Spirituality hinges on the idea of godliness. Simply put, godliness is living a life that is both pleasing to God and reflective of who God is. Thomas Strong calls godliness a “respect for God that affects the way a person lives.”[i] Spiritual influence, therefore, is living a respectful life that not only honors God but impacts the lives of others who observe you and interact with you daily. It is this life that you want to permeate all that you do and reflect in who you are as a spiritual influencer.
I would like to tell you that being this type of influencer is easy to do and that results come fast. I would like to tell you that you will not meet opposition along the way and that everyone will love you and appreciate what you are trying to achieve. Unfortunately, I must state that you will face challenges as you embark on the journey to become a spiritual influencer within the Age of the Influencer.
The spiritual influencer operates in a world that is often resistant to the idea of godliness and will face challenges that originate from misconceptions of the concept of godliness. This is often due to how godliness has been portrayed by those who claim to represent it. I believe there are four main challenges the spiritual influencer will face.
The value of godliness conflicts with the egocentricity of our world. To people who hold a self-focused mindset and aim to build their own personal empire, godliness can look like a weakness and hindrance to success. Further, in secular societies, believing in God has become an unpopular position, subject to ridicule. There is a misunderstanding operating here, that being a follower of Jesus is a disadvantage.
However, it is my privilege to tell you this is far from the truth. It may place you in the demographic of the few, but you are not in the minority when you believe in something bigger than yourself. Even non-religious people talk about believing in something bigger than themselves. Why not believe in God! That’s a majority position any day.
It is worth noting that pursuing godliness will place you in the spotlight of public scrutiny. It’s entirely up to you whether you use that as an opportunity to stand up and stand out for something bigger than yourself or to play the victim and disappear into the crowd of conformity. While to many people being different comes with a great deal pressure, to the influencer this is an opportunity to shine. I want to show you that godliness is an advantage, not a weakness.
In the Bible, righteousness is best visualised as a clean white robe that God gives to replace the filthy garment of sin (see Revelation 7:13-14). This is a useful metaphor when considering godliness. Godliness should not be worn as a cloak of judgement. How can you tell if you are wearing a cloak of judgement or a robe of righteousness? When you wear a cloak of judgement, you compare yourself with others who are struggling in an area with the purpose of bolstering your pride. When you wear a robe of righteousness, you are primarily aware that the robe was a gift; you are aware of own shortcomings and do not seek to shame others for their own shortcomings.
When godliness is misapplied it gives birth to fanaticism, which is an extreme or especially zealous approach to faith and practice. It breeds an unhealthy pursuit of perfection and piousness that is unrealistic, unattractive and unsurprisingly, rejected by the world of millennials and generation Z. Millennials and generation Z reject inauthentic religion and pursue experiences that validate them. It is understandable that many young people are confused by and frustrated with religion. When godliness is misapplied, young people abandon religion. True godliness inspires others to seek a relationship with God.
Godliness has been misrepresented in many ways. Fanaticism, discussed in this previous section, is one form of godliness misrepresented. Hypocrisy is another way godliness is misrepresented. Selling something you do not believe in undermines your integrity and undermines the value of the product. In the case of godliness, presenting a lifestyle that you do not live is hypocritical and invokes a destructive idea that godliness is can be achieved by personal effort, rather than God’s intervention.
Godliness is also misrepresented when people who claim to pursue godliness are lukewarm. This sometimes-in-sometimes-out mindset manifests itself in the form of selective, conditional commitment and suggests that God need not be considered too seriously. Lukewarm faith portrays God as unnecessary and ineffective in the lives of His followers. Lukewarm faith misrepresents godliness.
True godliness requires consistency, dedication and unwavering faith—attributes that gain the attention of the world in a positive way. Consistency says, ‘Nothing will hinder me from this path I have chosen to walk’. Dedication says, ‘In response to what God has done for me, I will be an example for others to follow’. Unwavering faith says, ‘Even during trials, troubles, and storms, I will remain steadfast and true to God who has brought me this far’. This is true godliness.
Selling the idea of spirituality to the world is difficult simply because humans are easily distracted by chasing ideas, beliefs and content that appeals to their vanity. We like things that massage our egos and help us feel important. We gravitate more towards people that teach them to take more from the world and give back to it less. Godliness is easily misdirected when we begin to take the credit for God’s work. It is easy to become preoccupied with building our own name and working towards our goals, putting ourselves as the focal point of our effort.
Godliness is misdirected when we become the focus. Spiritual influencers maintain God as the focus. Spiritual influencers reject idolisation and exhibit true godliness when they point others back to God. Even among religious leaders, there is a tendency to attribute success to the person, rather than the source: God. This misdirection is especially problematic because humans are fallible; when the leader inevitably disappoints, followers are left discouraged and spiritually adrift because their focus was directed at the wrong thing.
[i] Thomas Strong, “Godliness,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Chad Brand et al., (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 662.