The other day I was listening to a talk by Michael Ellsberg of The Education of Millionaires fame, and he said something that has changed my entire ministry and personal focus. He said that our impact is equal to the strength of our ideas multiplied by our persuasive ability. School teaches us ideas. We learn about history and great thoughts. However, we live in a corporate society. If we are going to do anything with those thoughts we have to have the ability to persuade people. Depending on the situation, that may mean persuading someone to buy something, it may mean persuading people to think like we do, or it may mean getting people to come to our event. Whatever the “it” might be, persuasion must be present if there is going to be impact. The company with a decent product and great persuasion is going to outsell the company with a great product and poor persuasion.
Let me apply this to my context – seminary and the church. Are the most popular Christian leaders the ones with the best ideas? No, they are the ones with the most persuasive ability. This is a problem because that means the church is being impacted by ideas that might be unhelpful or just plain wrong. For example, a few years ago a very large church, whose model was much copied all over America, admitted that their model didn’t work and was actually harmful. In Charismatic circles persuasion is everything. If a person is gifted, say in healing or prophecy, their teaching is listened to whether they know what they are talking about or not. Of course there are exceptions to these stories, guys like Tim Keller who have both great ideas and persuasive ability, but generally the guys with the best ideas are guys you’ve never heard of. Why is that? It’s because no one ever told them they were supposed to persuade; they’ve spent their lives in school. Ellsberg said that most schools don’t teach us how to persuade, they simply give us ideas. Of the getting of ideas there is no end. A person could easily spend 70 years of their life learning about the Bible and church practice while writing erudite books about them. But people won’t read them, unless they are forced to for a paper.
Take away – Get good ideas that will help people and learn how to persuade people to embrace them. Good ideas without persuasion is a waste of time. Persuasion without good ideas is dangerous.