For a while, everyday people were making big money on Instagram or YouTube as "influencers." Companies would pay these people to use their platform's authenticity and reach to impact potential customers. These companies figured that if they could get their products onto these accounts, their "followers" would likely invest in those products, too.
The instinct toward influencer marketing makes sense. For good or bad, we're easily influenced by the people around us. Our curiosity is piqued when we see someone we admire talking about a shampoo they enjoy or using a specific kind of barbecue grill.
Being an influencer for the kingdom of God
As always, the Bible was ahead of the curve. It was talking about the significance of influencing others thousands of years before companies paid internet personalities to shill for them. But instead of being concerned with selling a product, the Bible wanted us to understand that people were watching us and would follow our behavior.
When Jesus called his followers the light of the world and the salt of the earth, He was addressing their influence. By looking at the church, people would better understand what God was like.
Whether we like it or not, those of us who follow Jesus are influencers. The decisions we make impact those around us. The lives we lead either make us more credible witnesses or they make it more difficult for others to take the gospel seriously.
That's why Paul tells Timothy:
Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity (1 Timothy 4:12).
This verse is a perfect jumping-off point for examining what it means to be an influencer for Jesus.
1. Be an example in speech
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul encourages them to eschew "obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place." In place of bad language, he encouraged thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:4). It's not enough to put aside negative behaviors. It's possible that we never say a single swear word and still use cynical, critical, and harmful speech. Instead, Paul wants to replace bad examples of speech with good ones.
That's why he tells them:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29).
If we're going to be influencers, we need to be known as people whose words reflect the hope and encouragement found in Christ.
2. Be an example in conduct
The minute we claim to be Christians, the people around us start paying attention to our behavior. They want to know if it's all talk or if we're serious. They may never tell you that they're watching you, but they are.
Thankfully, this doesn't mean we have to be perfect. But our intent should be the same as Peter's, who said, "But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do" (1 Peter 1:15). When we stumble, we acknowledge our mistakes and recommit to faithfulness.
When push comes to shove, it's not our flawless behavior that people are looking for—it's our sincerity. When we're transparent about our mistakes and demonstrate a genuine desire to do better, it has an impact on the people around us.
3. Be an example in love
One of the most famous passages in the New Testament comes from the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians. Portions of this chapter have been read at thousands upon thousands of weddings as Paul expresses what love looks like:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4–8).
But in the verses that precede this inspiring list of attributes, Paul makes a critical point:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Think about that for a second. If we're unable to demonstrate Jesus's love, nothing else we say or do matters. We might have an exceptional understanding of Christian truths, the faith to work miracles, and a commitment to selfless charity, but if people can't see love in our behavior, it's all worthless.