A turtle on a fence post

A turtle on a fence post.

If you ever see a turtle on a fence post, it probably did not get there by itself.

Who does?

Not that we’re climbing fence posts, but how many of us get where we are without someone helping us along the way?

Few influential leaders are likely to have made it to their positions of influence without themselves having been influenced by others along the course of their leadership journey, not least in its early stages.

In his excellent (go and buy it!) book for leaders, A Work of Heart, Reggie McNeal, writing about the life of Moses, suggests that ‘the recounting of a leader’s life journeys usually turns up a Jethro or two. These individuals are God’s gifts to the leader to provide extraordinary affirmation, encouragement and guidance.’

As I have listened to leaders in the course of my research, they have talked about people who have influenced them along the way.

  • Some have recalled the influence of a father or mother. One leader (a pastor) described his father (who had also been a pastor) as ‘the finest man I’ve ever known. He was the real deal, very honest, humble, kind of cheerful godly man.’ Another said that the reason his father had such an influence on him ‘was he was such a godly man. I cannot remember a single thing in my upbringing that my father said or did of which I could be the least ashamed. He just lived what he believed with such integrity.’
  • For some, it’s the influence of a teacher or a youth leader: these people not only taught but also set examples in the way they lived their lives. They were role models whose enthusiasm, and love for God inspired fledgling leaders to want to be like them. Character is important:
  • There have been mentors and others who know how to ask the right questions or who have been available to provide the right advice at a key moment (not unlike Jethro with Moses). Interestingly, these people may not always be fully aware of the significance of what they are saying. One of the leaders spoke about a pivotal moment in his sense of call which came about from a question asked by a work colleague who was not even a professing Christian.
  • There have been coaches who have communicated specific lessons or taught specific skills; other leaders whose particular emphases have helped shape a leader’s ministry.
  • There have been people who have been able to spot something in a future leader and provide (potentially challenging) circumstances in which the future leader can develop. They have helped create the circumstances in which a future leader has sensed the call of God. There have been door openers, inviters who have opened possibilities of wider influence.
  • Sometimes the influences are direct and sometimes they are indirect as leaders are shaped through reading or through the teaching and preaching ministry of someone at a distance. Sometimes it’s a particular call or challenge that has been felt from a preacher that has become formative in a leader’s life.
  • And there are the people who come alongside, who encourage and care at a time of crisis. A couple of prayer partners. A caring group of people.
  • Nor are the influencers always well known. One leader spoke of ‘people that the world will never know. Simple Christians who were filled with the Holy Spirit, radiant with Christ.’

One of the standout things for me about this was the mention, more than once, of a couple of individuals, one a teacher and one a bank employee. One of the leaders told me that the teacher has prayed for him every week for 50 years. That in itself is a challenge to all of us, but it’s worth noting that neither of these two men was involved in what we tend to refer to as ‘full time Christian ministry’ – they had their regular jobs but were able to influence members of a rising generation of Christian leaders.

The other thing that has got me wondering is this: If these influencers were at work some 40 or 50 years ago, and the fruit of their influence has been evident in the lives of their protégés in subsequent decades, then who are today’s influencers and investors?

Remember: when you next see a turtle on a fence post, it didn’t get there by itself.

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