Is It Wrong to Desire Influence?

Most chapters in Explosive Preaching prompt me to think of several posts.  Hopefully Boyd-MacMillan will forgive my leaning on his book for ideas so often in recent weeks in exchange for my encouragement to others to buy it for themselves.  Chapter 28 in the book is a chapter that stands out as unlike anything I’ve come across in other preaching books (I appreciate that, as I also get feedback that this blog contains things not found in preaching books too!)


Is it wrong to desire it?  This chapter focuses on three very diverse preachers – Billy Graham, Martin Luther-King Jr and Robert Schuller.  The author writes, “They all became influential preachers.  But they all wanted to become influential preachers.  They were not modest in their desire for influence, nor bashful in the way that they sought to extend their influence.” (p237)

He goes on to write under several headings: the sermon, the person, the wave, the moment, the movement, the network, the event.  His conclusion, the lesson he learns from these men is “if you want to be an influential preacher, then don’t just preach a great sermon!” He sees their concern with reception and reverberation.  Reception refers to their making sure that their words were heard optimally.  Reverberation meant ensuring that their words would be heard long after delivery.

I suppose this is a matter of prayerful balance.  We desire to influence others as good stewards of the ministry that God gives us.  Yet we feel very uncomfortable at the suggestion that we should pursue influence (or “success” in any human measurement).  I know this post could prompt a strong reaction.  I suspect it may get a reaction that is unfair to the book that prompted the post.  I would encourage you to read the book.  I would encourage you to prayerfully wrestle with the issues raised in this post.  Fleshly or spiritual, a desire for influence is very real in most of us – let’s not ignore that, but rather prayerfully wrestle with the issue.

We Need Repeated Prodding

I believe we need repeated prodding on this issue.  It’s a critical issue in ministry and church health.  I believe it is the heart of biblical ministry.  Here’s a prod from Explosive Preaching, 145:

There is no greater tragedy for preaching today than the senior pastor who claims to be too busy to mentor preachers.

I say, amen.  This line comes at the end of a paragraph describing the mentoring of Martin Luther-King Jr by J. Pius Barbour.  He would spend time every Saturday with a group of younger preachers who would practice their sermons in front of him and the group.  Then on Sunday, after he had preached, he would ask them to analyze his sermon under the headings of content, delivery and audience reaction.  Talk about accountability as well as mentoring!

It takes effort, time and sometimes even sacrifice.  Yet mentoring is multiplicative ministry, it is exponential ministry, it is biblical ministry.

Churchill’s Power Line

James C. Humes, in his book, Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln: 21 Powerful Secrets of History’s Greatest Speakers, gives Churchill’s formula for planning a true power line.  In the speech of a politician this is the sound-bite designed to galvanize the nation, or reach millions in the media.  It’s the cream that rises to the top of a speech.  Perhaps we can consider these elements as we craft the message idea – our power line.

C for Contrast. Pairing antonyms in one line can work wonders.  Churchill declared,

“There is only one answer to defeat and that is victory!”

R for Rhyme. Subtle internal rhyming adds power to a line and makes it more memorable.  For instance, the rhyming of two seas in the famous Iron Curtain speech:

“From Stettin in the Baltic
To Trieste in the Adriatic,
An iron curtain has descended upon the continent of Europe.”

E for Echo.  Echoing a term within a line can add power to it.  For example, here’s Churchill again:

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender.”

A for Alliteration. This is not saying we should alliterate our points, that can be discussed elsewhere, but it adds power to that key line.  Consider a line apparently coming from Churchill on public speech:

“Vary the pose and vary the pitch and don’t forget the pause.”

Martin Luther King’s most quoted sentence is a classic example,

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character!”

M for Metaphor. Well-chosen and framed imagery has much greater power than mere abstraction.  One more from Churchill:

“An appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

One last tip to go with this list – use power lines sparingly.  One per message.  Any more is wasteful both in terms of your effort and your effectiveness.