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Influence. It’s a funny thing. It’s inescapable–someone will always be perceived to have it or not have it, to either use or misuse it. We complain about it, but we also want to be influenced. Very few people are thorough-going “Lone Rangers” about anything. We see the utility of influence. We want someone to point us on a good course, to help us over a hurdle, and to set a model for us. Influence is how you get some things done or prevent others. Who doesn’t want influence on certain policy issues or certain church initiatives or with our children and spouses? We live in a world where influence is traded, debated, manipulated, and fabricated. Some people look influential but they aren’t. Some people look insignificant but wield influence like a sword. Some name drop and talk about how much “pull” they have. Others need only raise an eyebrow and real actions follow. Some people want influence badly while others run from it.

There used to be a commercial about a brokerage firm named E.F. Hutton. The quip in the commercial was, “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.” Dropping that name at a dinner party silenced the entire soiree as party-goers leaned in to hear whatever E. F. Hutton was poised to say. E.F. Hutton has been sold a couple times, merged with other companies, and now apparently restarted by former executives of the original firm. If I had to guess, many readers of this post have likely never heard the name “E. F. Hutton.”

So goes influence. It, like money, makes itself wings and flies away.

Which is why you shouldn’t really listen to me. I’m nobody. “Thabiti Anyabwile” is not a Swahili name for “E. F. Hutton.” Don’t stop what you were doing. Don’t tune in to a post because I mention it in a twitter feed. Don’t begin to think my opinion about anything matters much at all, certainly not to the extent that you need to hold that view simply because somebody said I once said it. I ain’t nobody.

Now, some of you think you knew that already. That’s good; keep it that way please. But I suspect that some others have mentioned my name in this or that conversation, favorably or unfavorably, and imagined that I had some influence they should either accept or counter. Some have decided they either like or dislike me because I’m associated with this or that person, because I get to preach at conferences, because I’m a member of TGC, because I blog at TGC, because I hold a particular theology, and because they think such “platforms” give me influence.

Here’s the thing about influence: It mostly lies in the subjective impression of the person being or resisting influence. We see someone prominent, standing out, and we assign to them the magical quality of influence. But influence is not often real, objective, measurable. It depends on the person wanting influence convincing others to see them as influential. Don’t get me wrong; some few people really do have power and authority to make some things happen. But the rest of us have some level of “clout” assigned to us by those watching us and trying to make sense of whether we exist for some positive or negative good in the world. I don’t want “clout.” I have no power. Ideas have power. People… not so much.

That’s why you shouldn’t listen to me, as though some authority or influence resided in me. I don’t want the kind of influence that rests upon personality, “platforms,” networks, and least of all “appearance” or “image.” If you find yourself on the opposing end of an argument or an idea, let’s stay focused on the argument or idea. I don’t want to be your enemy and I hope not to treat you like one. If you find yourself moved by an idea, by an argument, by some principled application, then know that you’ve been influenced by an idea. If you got it from me, that’s incidental. Everything I have I first received. Central is the grace of God and the truth of God.

So, don’t listen to me. Chances are you don’t even know me. I’m not likely related to you. I’m probably not your pastor. I don’t have any control over the events in your life. I certainly have no part in the incommunicable attributes of God like omniscience. Everything I’ve ever said, done, or written is only partially true, corrupted by my faults, limitations, and sin, and likely in need of a good dose of correction or balance. In fact, I’d be grateful to anyone who cares enough either about ideas or me to add a gracious word of correction to any ideas I’ve expressed. I don’t take it as an attack, but as an act of courage and duty borne by responsible men and women.

Why this post? It’s not a direct response to anyone or any controversy. I even chose a random date for it to post. No, it’s because I need the reminder of this post. I’m vulnerable to the tempting siren of “influence,” to trying to cultivate a persuasive power that inheres not so much in the truth of ideas but in the power of personality or “appearance.” What a horrible insatiable monster that kind of pride and self-seeking is. How vain to monitor twitter followers, web statistics, and anything else that suggests “influence.” And what ruthless task masters are the expectations of others who think you have influence and want to borrow some or sway your use of it. It’s a trap, I’m telling you!

Far better to recognize Jesus Christ is the only compelling power and influence in the world, in whose hands the hearts of kings are turned, by whose word the universe stands, and before whose throne every knee will bow and confess. Influence? Only if it makes Jesus known and brings men under his light and easy yoke of love. Everything else is a mist that’ll soon evaporate in the radiance of His glorious rule!

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26 thoughts on “Why You Should Not Listen to Me”

  1. Barchetta says:

    As you try to reduce yourself Thabiti you’re only elevated in others eyes.

    It’s a vicious circle. :)

  2. Alma Dyson says:

    Thank you for this wonderful enlightment! For we know Jesus is the answer and we just need to keep being reminded! Amen to you Thabiti, From our hearts to you and the family, we love all of you!

