Note: This article is directed at parents, but the principle applies to pastors and leaders as well…
Do you want your children to love God? Do you want them to truly enjoy living life with and for Jesus Christ? There’s an unspoken principle that many parents or leaders miss. It often goes ignored, unrecognized, and completely invisible. But it plays out in every family and church. It is present in every parenting struggle and every parenting success. It’s huge. Stay with me!
Influence trumps authority. That’s it. End of article. Influence trumps authority! But it sounds trite, simplistic, and possibly even erroneous! So, let’s look more closely.
If you truly desire to bring up your children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”, you must do more than rule them. You must do more than educate them, manage them, teach them. You must do more than feed, clothe, and house them. You must even do more than pray for and with them. Frankly, you must do more than love them.
YOU MUST LIKE THEM! I’m not talking about a trite, simplistic, surface form of “like.” No, I’m referring to what the Apostle Paul experienced toward the Thessalonican Christians when he said that he was “gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children” and “affectionally desirous” of them and they were “dear unto us” so much so that he and his co-laborers “imparted not the gospel of God only, but our own souls…” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8) These “unbelievers-turned-new-believers-turned-dynamic-church” were the beneficiaries of more than ritual ministry or Apostolic authority. They were blessed to experience an authentic, passionate, personal, sacrificial relationship with the Apostle Paul.
There’s a powerful parenting principle in this passage. In a few words, I want to try to describe what I believe to be the single most important parenting principle in scripture—influence trumps authority.
You see, no parent ever truly won the heart of a child that they did not like—a child that they did not truly develop a close relationship with. The logic in a kid’s mind goes like this: “If you don’t like me, then I don’t like you. Which means I’d rather hole up in my room, leave you to your career, and hope to keep you off my back until I’m 18 when I can finally break free to go find relationships where I am valued and liked.” Ouch!
Many parents try to find the answers to their parenting struggle in “AUTHORITY.” But most of the long-term answers that matter are found in “INFLUENCE!” Authority is merely the foundation from which to build influence—not the end in itself. That’s not to say that authority isn’t absolutely essential—it is. But successful parenting takes more than just authority.
If you want to control me, leverage your authority. If you want to change me, then develop a relationship of influence. If you actually want me to adopt your belief system, your values—if you desire to change my heart, then you must have influence with me—profound influence! Sounds simple, but it’s actually pretty complex. Let’s break it down…
First—Authenticity Produces Credibility
If you read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 you will see that the Apostle Paul didn’t charge into this city of unbelievers leveraging his apostolic authority. I imagine he could have. But it wouldn’t have worked. He chose another route—a more sincere humble path. And twice in the passage, he compares what he did to exactly what a mother or a father should do with their children. He entered the city and first expressed authentic love and compassion. His authenticity—his consistent, risky, sacrificial, courageous, pure, selfless ministry gave him something very valuable in the eyes of these “soon to be” Christians. His authenticity gained him credibility
The Apostle—as a spiritual father—entered into ministry in this city with absolute authenticity. And so in parenting—inconsistency (or duplicity) produces uncertainty and skepticism (or even cynicism.) In other words, if you’re playing a game and not sacrificially developing a real relationship with your kids, they will see through you, and then you lose credibility. Your faith becomes silly in their minds, and your authority becomes invalid. (Practically, that is… at least to them.) All of our kids have a subconscious radar detecting pretense and fakery. Through it, they are building a case, like little attorneys, to either invalidate our faith and authority or validate it. (Hold that thought.)
Second—Credibility Produced Influence
In verses 7-12, the Holy Spirit through Paul describes how these new Christians were influenced. Because of the Apostle’s credibility, he was able, in a very short time to exert profound influence in this city! Paul was doing more than his duty, or his obligation. He was “affectionately desirous” of these people. He truly like them, loved them, invested his whole soul into them. And they responded! They were drawn to Him and to the work of the Holy Spirit through him. They opened their hearts to his influence.
Paul says he was gentle (kind), he cherished them, he was affectionately desirous of them, he gave them his own soul, he labored and travailed for them night and day (he lost sleep investing into them!), he told them the truth (the gospel), he exhorted, comforted, charged them. In other words, he pleaded with them, he consoled or empathized with them, and he challenged them with facts and true evidence. This man absolutely expended himself for the transformation of these people!
