‘Few may think, yet all have opinions.’
To say that we live in the Age of the Influencer is an understatement. Sociologists, economists and experts in human behaviour refer to human history in periods of time, called ages. Human history is documented by stages, such as the Age of Discovery (from the 1400s to 1700s), the Industrial Age (roughly from 1750 to 1850) and the Information Age (from the 1970s to present). With the advent of the internet and globalisation, and the subsequent arrival of social media, we have found ourselves in what social media marketers call the Age of the Influencer.
Through rapid means of interconnectivity, the world has become a small place. Communication connects continents, countries, cities and communities. In the next section, I will briefly outline the relationship between social media and influence because the advent of this pervasive technology has profoundly impacted how many of us make choices and live our lives.
Social media in its various forms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn and Instagram) has provided humanity with the ability to express themselves and their ideas. Just to show how crazy the statistics are; Every second 8882 tweets are sent, 976 photos are uploaded on Instagram, 83,057 YouTube videos are viewed. It is staggering to think of the content that individuals, companies, schools, businesses, politicians, religions, entertainers create via social media to sell their ideas, political views, products and beliefs. It is clear that social media has given people a platform from which they can voice their opinions on just about anything.
Consequently, social media has created an environment in which people want to be heard and to be heard must claim to be an expert—the authority on any given topic. These so-called experts confuse opinion and fact, but want others to learn from them and see them as an authority. Social media platforms are crowded with people shouting at one another, as each person hopes to shape the way others perceive the world. The result has been a mix of useful and harmful ideas—and an increasing difficulty to differentiate these—flying around in cyberspace. The pursuit and desire to change the way people see and act has given rise to what is referred to as the ‘influencer’.
Influencing is not necessarily malicious, but I am always amazed to find that people are not always aware that they are being influenced by the people they engage with on social media. We all have a desire to belong and fit in, so it is unsurprising that as we make decisions about what brand of a t-shirt to buy or what style of shoes are trending, we will consult people that we believe to be an authority on the topic, from friends to celebrities or mummy-bloggers. I am not immune to this. As someone who loves basketball, I am constantly trying to keep up with the new releases of Air Jordans and similar basketball sneaker brands.
I am unashamed to say that YouTubers who produce content on sports gear have influenced my purchases. It’s easier and less time consuming than going to a bunch of stores trying to decide which ones I want. All I must do is watch and then go shopping – in the actual store or online. Whatever he likes, I like. Whatever he buys, I buy. It is our desire to fit in that has cultivated this Age of the Influencer.
For the purpose of clarity, I will define an influencer as an individual who has the ability, either natural or acquired, to affect the decisions and choices that people make, consciously or subconsciously. This capacity or power to persuade comes naturally for some based on their personality traits and demeanour. For others, regardless of their genetics or personality type, they have honed the ability to persuade people intentionally through learning or as a result of their upbringing or circumstances. For the individual who is not a natural persuader, the confidence to influence comes through consuming information on a particular subject, learning a skill or adopting a new way of thinking from experts.
Influence involves possessing contagious enthusiasm that, when observed by others, affects the intent or behaviour of others, such as a change in opinion, preference or action. Influence happens when people observe you live your life, share your ideas, teach your philosophies and do what you do to the best of your abilities. As they observe you, they become interested in mimicking or replicating you. Their interest is sparked by observation, which transforms their opinions, preferences or actions.
You can see this demonstrated with much of the content on YouTube. Millions of so-called experts post videos to explicitly or implicitly instruct their audiences to make a change in their behaviour. Many of us are exposed to influencers every day.
Influencers may live in the same house as you, sit beside you in the classroom or share a cubicle with you at the office. Perhaps you have encountered influencers at promotions at your local shopping centre or in the advertising that appears in your Instagram feed. Influencers can convince you to buy something you were not intending to buy and all of a sudden, you need that thing. Influence is everywhere: that advertisement you read or watched on your television, phone, tablet or computer; that YouTube channel to which you subscribed; that blog that you frequent; that Instagram account that you follow, comment on and repost; and that person you see every time you look into the mirror. Stop looking around, I am talking about you! Engaging in social media automatically situates you in this climate of influence and influencing.
At this point, you might be thinking that influencing is not for you. You might say to yourself, ‘I don’t qualify to be an influencer, because I am not a leader. I don’t have the type of personality it takes to be an influencer’. I am here to tell you that it’s not true. In one way or another, everybody influences the people around them, whether they know it or not. My purpose in writing this book is to explore the intention to be an influencer and the process to becoming an influencer, not just in the world of social media, but in life beyond the screens.
