Influence: Do you have it? Do you want it?

"Influencers," the writing vocation, and a tipi

The radiating lines of the tipi remind me of ripples in a pond, a way to picture “influence.” My photo, taken at an exhibit about the Blackfeet nation near Glacier NP.

Perhaps you’ve run across this unlikely noun: Influencer.

I heard it often during my last book launch. My publisher asked me to create a list of people who were in a position to influence others to read my book — writers, bloggers, pastors, and Good-readers. At first it was excruciating. I hated the idea of asking others to use their influence on my behalf. But I also understood why I needed to ask. Social media makes it possible for well-positioned people to influence buying behavior.

The word Influencer still feels non-grammatical to me, but I’ve come to see that my problems with the word are not purely grammatical. My discomfort goes straight to the heart of my vocation as a writer — and whether my work deserves to be supported.
Asking for a boost may be outside my comfort zone, but is it an unreasonable thing to do? I have often been zealous about utilizing some program or resource that I understood to be a form of ministry. I have been happy to advance the gospel, or build the church.

Yet I know that my books have been helpful to many, spiritually speaking. So why does the idea of seeking Influence give me the urge to shudder? Pardon me while I clutch my shawl around my Puritan shoulders. Prithee, I am not self-serving!

I have had to press myself to think more deeply about this matter of influence. If my vocation is one of words in the service of the Word, is the divide between various forms of writing really so neat? I write because God gave me the desire to write. Sometimes the words I produce are sermons, but — increasingly — the writing takes other forms. Don’t those words still have value and deserve support? Don’t they have the potential to be good news about the Good News? As a product of my calling, are they a form of ministry?

One of the reasons I wrote my first book was because my congregation encouraged me to seek a wider audience. One of my elders said: “We love you, but there are only 57 of us, and more people should hear what you have to say.” Those words ring in my memory as the most affirming words I have ever heard.

At the time my church was podcasting sermons — we were early adapters. But that change felt like a tiny beginning. The questions were both deeply personal to me — vocational — but also societal. The ways people come to belief, and live out their beliefs, is undergoing a reformation. Just as the invention of the Gutenberg press changed the religious landscape 500 years ago, the internet is changing everything and the church is too slow in response.

Living in this new world — living out my particular vocation — raises certain questions for me. Maybe you share some of them:

  • Who do I intend/desire to influence?
  • Who has God set in my path — perhaps people to whom I am a bit blind?
  • What word or message is the burden on my heart and who might need to hear it?
  • Who would I seek to influence if I weren’t afraid?

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I'm a Presbyterian pastor and the author of two spiritual memoirs. RUINED was named a "2017 Book of the Year" by Christianity Today.