And then he says something very powerful about all of this activity—“…even as a father doth his children…” Whoa! That’s where every parent gets smacked right in the face with this passage. Are you expending yourself in that way for your children? Are you building such a close relationship? Are you pursuing their hearts at such a personal, sacrificial level—laboring and travailing night and day? Exhorting, comforting, charging? Gentle, cherishing, desiring? That’s a really tall order! Most parents would play victim and say, “I don’t have time do to all that!”—ah, but you do. You are merely choosing to give that time to things you value—like a career, or a credit card bill, or a car payment.
And yet, this is the sacrifice required to truly build incredible influence!
Thirdly, Influence Validates Authority
This is where the whole formula lands back on the strong foundation of biblical authority! What happened when these unbelievers came into contact with authenticity? It gave the Apostle credibility. What did he do with it? He used it to influence! And what did his powerful, biblical influence lead to? Validated authority!
Look at the results—“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” 1 Thessalonians 2:13
His influence validated not only his authority, but also the final authority—Jesus Christ, and His living Word! These unbelievers were brought to a point where they voluntarily chose to receive and submit to the authority of the Word of God. This is really big!
What does your child need more than anything else? A relationship with God! A life built upon God’s Word, God’s authority, God’s guidance. That’s the goal! The goal isn’t to merely control them, manage them, and leverage your authority. The goal is to influence them into a life-long relationship under God’s authority.
So parent, what’s your role in that process? Yes, you are authority. Yes, you must protect your children by using and expressing your God-given authority. You must set boundaries, explain consequences, meet out punishment. Yes, you must exert biblical leadership and authority. But you cannot stop there! You cannot win the heart by leveraging authority. You win the heart by influence.
And you don’t have influence unless your child extends it to you! You can demand submission to your authority. But you cannot demand influence in their hearts. That is something you must earn—through a close relationship. Influence is something they extend to you by a subconscious act of their will—a reaction of trust and unconditional acceptance. It happens when you are real, and when you are safe—when you really accept them in God’s grace just as they are. Influence is something they will grant you as you live and love credibly before them.
Think of it for a moment. Hollywood and secular culture will spend billions and billions to influence your child. Satan doesn’t need authority to wreck your kids life. He just needs influence. And through the lies of secular culture, Satan is completely rewriting the value and belief system of Christian kids—through INFLUENCE! And he’s effectively negating the influence of parents and pastors, often because those adults are grasping for authority and are blind to the fact that they have lost all influence.
Dozens of times, I’ve sat in a room with a rebellious teenager and desperate parents. The teen is doing everything he can to fight and rebel. And we could blame a lot of things. We could blame the sin nature of the teen, the wicked influences of culture, the pressure of peers, the power of temptation. We could blame a neglectful father, a messed up priority structure, a broken home life, an abusive past. We could point the blame in lots of directions—but when the relationship is broken, the reason is often irrelevant to the solution. In these moments desperate parents want their child to submit to their authority. But even if he or she does—there’s a much bigger problem! Winning the authority struggle is only a temporary victory usually lulling parents back into relational sleep, while influence (or the total loss of it) goes entirely unnoticed. In other words, the teen learns how to appease—how to play the game, to conform to keep the adults “off his back.”
Meanwhile, they still have no influence! And usually no one sees it. It’s like a silent, invisible gorilla in the room.
In nearly every case, these parents have not only lost authority. They have lost influence! And retaining or regaining authority won’t fix the total and complete loss of influence. The question is not “How can we regain authority? How can we get our kid to do what we say?” The question is, “Where and when did we lose influence with our child? How have we failed to transfer our beliefs and values? At what point did our authority and belief system become in-credible?” In other words, “Where and when did this relationship break to the point that this kid totally dismisses us?—we have no credibility, no viability, and therefore no influence!”
How often we miss this question! If you have no influence, your authority is probably broken too. And if you have no influence, you cannot win the war for your child. The question to winning the heart is, “How can I go back to the place where we lost influence, and how can we regain trust, re-establish credibility, and rebuild influence?”
And just as with the Apostle Paul, biblical influence will always validate and strengthen your authority. You kids will welcome, love, appreciate, and value your authority—because they TRUST you, and you have profound influence with their heart!
So yes, influence trumps authority. And here’s one more reason why.
You children will soon outgrow your authority, but they will never out grow your influence!
Not far beyond 18 or 20, you will no longer have authority. It’s coming. Deal with it. You won’t always be able to call the shots. But that’s ok! If you live authentically, and love passionately, you will gain credibility—you will establish influence (through a close relationship), and you can have that for as long as you live—and even beyond!
Pursue the heart of your child! Like the Apostle Paul, be “affectionately desirous” of them. Expend yourself in authentic relationship. In so doing, you will build influence.
When it comes to protecting you child—think “authority.” But when it comes to directing your child—think “influence!”