A RARE BREED OF INFLUENCER
There are many examples of great influencers in the Bible. If you think about it, the Bible is essentially a book about influence. God reveals Himself to a group of people, so that they may reveal God to the rest of humanity. The main theme of the New Testament is discipleship—that is, becoming more like Jesus—which could be defined as the process of becoming an influencer with a spiritual edge.
Influence with a spiritual edge is the essence of this book—offering a spiritual influence on a world that is oversaturated with influencers who do more talking and taking, than listening and giving. With this purpose in mind, it makes sense to mine the Bible for someone who embodies and models the ideal qualities of a spiritual influencer. Many Bible characters could have qualified as the case study. The Old and New Testaments are full of men and women of faith who profoundly influenced their world.
However, I specifically searched the Bible for a character who had an experience with God that allowed them to identify with both insiders and outsiders. By insiders, I am referring to those who are familiar with the world of prayer and worship. By outsiders, I am referring to those who are uninitiated when it comes to spirituality and the believer’s world view.
I believe that true influence is more than the ability to affect people’s choices on matters contained to the physical world. The world might celebrate YouTubers who help you select a brand of phone or Air Jordan sneakers. The world might honour those who offer life hacks, time-management tips or advice on how to increase income. However, from my perspective, this is only part of the picture; true influence is much more.
True influence bridges the gap between the physical and the spiritual. It is being able to be a renowned surgeon and show people how to live a godly life. It is being a skilled architect who attributes his gift to his spiritual foundation. It is being a successful businessperson who remains humble and generous because of an awareness of God’s provision. It is also doing a job that does not yield a high salary with such attention to detail that people are inspired by the individual’s sense of responsibility, gratitude and integrity.
Influencers work as though God is their boss and understand that their role or position is an assignment from Him to influence the world. These people are the rare breed of influencer. They live and work in such a way that those watching them are influenced by their spiritual character.
THE SPIRITUAL INFLUENCER’S CHALLENGE
Spirituality hinges on the idea of godliness. Simply put, godliness is living a life that is both pleasing to God and reflective of who God is. Thomas Strong calls godliness a “respect for God that affects the way a person lives.” Spiritual influence, therefore, is living a respectful life that not only honors God but impacts the lives of others who observe you and interact with you daily. It is this life that you want to permeate all that you do and reflect in who you are as a spiritual influencer.
I would like to tell you that being this type of influencer is easy to do and that results come fast. I would like to tell you that you will not meet opposition along the way and that everyone will love you and appreciate what you are trying to achieve. Unfortunately, I must state that you will face challenges as you embark on the journey to become a spiritual influencer within the Age of the Influencer.
The spiritual influencer operates in a world that is often resistant to the idea of godliness and will face challenges that originate from misconceptions of the concept of godliness. This is often due to how godliness has been portrayed by those who claim to represent it. I believe there are four main challenges the spiritual influencer will face: godliness misunderstood, godliness misdirected, godliness misapplied, and godliness misrepresented.
The value of godliness conflicts with the egocentricity of our world. To people who hold a self focused mindset and aim to build their own personal empire, godliness can look like a weakness and has become an unpopular position, subject to ridicule. There is a misunderstanding operating here, that being a person of faith in an otherwise secular world can be considered a disadvantage. This is because those who are not adequately informed when it comes to spirituality have reservations about what is implied by it. It could also be based on the impression that there are too many rules that prevent you from pursuing worldly aims. While to many people being different comes with a great deal pressure, to the influencer this is an opportunity to shine. I want to show you that godliness is an advantage, not a weakness.
It is an advantage because the way you see yourself is impacted by the relationship you have with God. You will be aware of who you are as a person and the changes you would need to make to confront your shortcomings. This means you will not suffer from an identity crisis as you interact with other people. This will make you a good example of what it means to be godly.
In the Bible, righteousness is best visualised as a clean white robe that God gives to replace the filthy garment of sin (see. Revelation 7:13-14). This is a useful metaphor when considering godliness. Godliness should not be worn as a cloak of judgement. How can you tell if you are wearing a cloak of judgement or a robe of righteousness? When you wear a cloak of judgement, you compare yourself with others who are struggling in an area with the purpose of bolstering your pride. When you wear a robe of righteousness, you are primarily aware that the robe was a gift; you are aware of your own shortcomings and do not seek to shame others for their own shortcomings.
