Many people describe leadership as influence. Several heavyweight leaders say these terms are interchangeable. I don’t see it that way. Yes, leaders can be quite influential in both good and bad ways, but this is not a given.
I’ve seen people in leadership roles with little to no influence. The net effect of their leadership is nil. On the other hand, I’ve known and witnessed influential leaders who’ve had a great impact. I ran across an excellent article by Steve Graves on the difference between influence and leadership. He makes a good case for the distinction between leadership and influence.
Plenty of people have been good leaders with good influence, such as Abraham Lincoln, Florence Nightingale, and Billy Graham. Leaders with evil influence? Sadly, it’s not a short list, but men like Adolph Hitler come to mind.
Then, there are many leaders who have a somewhat sketchy influence. A cursory look at political personalities could produce a lengthy list. What about spiritual leaders, where character and integrity are essential? Among them, we can find good, bad, and even sketchy examples.
In part one, I answered the first of three questions I posed in a challenge in a previous post. This week I want to look at the second question and give my personal answer. Here’s the question—
Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life so far? Why?
Three leaders were influential in the early development of my spiritual life and theology. Two are now with the Lord, but their leadership and influence are still embedded in my life. One is my age, alive, and still influencing others for good as a leader.
I came to faith during the Jesus People Movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s. I mentioned some of this in the previous post. Ironically, the church I was thrown out of for asking the wrong question is where I got grounded in the truth of God’s Word. It’s also where I began serving the Lord in full-time ministry under my first pastor, Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.
It was under him that I developed an appreciation for the grace of God and studying God’s Word. Pastor Chuck was known for these two distinct things, not only in my life but for thousands of others.
Both the grace of God and God’s Word became foundational in my spiritual growth and my theology through his ministry. He was a living example of their importance and value and a strong pastoral leader with great, enduring influence. Chuck went to be with His Lord in October 2013.
As my wife and I grew in our spiritual lives, we became more involved at the ground level of ministry while serving at a church and retreat center near Desert Hot Springs, CA. When we arrived in 1973, it was a small church and retreat ministry in a sparsely settled area of the low desert of southern California. Susan and I learned so much about serving in every way imaginable.
Although it was remote, many significant spiritual leaders of the 1970s visited this little spiritual oasis. One of them was Rev PHP Gutteridge, known to us as “Percy”. He was much older than us and also much wiser, a true sage.
Percy’s teaching had spiritual depth and often centered on the cross of Christ and the need for Christian believers to walk the way of the cross. Originally from England, he pastored this church in its infancy. During our time there, he visited on a regular basis, especially when we held large holiday retreats.
After I planted a church in 1978, he would come to preach to our little growing congregation in the upper desert area of Yucca Valley, CA. When he died in October 1998, we were missionaries in the Philippines. His life and ministry continue to influence us both to this day. Percy stirred my heart to plumb the depths of the Scriptures further and the essential simplicity of the way of the cross (Matt 16:24).
My involvement in ministry at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa came at the invitation of a young man my age but with much greater experience. Bruce’s wife, Joni, was pregnant and found it difficult to hold her guitar to lead praise for the children’s church. A couple of others and I jumped in to help, and this began a long-term friendship in ministry.
Bruce opened the door for me to serve in many ways. When he and his young family moved out to the church and retreat ministry I mentioned earlier, we joined them and the ministry about a year later. We served there for five years, and it was of great value in so many ways. I learned how to preach, teach, counsel, and lead as an assistant pastor through Bruce’s pastoral guidance.
This was the foundation for my stepping out to plant a church and develop a Bible College in the Philippines. It was practical, hands-on training. But he was more than a pastoral mentor to me, he was a true friend. Bruce has a clear grasp of the immense, far-reaching love of God, which is infectious. His influence continues to reach around the world in a ministry he founded while pastoring in southern California—He Intends Victory.
So, now that you know who had important spiritual influences on my life and theological development, how about you?
Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life so far, and how have they blessed you?