"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
I bet you remember being asked that question when you were a little girl. Odds are that you ask the same question of the little people in your life today. So much hope and optimism is behind that question, so much potential still waiting to be unleashed.
But somewhere along life's journey, that question probably became less hopeful. The demands and pressures of real life began to dictate what we ought to do rather than what we long to do. The expectations of others, our mistakes, and our experiences shaped us, often leaving us with little hope of achieving those childhood dreams we once were brave enough to voice.
Something deep inside each of us longs to count. We want to matter to the world. We long to make a difference. We get bored, tired, even depressed by routine and monotony. We're desperate for significance. We're searching for acknowledgment. We beam when someone says, "You matter." We seek praise, accolades, and awards, but somehow once we achieve them, they feel empty and we move on to another desperate search for the next fix that will affirm our worth.
A Specific Purpose
I believe that you are specifically designed to impact the world in a way that no one else can. You have a specific purpose—a calling that only you are qualified to fulfill. And as leaders in ministry, the way you steward your influence not only impacts you, but it impacts all those you lead.
We were made to influence others. God designed us to live in community with one another and by simple proximity we are influencing the people around us. Each one of us has a sphere of influence that God has entrusted to us. We have the amazing privilege of partnering with God to positively impact the lives of others.
Leveraging Your Influence
Several years ago I went through a difficult season of ministry where I was struggling with my sense of purpose and questioning how God intended to use my gifts. That season, which I refer to as my "crisis of purpose," led me to Scripture:
Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. Galatians 6:4–5 (The Message)
This Scripture passage unpacked a process that was essential for me to gain a better understanding of how to leverage my influence for God's glory.
1. "Make a careful exploration of who you are."
"Who you are" is your identity in Christ. It's not your title. It's not your accomplishments. It is who you are simply as a child of God. This is foundational to our faith, and yet so often we become distracted by the layers of expectations heaped upon us that we miss the truth that our core identity is to be a child of God.
2. "Make a careful exploration of . . . the work you have been given."
God has given you a purpose to fulfill, but it won't always look exactly the way you expect. The work you've been given is a calling that is core to who you are—it's not specific to a job or place of employment. The work you've been given is the combination of gifts, talents, and opportunities that have shaped your life thus far. That collection is unique to you. These experiences can equip you to influence others in specific and purposeful ways. They enable you to relate to and pour into the lives of those you influence.
3. "Then sink yourself into that."
To "sink" means "to become engulfed." When we begin to get a healthy understanding of our identity as a child of God and embrace the tools he has given us to impact the world, our next responsibility is to sink ourselves wholeheartedly into that identity because God has plans to use us.
4. "Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others."
These two statements are a neon warning sign to us. Right about the time we begin to gain confidence in our calling, the enemy comes along with distractions. It's often pride and comparison as this verse suggests, but it can also be jealousy, insecurity, fear, control, or temptation. Where does the enemy seek to derail you? Watch for it and protect yourself from it.
5. "Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life."
This statement of hope and possibility is reminiscent of our childhood dreams. We are called to do our "creative best." We are stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. He has equipped us in ways that are unique to our personality and life story. We get to partner with God to use our influence to further his influence.
Lead from Your Sphere of Influence
When you truly understand how uniquely God has designed you and how specifically he has equipped you, you will thrive. Your God-given influence is a gift to you and others. People are counting on you to lead from your place of influence. God is counting on you to lead from your place of influence. We need you to be you—all of you, without holding anything back.
It's an enormous treasure to have the opportunity to use our influence for ministry.
Do your creative best. Don't try to mimic what everyone else is doing. Make the careful exploration for yourself. Discern what God's unique calling looks like for your life as a leader and pursue it relentlessly. And the next time you ask a child, "What do you want to be when you grow up," it will be rooted in the secure hope that comes from a careful exploration.
Jenni Catron is the author of Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence (Thomas Nelson 2014). Her passion is to lead well and to inspire, equip, and encourage others to do the same. Jenni blogs at www.JenniCatron.com. For more information on Clout, go to www.DiscoverClout.com.