When godliness is misapplied it gives birth to fanaticism, which is an extreme or especially zealous approach to faith and practice. This breeds an unhealthy pursuit of perfection and piousness that is unrealistic, unattractive and unsurprisingly, tends to be rejected by millennials and generation Z. What I have observed in dealing with young people is that Millennials and generation Z reject inauthentic religion and pursue experiences that validate them. It is understandable that many young people are confused by and frustrated with religion. When godliness is misapplied, young people abandon religion. True godliness inspires others to seek a relationship with God.
Godliness has been misrepresented in many ways. Fanaticism, discussed in this previous section, is one form of godliness misrepresented. Hypocrisy is another way godliness is misrepresented. Selling something you do not believe in undermines your integrity and undermines the value of the product. In the case of godliness, presenting a lifestyle that you do not live is hypocritical and invokes a destructive idea that godliness can be achieved by personal effort, rather than God’s intervention.
Godliness is also misrepresented when people who claim to pursue godliness are lukewarm. This sometimes-in-sometimes-out mindset manifests itself in the form of selective, conditional commitment and suggests that God need not be considered too seriously. Lukewarm faith portrays God as unnecessary and ineffective in the lives of His followers. Lukewarm faith misrepresents godliness.
True godliness requires consistency, dedication and unwavering faith—attributes that gain the attention of the world in a positive way. Consistency says, ‘Nothing will hinder me from this path I have chosen to walk’. Dedication says, ‘In response to what God has done for me, I will be an example for others to follow’. Unwavering faith says, ‘Even during trials, troubles and storms, I will remain steadfast and true to God who has brought me this far’. This is true godliness.
Selling the idea of spirituality to the world is difficult simply because humans are easily distracted by chasing ideas, beliefs and content that appeals to their vanity. I cannot tell you how many times I have clicked on advertisements that promise to improve my skin, increase my income, and improve my eating habits. We like things that massage our egos and help us feel important. Godliness is easily misdirected when we begin to take the credit for God’s work.
It is easy to become preoccupied with building our own name and working towards our goals, putting ourselves as the focal point of our effort. As someone who speaks in churches, university and high school campuses, including corporate events, it is easy to forget the needs of those I am addressing and begin to focus on the gift of speaking that God has given. There is a constant need to remind myself, “it’s not about you, it’s about them.”
Godliness is misdirected when we become the focus. Spiritual influencers maintain God as the focus. Spiritual influencers reject idolisation and exhibit true godliness when they point others back to God. Even among religious leaders, there is a tendency to attribute success to the person, rather than the source: God. This misdirection is especially problematic because humans are fallible; when the leader inevitably disappoints, followers are left discouraged and spiritually adrift because their focus was directed at the wrong thing.
INFLUENCE WORKS BOTH WAYS
Trying to promote God without personally experiencing a relationship with God is unwise as you are susceptible to injury and to injure others’ faith. Without immersing yourself in the Bible, you may become persuaded by false ideas and abandon your convictions. You may lead another astray.
Be aware of the fact that you are subject to influence. As I have pointed out, it is all around you. Be vigilant always, because while you seek to impact others, others seek to impact you. No one is immune from influence.
However, some influence can be important to sharpening your own ideas, so it is important to never take people for granted when it comes to their world view, background, culture, social standing, political persuasion or religion. You may not see things the same way as they do, but that does not mean there is no value in their point of view. Always be sensitive to the value you can receive from those to whom you desire to add value.
A spiritual influencer is judicious in navigating the world of influence; they make sure to work on their own relationship with God as the primary influence of their life. TemitOpe Ibrahim, the author of The Secrets to Your Win, made an accurate observation when she said ‘you can misuse anything: your eyes, your mouth, your thoughts, your time, your moments, your body, your gifts, your intellect, your influence, your power, your child, your spouse, your friend, animate and inanimate objects, even tangible and intangible things alike.’ The pages that follow will guide you in a way that keeps you from misusing spiritual influence but instead wielding it for good.
• Influence involves possessing contagious enthusiasm that, when observed by others, affects the intent or behaviour of others, such as a change in opinion, preference or action.
• Through online marketing, social media has ushered us into the Age of the Influencer.
• The world is saturated with influencers who do more talking and taking, than listening and giving.
• Discipleship is influence with a spiritual edge
• The spiritual influencer faces the challenge of godliness being misunderstood, misdirected, misapplied and misrepresented.
1. I am interested in becoming a spiritual influencer as I navigate life in this Age of the Influencer because…
2. I will become more conscientious about how I use Social Media as an influencer by…
3. In my quest to becomes an effective spiritual influencer, I will overcome the spiritual challenges outlined above by…