Me (above) — working behind the scenes to impact my kids for good. And my kids — who appreciate me one day a year. Happy Mother’s Day!
Several years ago, a well-known Christian Pastor resigned his post as Senior Pastor of a large church, and moved to Asia in order to serve God in a more behind-the-scenes way. Francis Chan was quoted as saying:
“I don’t believe God wants our church life to be centered on buildings and services. Instead, God wants our churches to be focused on active discipleship, mission, and the pursuit of unity.” He also added: “I think there has been too much emphasis on me. Even in my own church I heard the words “Francis Chan” more than I heard the words “Holy Spirit,” he said.*
It got me thinking about why someone would give up their position in the spotlight to serve within the shadows? In our society, there is such a distinction between the hero and the individual; those in the spotlight and those whose roles are more behind-the- scenes. We tend to subconsciously elevate the rock star, the leader, the politician, the athlete, the movie star, or (for some of us) the well-known pastor.
I call these people the “one percenters.” About one percent of the human population seems to influence the rest of us “99 percenters,” for better or for worse. These are the people with platforms, followers (social media and otherwise), and cheering fans. I think it’s sometimes easy to think that those in a position of leadership are the ones who make a difference in this world.
But what about the rest of us? Do we have a part to play? Can we make a difference?
I am a humble “99 percenter” who has never had a platform of influence. However, there was a time many years ago where I worked for a U.S. Senator as his Legislative Assistant. Although he was the “important one,” I was able to play a key role on his staff and influence and support him behind-the-scenes. Since leaving the work-force to become a stay at home parent, I have often struggled with wondering if I am making a difference in this world. A lot of what I do is unnoticed by anyone (even my kids!) and I often feel like I’m not making much of an impact.
This blog post is my attempt to figure out if those in the spot-light are more influential than those who work behind-the-scenes. Because in my mind, it’s obvious…it’s the ones who stand up in front of the rest of us who have more of an impact. So I decided to do a little research on this topic.
In my mind, the greatest one percenter of all time is Jesus Christ. Before you dismiss me because you may not be religious, please bear this in mind: if you google the most influential figures in human history, Jesus Christ tops almost every single list. His birth literally split the calendar in two and his death is worn symbolically by millions around their neck in a tiny gold or silver remembrance. His religion is followed by about one third of the human population to this day. His religion is followed by me.
So I decided to do a simple study of the four gospels on the life of Christ. One question I tried to answer was: did he take the role of the Rock Star hero in front of large groups being admired by many, or did he influence in more obscure ways, working behind-the-scenes? And which method was more effective?
Because in my mind, surely Jesus-the-Rock star must be way more influential than Jesus the behind-the-scenes.
This is what I discovered: I found that Jesus did preach to large crowds to be sure, however, he spent an extraordinary amount of time with individuals doing personal ministry, following a daily routine which was directed by his Father in Heaven, and working behind the scenes changing one life at a time incrementally. He mostly hung out with one person or a small group of people (his 12 Apostles, for example). He didn’t seem to prefer to be in the spotlight.
The second question I tried to answer was: what was the reaction of the large crowds? I found that the reaction of the crowds was mixed at best and typically ranged from the crowds believing his message, to confusion, to anger, to unbelief, to curiosity, or to just plain hanging around to see if he would do another miracle. Sometimes the crowds went to extremes: some wanted to kill him because they hated his message so much, while others wanted to immediately install him as King. The bottom line is that the crowds were all over the place and his impact on them was mixed.
On a side note, Jesus himself was often frustrated with the crowds. He often expressed disappointment at their unbelief. He often grew frustrated that they couldn’t see what was standing right in front of them. In other words, being the most important and influential person in the world with a platform and a huge following wasn’t as great as you might think it would be, and Jesus’ impact on the crowds wasn’t as great as you might think it would be.
What about his work to the individual? I discovered that Jesus seemed to do his best work in three ways: First, behind the scenes. Second, by impacting one life at a time, or one small group at a time. And finally, incrementally. Jesus seemed to understand that change happens one small measure at a time.
Can this model of incremental-influence-behind-the-scenes, or just working behind-the-scenes-while-still-being-vital-to-the-mission be modeled elsewhere? I believe it can!
Let me give you a few other examples of what I am talking about.
First, the politician. This is a world I know something about after serving as a staffer (and volunteer) to four “powerful, important people” who run our country (as I touched on above). But here’s a little secret: behind every influential politician is his/her staff, whom that Member is relying very heavily upon. In fact, staff often advise Members on how to vote on certain bills, write speeches for them, tell them which events to attend, speak for them in meetings, and draft legislation on their behalf. Bottom line: the Member of Congress is the Rock Star, but almost equally as important is his or her staff, doing a lot of the work for them behind-the-scenes.
Secondly, this one is for all you sports junkies out there. Here is a quick pop quiz:
Q: Who is the most important player on a football team?
