Read Matthew 25:15-17
It’s important to understand and accept that the sky is not your limit in developing Sway. You certainly have the potential to grow your leadership influence, but it is unlikely that you will be an international influencer. Many leaders will never influence more widely than a small group of people. And this will be positive and productive.
The parable of the talents revolves around the concept that people have different God-given abilities that lead to different spheres of influence and results. The master in the parable understood that his servants had differing capacities. He was just as happy with the two-talent servant who earned two more talents as with the five-talent servant who earned five more. God has created us all with the capabilities we need to achieve his calling on our lives. Our capacities are very different and that’s fine. We won’t all have the same influence. By God’s design, some of us are five-talent leaders, some of us are one-talent leaders, and most of us are somewhere in between.
It is vital to understand this as a Christian leader. If you feel that everyone has the same potential, you will tend to either feel inadequate (because others have been more successful) or superior (because you have achieved more than others). God does not expect the same fruit from every person. He has created our capacity and only holds us responsible for what he has called us to do.
I would often say to Malyon students, “If Tim Keller [about my age] was principal of Malyon Theological College, the College would have a lot more students.” This is not because Tim is better than me or works harder or has more faith (although he could be all of those things). It’s just that God has given him a greater capacity to influence. Whatever he does, he will have a wider sphere of influence than me. And that’s good because that’s God’s design. When it comes to Sway, I don’t have to compare myself with Tim Keller, thank goodness. And you don’t need to compare yourself with anyone either.
Some of your God-given personal abilities that may impact your potential to grow Sway are:
- Mental capacity. Some leaders are more intelligent than others. Smart people are not always the greatest influencers, but it may help your leadership if you can grasp things well and think quickly.
- Emotional intelligence. Some leaders have a greater self-understanding and understanding of others and the way they behave. This can be learned, but some leaders have a head start.
- Emotional resilience. Some leaders have a greater capacity to absorb and work through emotional challenges like disappointment or criticism or stress or conflict.
- Physical capacity. Some leaders can just work harder and longer. They don’t need as much rest.
- Personality type. Some leaders like being in front of crowds and others like working one-on-one. While both types may have great Sway, it will probably be easier for the up-front person to influence more widely.
- Communication ability. Some leaders relate and communicate better.
- Drivenness. Some leaders are more driven. This may come from insecurities as well as personality. But driven people often achieve more.
I could go on, but I hope you’ve got the message by now. God has put you together in a way that will determine the limit of your Sway. This has nothing to do with how good or effective or godly you are. It’s just a matter of the way God designed you. Understanding this sets us free from comparison, pride, guilt and inadequacy. You can only do what God has made and called you to do.
Do you tend to compare yourself with other leaders? How has this devotion on your Sway limit helped you see things differently? Is there anything you need to do?
Your Sway has a limit, but you are much more likely to fall short of the potential Sway God has for you than to try to push past the limits of your God-given potential. We have already seen how Paul kept encouraging Timothy to grow his Sway and not hold back (as Timothy probably would have preferred to do). Paul’s imploring of Timothy included:
- “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young” (1 Tim. 4:12),
- “Do not neglect your gift” (1Tim. 4:14),
- “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:15), and
- “Fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of hands” (2 Tim. 1:6).
Perhaps it’s a little simplistic, but here is the way I see it. God gives each of us a certain amount of natural influence or natural Sway (what I call “inherent influence”). You can see this in children. Some naturally have more influence than others. If we do nothing to develop our leadership, this is the amount of influence we will have for the rest of our lives.
God also decides on our “potential influence.” As I’ve already pointed out, this is not unlimited, but it is way beyond our inherent influence. God calls and gifts and equips us to make a difference in the lives of many people. So the challenge of Sway is to intentionally grow our leadership from our inherent ability to its full, God-decided potential.
This is not a smooth or straightforward journey. There are times when we toil away and our influence seems to be static, maybe even diminishing. There are times when we are forced or guided to step back from prominence and upfront influence. Paul’s imprisonment was an example of a seemingly forced retreat from Sway, although the letters he wrote in those difficult years proved to be incredibly influential. Depending on our legacy, we may have diminished influence in the latter years of our life.
However, the general concept still holds. Our Sway should continue to grow (with some ups and downs) until it reaches the potential God has decided for us. This takes hard work, risk, discipline, and prayer, and will inevitably involve failure and disappointment along with success and blessing.
Some Christian leaders grow their Sway quickly, but as they settle down with marriage and children and responsibilities and pressure, they pull back and their Christian influence diminishes considerably. While there are circumstances or seasons when a retreat from growing Sway may be appropriate, often this withdrawal is driven by self-protection and lack of discipline, and therefore it prevents leaders from reaching their God-given potential to influence.
Here are a few of the inhibitors to the growth of Sway. These are factors that keep Christian leaders from growing Sway over a lifetime.
- Consumer mentality. When we view the Christian life as being basically about our needs and our convenience, we will never have a passion to continue to grow Sway. It doesn’t have enough spin-offs for us.
- Pressures of life. Our lives are very busy with lots of demands that often include raising a family and building a career. There’s not a lot of space left to invest in influencing others.
- Lack of confidence. As our Sway increases, we often feel out of our depth and unsure of what we are doing. It just takes a few failures to severely dent our confidence. That’s why a focus on Grace and God’s call to leadership is so important.
- Demands of leadership. When we take on wider leadership roles as part of our growth in Sway, we are faced with all the demands of producing Crop, stepping out in Faith and managing and building Team. Sometimes it just feels too demanding.
- Societal change regarding leadership. New generation leaders in the West tend to be stronger on relationships and weaker on achievement. There are a lot of positives about this trend, but it can mean less intentional effort to increase sphere of influence and grow Sway.
- Inability to find mentors. As we will see later in this Plan, being mentored and sponsored can have a big impact on the development of Sway. Without mentoring, our growth will be slower.
There are plenty of factors that will inhibit you from growing your sphere of influence. Eventually, your Sway will not continue to develop unless you are committed and intentional.
But with God’s help and your discernment and hard work, you can grow your Sway to its God-given potential. Your influence is needed. Give it your best shot.