Sometimes we get mixed up in ministry. We forget that our responsibility is not control it is influence. God never gave us control of people, their lifestyles, or their choices. He created free will, and gives each individual responsibility for their choices. I fear, out of good intentions, some spiritual leaders cross the line and actually try to control behavior rather than influence the heart. There are a lot of reasons this well-intentioned approach to ministry is really bad:
God Gave Us Influence not Control—He allows us to influence others, but He reserves the right of control strictly to Himself. In ministry, it is influence that we seek, and only that we might use influence to compel others to live by biblical principles in complete submission to the One who truly does have ultimate control. We don’t have control of others—ever. God does. And He loans us influence—through spiritual means. He commands us to be living examples to others, persuading them, not mandating them, to live godly. (“In meekness instructing them that opposed themselves.” 2 Timothy 2:25) We cannot mandate others to live righteously, but we can persuade them to. We cannot push others to God, but we can lead them to Him.
Control Is a Delusion, Influence Is Real—Even if we fools ourselves into believing we could have control, it’s a myth. We don’t. We never have. We couldn’t. We shouldn’t want to. It is a complete waste of time to grasp for the reigns of someone else’s decisions. And if someone actually gave us control, it would be temporary, fleeting, ultimately failing, and vain. We have enough trouble controlling ourselves, much less others. (1Timothy 4:16, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”)
Control Is Lordship, Influence Is Leadership—We blow it when we cross the line of spiritual leadership by seeking control. This is simply lording over God’s heritage, which we are commanded not to do. 1 Peter 5:3, “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” This phrase being lords over speaks of subjugation, domination, and attempting to control, and God expressly forbid it in spiritual leaders. The word ensamples speaks to influence.
Control Builds Man-Dependence, Influence Builds God-Dependence—If someone actually gave you control of their choices, they become dependent upon you. Wrong answer. They are supposed to be dependent upon God. Spiritual leaders are not called to make decisions for people. We are called to build them in biblical principles that create God-dependence. It’s pretty hard to trust in the Lord with all my heart, if my heart is dependent upon another man. (Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart…”)
People Resent Control, but Appreciate Influence—Attempting to manipulate the behavior of others, even toward ultimately biblical and good ends, only leads to disenchantment and desertion. A life built upon the control of another human being will ultimately run away from that control in search of a better reason for living. To the contrary, a life surrendered to the control of Almighty God has discovered the ultimate purpose of living!
Control Is for Environments, Influence Is for People—Of course you must control your classroom, your youth activity, your church service. God does commands us to let all things be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40). Controlled environments allow for healthy ministry and effective influence.
Authentic Ministry Is about Influence—Ministry is about developing a biblical relationship with someone that allows you to bring eternal truth—God’s principles—to bear in their decision making, thinking, behavior, and daily lifestyle. This is influence. It isn’t control. (2 Corinthians 5:11, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.”)
Influence Is Earned not Grasped—If you don’t have influence with someone (if they are unresponsive to your persuasion), you will never gain influence by grasping for control. Seek to love, not control. Seek to persuade—to gain a sphere of influence through a loving relationship—then work within that sphere to enlarge biblical influence and compel that person to live under the Holy Spirit’s control.
Persuade is the biblical word (2 Corinthians 5:11)—in the end, as ministers of Christ, that’s what we are—persuaders. We seek to persuade, through our lives—our words and our actions. We seek to influence others to live by biblical principle under the authority of Almighty God—to give HIM control, not us.
But always use influence biblically. God gives us influence to use for His glory, not for personal agenda. Our influence should direct others to God’s agenda for their lives, not ours. Our influence should direct others to hear and heed the inner work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Our persuasion must be thoroughly selfless and abundantly biblical.
In speaking with Dr. John Goetsch about this subject he made this statement, “God identifies people as sheep in the Bible. Sheep cannot be driven, but they can be led.” As we lead people, and influence them, we are genuinely building them in Christ. Hence the spiritual decisions they make are not contrived, forced, mandated, or manufactured. They are genuinely produced by the Spirit of God.
The hardest part of ministry is watching people do things and make decisions that you know are harmful to them. God doesn’t give us control of those decisions. But He does allow us influence—the power of persuasion. Seek to influence others with a servant’s heart today.
Actually it’s kind of funny to think that one dumb sheep would attempt to control another dumb sheep. Let’s leave the control part up to God, and do our best to take heed unto ourselves and biblically influence others to do the same.
End Note: Parenting small children would be an obvious exception to these principles, but even then the dependency/control exercised by a parent is with the goal of building influence that will lead them to Christ-dependency and control.