A: The Quarterback, of course. He is the captain, the one who is most centrally responsible for what happens on the field. All the players and fans look to him.
Q: How about the second most important player?
A: The second most important player on a football team is the Left Tackle.
Q: Huh? What is a Left Tackle?
A: He is the player who spends his Sunday afternoons getting the snot beat out of him play after play to protect the quarterback from getting hit from behind. He is the quarterback’s ultimate protector.
For proof of this, just ask any quarterback or better yet look at the second highest paid player on the team. It is often the Left Tackle. Does anyone know who Tom Brady’s Left Tackle is? Can anybody name one Left Tackle at all? This is a great example of how people who often make huge impacts often labor in relative obscurity.
Thirdly, one example from history. Joshua Chamberlain was a schoolteacher from Maine who became a Colonel in the Union Army and was almost single-handedly responsible for winning the Battle of Gettysburg. How? He basically had to guard a hilltop from the Confederates, because if they captured it, the Union army would essentially lose the infamous battle. His tattered crew was out of ammo, greatly reduced, and were tired to bone, but at Chamberlain’s command, they fixed bayonets and charged downhill, causing the Confederate troops to retreat, and thus kept the Confederate army from winning the Battle of Gettysburg. Historians have determined that if Chamberlain hadn’t charged that day, the rebels would have won at Gettysburg, which would mean that the South would have won the actual war. Historians also insist that if the South had won the war, we would live on a territorially fragmented continent much like Europe. The United States exists as it is today because of one school teacher from Maine who worked behind the scenes and influenced a small number of troops in his charge. Amazing!*
And finally, Mother Theresa. She spent her entire life working behind the scenes to the very “least of these” in Calcutta, India. Here is the list of the people she spent her time with: those suffering with HIV/AIDS, those with leprosy and tuberculosis, the orphans, the poorest of the poor, and the dying. She even rescued 37 children in the middle of a war zone. If you want to be inspired, google “Mother Theresa quotes.”
I will leave my favorite one at the close of this post.
I wanted to briefly address the one percenters who actually have a position of influence on the rest of us. I think your opportunities are very clear: you have a huge platform and can make a huge impact! Use your platform for good! But just a few thoughts from a humble 99 percenter:
To the athlete: Remember your teammates who often go unnoticed, but upon whom your success stands or falls.
The the political leader: Govern with the individual in mind rather than your reelection, and remember the late night staffer who toils on your behalf.
To the movie/TV/rock star: Use your influence for the good of mankind rather than yourself.
To the CEO: Remember that you would not have a company if it were not for all of the people who run it. Appreciate them.
Finally, to the Pastor: Love people more than your platform. Point others to the only One who deserves true worship. Resist the pride that comes with leadership. Remember your Congregant, and how his and her gifts are vital to the church and the community. Listen to their ideas for change! Consider the example of Francis Chan, who was willing to let go of his platform to work in obscurity.
(A quick note to the Congregant: Don’t make a hero out of your pastor, or idolize them. They have an important role to play, but so do you. Play your part and play it well.)
I want to circle back to Jesus before I close this post.
My final nagging question was: how did the number one most influential person in human history end his speaking career? What did he say and what was the effect?
The last recorded speech he gave to the crowds went something like this: “you will not have the light (me) with you much longer. Believe in the light while you still have it, or darkness will overtake you.” (John 12: 35-36 paraphrase).
How did the crowds respond? The Scriptures give us a sobering report: even after Jesus had performed so many miracles in their presence, they still did not believe in him. (John 12:47)
Let’s take a look, then, at two individuals whom he privately influenced from when he was actually in the process of dying on the cross, and then one after he was resurrected.
To the thief on the cross, he gave witness of himself, and the thief put his faith in him as Messiah. Jesus said said these words to him: “This day you will be with me in paradise.” In essence, Jesus saved a soul right before he died. Then John (his Apostle) brought his mother Mary over to him presumably to say goodbye to her son, when Jesus said “Woman, behold your son.” Then he looked at John and said “Behold your mother.” In other words, he was telling John, his number one Apostle besides Peter (and James), to take care of his mom. As a mom, this warms my heart. And then after he was raised from the dead he had a long conversation with Peter about feeding his sheep, which influenced Peter to go out and spread his message, which literally changed the world.
I don’t know about you, but Jesus’ example is deeply encouraging to me. And it’s something I can handle. We can all be in the the business of working out of the spotlight and changing one life at a time. Even if the change is incremental, hard to see at first, and can’t be measured by the normal markers of success. I can start with those right in front of me: my husband and three kids.
We can all have influence, even if we are not in the one percent. We can all impact one small area of life.
We can all influence one person for good.
And by doing so, we can change the world!
In closing, my favorite Mother Theresa quote:
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
- source: “Christian famous” pastor quits his church, moves to Asia.” Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog 12/22/2010. According to Wiki, Pastor Chan now works in San Francisco – working to start a church planting and discipleship movement.
- Source: “The Butterfly Effect” book by Andy Andrews