Feeling pulled in different relational directions? If so, you’re in good company. The same thing happened to Jesus. Literally.
Consider this scene. Jesus has just healed a demon-possessed man, and He is now walking in a crowd. A man named Jairus approaches Jesus and asks Him to come heal his daughter, who is very sick. On the way to Jairus’ home, a sick woman touches the hem of Jesus’ coat and she is healed. Jesus stops, wondering who touched Him, and His disciples rebuke him. Just keep moving, they say.
Time and again, others are trying to set the agenda for Jesus, but in reality, Jesus is in control and is purposeful in whom He influences and how He does so.
Two thousand years later, influence is still a hot topic. Harvard Business Review made influence its summer spotlight topic last year and titled the section “Influence: How to Get It, How to Use It.” My good friend John Maxwell has made a living on the topic of leadership and he always says, “Leadership is influence.”
As the master influencer, though, Jesus gives us a great template to consider. Jesus had four audiences to craft His message toward, but He didn’t use the same style, strategy, or even the same words across the board.
Let’s check it out.
1. The Uninterested Outsider
This is the crowd—the multitudes of all sizes and shapes and conditions. They were attracted to the miracles and to the possibility of what Jesus might be, but mostly, they were thinking about their own lives. Sure, there were a few antagonistic outsiders, but the majority of outsiders were simply members of the crowd.
Jesus’s approach to the crowds was to engage, to care, and to be consistent. He walked through their towns, talked with their children, and preached His messages. His primary message to these outsiders was to listen, watch, and consider.
2. The Interested Observer
How does Jesus approach these interested observers? The “up and outers” like Nicodemus find Jesus asking pointed questions, using Scriptures, appealing to their minds and curiosity, and challenging their hearts. The “down and outers” found Jesus caring and responding to their felt needs.
While the packaging looked a bit different with each individual, the message was the same: accept and believe.
3. The Committed Learner
After Jesus healed the demon-possessed man, the man was willing to follow Jesus anywhere. Jesus told him to live out his faith in his hometown, but He told others to come with Him. We know that there were at least 70 of these close, bought-in followers. They believed Jesus’ claim as Messiah and Jesus challenged them to let that claim affect their lifestyle.
Jesus’ primary message to these learners was along those lines: trust, follow, and personalize the message.
4. The Starving Heart
Jesus’ inner circle of twelve, or maybe even three, knew Jesus at a level of deep intimacy. They were desperate to have a relationship with Jesus that set them apart from the crowd, and Jesus obliged.
He worked with them on matters of the heart, customizing His message for them. He gave them nicknames. He allowed them to interrupt His private time and they worked together for three years. There are great books out there like A.B. Bruce’s Training of the Twelve and John MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men that describe Jesus’ work with the twelve, but put simply, Jesus’ primary message to these few was to follow closely, live it out, and replicate it.
So what does this mean for us? Well, at a spiritual level, it tells us to push in to Jesus. Jesus challenges each group to go to the next level of depth.
But I think there’s also an important model of influence here. You might not use titles like “the interested observer,” but each of us has concentric circles of influence. We allow a few people to get really close to us, but as we move to the outer circles, our time and influence with those people diminishes.
Your ability to have optimal influence is largely tied to your understanding of how to nuance your life message to the various people orbiting your influence.
Who are the people in your circles? Take a minute and draw out the people you could potentially influence.
Next, consider how you will nuance your approach and message to each group. Like parents who love each child the same but nuance their messaging for different children, we all need to differentiate our messaging for the different “audiences” of our lives and message.
Some require clarity, while with others you may choose a more indirect and invitational message. You will be more transparent with some than others.
With each, however, you need to be intentional. Influence is best wielded when done on purpose.