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One of the great blessings of building your ministry is that you gain a community as you go. Last year, Cheri Gregory and I interviewed Shannon Popkin, author of Influence, on Grit ‘n’ Grace, our weekly podcast. Shannon has quickly earned a place on my “favorite people” list, and I fell in love with her even more as I read her newest book for endorsement.
I wrote a whole-hearted recommendation and immediately asked her for some content to share with you. You’re going to love her advice!
Read her wisdom, and then leave your reaction in a comment for a chance to win one of three copies of Influence. Please welcome Shannon to the blog! ~Amy
1. Focus on the opportunities that God has given.
Rather than putting so much emphasis on the more public ways you hope God will use you, commit yourself to the assignments you already have. Be responsible. Serve well. Be passionate. Pour yourself into the opportunities God has granted—whether teaching the Bible story to preschoolers, speaking at a small ladies’ tea, or ministering to your own family. Often God uses small ministry opportunities to grow us for larger ones.
About a decade ago, I was asked to be one of the large group teachers for ladies’ Bible study at my church. I was delighted, and would spend weeks leading up to my teaching date working on my lesson. I would distill my message, weed out side notes, smooth transitions, craft illustrations, and funnel everything into one main point of application for the sake of my sisters who would graciously let me teach them for twenty minutes.
Looking back, I can see that my preparation work then was preparing me for my writing assignments now. As I labor over the Bible study I’m currently writing, I employ the same process. And when I divide up my material into individual lessons, guess how much content I pack into each one? The equivalent of about one of my twenty-minute teaching sessions for Bible study.
I’m convinced that if I hadn’t put so much energy into that assignment, I wouldn’t be nearly as ready for this one.
2. Listen to input.
Because of our pride, insecurities, and selfishness, it’s often incredibly difficult to see ourselves accurately. We need others in the body of Christ to hold up a mirror and tell us what they see in us.
This might mean being encouraged to try a role you feel inadequate for. Other times it might mean being redirected away from a role that you aren’t gifted for. This is humbling for sure. But having the eyes of other Christ-following influencers on our work is invaluable.
I recently had coffee with several church leaders who critiqued the message I had shared with their moms’ group that morning. Don’t worry, I asked for their critique! I knew that my message still needed crafting and development, which meant I could really use their help. It was my first time sharing this material, and since I’m writing a new book on the topic, I hope it will be a message I get to share many times over. Their input was invaluable to me.
I’m guessing that five years ago I might never have been brave enough to ask for critique on a half-baked message. But here’s what I’ve learned. Other people—and especially those skilled in the art of speaking, leading, and teaching—have insight that I might never have. They see things I don’t see. They know things I don’t know. They help me to become far more effective than I could be on my own.
Don’t miss out on the growth opportunities that will be yours when you welcome and listen to input.
3. Be patient.
Years ago, after being told that having a “national” speaking ministry was a next step for me, I made a goal to stretch my reach over state lines. My strategy was to first make a list of direct flights averaging $200 or less from my city. Then I scoured the internet, looking for churches in those cities, and spent weeks reaching out to ministry leaders about my speaking ministry.
Guess what happened? Nothing. It was wasted effort with no fruit.
Now, am I saying that you should never network with friends or do “cold call” solicitation? No, but I am saying that your efforts might not produce the fruit you hope for. Rather than rushing ahead like I did, seek the Lord. Ask Him to direct your networking plans and produce the fruit that only He can—both in you and your audience.
As I look back, I can see that it was by God’s design that my speaking ministry didn’t launch like a rocket. Instead, it has grown like a fruit tree, year by year, right along with the pace of my skill and family life. Slowly and gradually, I have begun receiving speaking invitations from across state lines. And guess what? Just recently, I was invited to speak in California—which from Michigan is a flight that will cost more than $200.
If I could speak softly to myself back when I was checking flights and combing church websites, here’s what I would say: Don’t worry about the timeline. Just be patient and trust the Lord to open the doors that He wants you to walk through in His timing, not your own.
4. Pursue mentoring.
Let me tell you about my ministry assistant, Pearl. I first met her when I spoke at her church several years ago, and she came up afterward telling me how much my message meant to her. A few months later, she contacted me, hoping for some advice on blogging. So I invited Pearl to a local writer’s conference, where I was leading a couple of workshops.
She came and then wrote a post about her experience, which she asked me to look over before she submitted. I gave several suggestions, and Pearl not only followed my advice, she appreciated it!
Later, when I launched my first book, Pearl was one of the first to volunteer for my launch team. She went above and beyond with some beautifully staged photos of herself reading the book, and I had so much fun sharing them. About a year after that, when it was time to hire an assistant, guess who I called? Pearl, of course.
Pearl has some quiet dreams about speaking and writing, and while I can’t pay her as much as I’d like, it has been a delight to offer her coaching and help instill confidence. And guess what? Just last week, she spoke at the very same event at her church where we first met, with a hundred women in attendance. Pearl is a gem, and I’m so privileged to be part of her platform-growing story.
If you’re trying to network with someone who’s a bit further down the road than you are, consider doing what Pearl did. Make a personal connection. Ask for input. Offer your support and then go above and beyond. Then receive mentoring for what it is—a gift offered by someone who cares about you and is willing to offer both friendship and support.
This post is taken in large part from Shannon’s new book, titled Influence: Building a Platform that Elevates Jesus (Not Me). This book is designed to help you think about how to gather followers of Jesus and change the world but not in the way the world says to. Check out Shannon’s site for more resources, and leave a comment below for a chance to win a free copy of Influence.