weight the balance of what you'll gain from it versus what you'll potentially lose in terms of privacy, mental health, freedom from unwanted criticism, performance pressure, and over exposure. Take time to pray over how much you want to "put yourself out there." You'll thank yourself (and God) later.
The point is, you don’t have to have a huge following to be an important influencer. Most people need to focus on how they treat the people around them, and how they influence those who are already close to them. You don’t have to have a massive platform or a huge following to make a difference. We all have some amount of influence already. What matters is how you will use your influence for good.
- Deuteronomy 6 contains the famous "Shema" - which became a prayer that Jewish people would pray every day. Read Deuteronomy 6:4-7, and 20-25. What does this passage say to you about influence? Who are the earliest influencers in people's lives? What kind of context did God expect his people to share their faith in? How might that apply today?
- Read Luke 13:18-21. How did Jesus characterize his own kingdom? Look at the metaphors he uses? Why do you think he chose these images to describe his own mission? What do they mean?
- Read 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12. Have you ever thought about this kind of life - quiet and unassuming - as something to aim towards? How does that make you feel? Does that seem appealing to you? Why or why not? What are the pros and cons of living a "quiet" life?
- Read 1 Timothy 6:3-10. How do you think this passage might apply to the concept of the "celebrity pastor"?
- When Paul says that we bring nothing into the world and can take nothing out of it, what do you think that means? How could this concept shape the way you approach things in your own life? Does it give context to what is important?