    Alma and Barney

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hey Mrs. Alma!! How are you doing?! It’s so good to hear from you. How is Barney, the family, and things?

      I’m in your neck of the woods in September. We need to catch up :-)


  3. Melody says:

    When I try to tell someone about something that I have read from you I have to refer to you as that guy whose name I can’t pronounce. Sorry that’s probably not much credit cause you could still be Tullian.

    If you ever get as popular as John Piper then I probably won’t follow you anymore. :-P

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      That’s hilarious! Thanks for making my morning!

    2. Rachael Starke says:

      So. Funny.

  4. Aaron says:

    This is a great reminder to us all. . and I appreciate it! I think we need to leave room for God’s sovereignty, though, in how he “raises up” some for a time and let’s the influence of others wane.

    Not that you were saying this, but it’s a little “hyper-pietistic” or naive to think that our personalities and mode and method of expressing ourselves is somehow not used by God, or should be separated completely from the message.

    Indeed, it should be separated, in the realm of “importance”. The message is much more important than the messenger. But, God uses certain messengers for certain reasons, those choices aren’t accidental or random either. Let’s let God be God in such things.

    The problem, as you put it so well, is that we can blindly follow, or emulate someone without enough critical thinking. That is a good corrective. It’s also why I wish we’d let people have “freedom” in various theological camps to express nuanced positions on issues. (for example, this self-descriptor from Sam Storms:

    Thanks for the post, and thanks for being so influential. God has used you, thanks for being faithful in that.

  5. Doc B says:

    When I started reading this, I thought it might be the reformed equivalent of Charles Barkley’s, “I’m no role model” speech.

    Thankfully, it was a lot more than that.

  6. Jon says:

    You are as wise as you are humble.though, knowing of your humility, you would probably say, “No, it wasnt me, but i would like some cereal = )” or something equally humorous. In this decade of “influence”, listening to your sermons and speakings online ( majority t4g ) and reading your books have helped shape me by Gods grace. Praise God for that brother! Thank you for your faithfulness to minister and your insight on how to witness to muslims!

  7. Nancy Green says:

    Thank you so much Thabiti! Your heart and ideas expressed in talks and blogs over the past several years have been so extremely helpful to me, encouraging precisely what you urged in the concluding paragraph! My husband and I listened to a talk you gave severa years ago (when?) about the Body of Christ, all members needing each other, and in particular, contending for the church. We were helped through a particularly rough patch.

  8. Andy says:

    Having influence by the eschewing of influence…it’s amazing how God works. Thank you sir, the last two paragraphs are now “in the vault!”

  9. Thank you this post, Thabiti. I have been following your blog over the last few months and have been blessed by your ministry. One question in regard to this post; how would you factor passages like Philippians 4:9; 1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Corinthians 9; , and many other passages where Paul points to himself as an example for others to follow into your thinking on being an influence. I understand that you were not saying that we are not to be influential. So I guess my question is, how do we exert influence in a godly way knowing that we are commanded to set an example for others to follow? I resonate with what you have said, and yet feel that for every leader who abuses influence, others run from their biblical responsibility to model Christ before their families, church, and the world.

  10. Lizzie Liddell says:

    I absolutely love this. Im only 25 but have recently noticed that I am overloaded with information. I take any article on here or anywhere and use it as truth. It can become overwhelming.. this was definitely needed and convicting. Thank you

  11. Tim says:

    Should we listen to you when you say we shouldn’t listen to you? :-)

  12. Steve Grissom says:

    I greatly appreciate your post. It was convicting. Thank you for pointing us back to the Cross. The Cross will crucify our envy, greed, and lust for power. John 3:30

  13. john says:

    Well, if you feel that strongly about it, why don’t you just quit blogging and writing? I know you’ve considered it before.

  14. Will Dole says:

    Thank you for this post. I needed the reminder.

  15. Doug Duncanson says:

    Wow can’t wait to get in the pulpit next Sunday (tomorrow) to dish out that give-away quote by the Biti (Sorry I don’t really know Swahili or you – Know a good quote when I see one though) — “Influence is the mist that will merely evaporate in the radiance of His glorious rule…”. Even a calvinistic, Australian Presbyterian can quote a Baptist from time to time:-)


  16. John James says:

    So quit blogging…

    1. Melody says:

      Oh good grief we are called to share what God teaches us with others.
      He is merely reminding everyone that the glory goes to GOD, not him.

  17. Mic says:

    Have you heard Propaganda’s song “Don’t Listen to Me” off his album, “Excellent”? It echoes a similar sentiment.

  18. Bill says:

    Thanks. You are my not-hero! Carl Trueman would love this.

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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