Life on Life: The Key to Sustainable Influence

Jul 03, 2023

Every success story I’ve ever heard has a common thread. The successful person or hero points to those influencers who have cast a positive shadow on their lives. This “influencing” is often very intentional. And everyone has someone to thank for their success because we are all shaped and influenced by someone.

You may recall Kevin Durant’s moving words about his mother after winning the NBA MVP award several years ago. “You’re the real MVP,” he said.

In other words, don’t assume you have influence just because of a role or a title. Stop and interact with intentionality.

I call this “life on life”—where one person plays a role in helping shape the life of another person through touch points.

Several years ago, we took my oldest daughter out for her birthday dinner. Sixteen of her friends showed up, so we dominated the back of the restaurant. My son, Kile, (perhaps looking for some male support) asked if we could invite Andy, his camp counselor from earlier in the summer, to go with us. 

It blew me away how much Andy wanted to come (although perhaps the prospect of non-camp food with 17 girls had something to do with it), and how much he clearly valued his friendship with my son. After all, he had scores of campers during the summer and only spent a week or so with my son. But it was a time-intensive week. For seven days, they ate meals together, competed together, shared a cabin with 12 other guys, and talked about life, girls, and God. In short, they shared life.

Life on Life

Fifty years ago, Robert Coleman wrote a short book called The Master Plan of Evangelism that describes Jesus’ primary methodology of influence. In short, it was to do life with His disciples, day in, day out. That is how He changed them from the inside out and that is how He transferred life skills to His followers. “He was His own school and curriculum,” Coleman writes, noting that this organic nature of teaching contrasted with the formal, scholastic approach of many in His day (and in ours).

Jesus’ method was life on life. He poured courage, hope, and direction into His followers, and then He challenged them to do the same with those coming along behind them.

Many in the business community have also talked and written about a leadership strategy of life-on-life interaction. A Forbes article from nearly a decade ago is still dead on, noting five advantages of business leaders opening up their lives a bit more to subordinates:

  • Problems are solved faster
  • Teams are built easier
  • Relationships grow authentically
  • People begin to promote trust in their leader
  • Higher levels of performance emerge

It’s very clear from history that Jesus’ method promoted His followers’ trust in their leader and a strongly built team. They definitely believed in life-on-life mentoring. After all, decades later we see the great Apostle Paul espousing the same influence philosophy. Look what he said to the people in one town—“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8)

He didn’t just show up for a meeting and after 90 minutes say, “See you next November.” He delighted to share his life. I don’t know everything that means, but it seems pretty safe to assume that it included at least at some level:

  • Working together
  • Eating together
  • Laughing together
  • Talking about serious things
  • Interacting when he was tired or frustrated

They saw his life and he saw theirs. They learned from the way he went about his life, and he spoke into the way they lived theirs.

The Celtic Way

No, I’m not talking about Bill Russell, Larry Bird, or Paul Pierce (NBA legends who played for the Boston Celtics). I’m talking about the ancient Celtic people who lived in Great Britain.

George Hunter’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism is short on pages but extremely long on thought. He traces the highly successful—and sustaining—influence model used by the ancient Celts. One of his key points is that the Celts created a new model rather than adopting the traditional method of “influence” the Romans had established. The Romans were about philosophical debates and arguments. The Celts were about relationships.

Take a look at the differences between the Celtic and Roman models. Each model has a progression, but they seem to move in opposite directions:

The core difference in these styles is the intentional effort the Celts made to connect life on life first, then follow through with some other agenda. The Celts were willing to put all their marbles on the table and gamble all of their influence on the back of human interaction.

I’m not saying you always wait for a deep relationship in order to speak truth, but as one of my pastors says, “Truth travels best on the road of relationship.” Life on life was the preferred method of Jesus, it was the approach the Celts chose to influence generations of cultures, and it’s what I’ve found most effective in speaking into the lives of individuals.

Think back on the individuals who have had the most influence on you. Outside your spouse and your parents, who are the 2-3 people who have changed the way you live?

It’s almost certainly those people you spent at least a short season of quality time with—perhaps a grandparent, an inspiring teacher or coach, a camp counselor or internship supervisor, a wise mentor or friend.

Without that time and without sharing life at least a little bit, who knows where many of us would be today? I know my life would be dramatically different.


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