In our heads, we know there is a ripple effect to our influence. But in reality, we tend to forget it.

Terrie and I have been especially reminded this year of the incredible power of influence as we have said goodbye to two godly ladies who have gone to Heaven—Terrie’s mom, Shirley Bianco, and our friend, Virginia Sisk.

Both of these ladies have influenced our lives—as well as countless others—in profound ways.

Shirley was born into a non-Christian home and didn’t hear a clear presentation of the gospel or accept Christ as her Saviour until she was an adult. (She actually got saved when my mom visited their home as a follow up visit from Terrie riding the church bus and getting saved.)

But the final decades of Shirley’s life, what some might call her “fourth quarter,” were incredibly fruitful. She was a dedicated personal soulwinner and selflessly gave of her time to her family and church family. She really embodied the best of Lancaster Baptist Church in soulwinning, serving, and fully engaging in the work of the Lord. Her life touched not only our family and church family, but also many college students who she loved, served meals to, and made her “TLC kids.”

Virginia trusted Christ as a young child and several years later married her high school sweetheart, Don Sisk. When just two years after they were married, Don was called to preach, Virginia gladly supported him. Over the next sixty-three years, Don would serve in three pastorates, as a church-planting missionary in Japan, as the general director of Baptist International Missions, Inc., and—just as they were preparing to retire—as the chair of the missions department at West Coast Baptist College. For the past fifteen years, Don and Virginia have been members of Lancaster Baptist Church and poured their lives into training missions students at West Coast Baptist College.

Virginia could have had no idea six decades earlier where her decision to support Don in whatever God called him to do could lead. But where it did lead included far-reaching influence from both of them.

As news of Virginia’s death spread last week, people literally around the world have shared what a tremendous influence her life had on them.

As I have been thinking on the incredible legacy of both Shirley and Virginia and the impact they have made, I’ve been reminded of some of the surprising elements of godly influence.

1. Influence is hard to predict. Both Shirley and Virginia grew up in relatively obscure settings. Shirley had little spiritual input in her life until she was saved as an adult, and Virginia grew up in tiny Nortonville, Kentucky. Who would have guessed that Shirley would have personally led hundreds to Christ or that Virginia would literally travel the world with the gospel?

2. Influence may be stewarded but must not be grasped. Neither Shirley nor Virginia set out to widen their circle of influence. Neither tried to climb a ladder of popularity or celebrity status. And yet, at the end of both of their lives, people from around the world shared how deeply their influence was felt.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t do what we can to influence as many people as we can with the gospel and spiritual truth. But I am suggesting that this happens more as we faithfully steward the opportunities God gives us than because we specifically reach for greater notoriety.

You can build a platform by “working a system,” but you don’t gain true entrance into people’s hearts by grasping for it. This comes as you fulfill your responsibilities and seize opportunities to love and serve the people God places in front of you.

3. Influence has a compound effect. When Shirley was teaching Terrie how to cook, she had no idea the scope of where and how Terrie would use these skills to host, help, and nurture people. Every time Terrie hosts a fellowship in our home, the way she is touching lives—from new Christians to pastors and missionaries to college students—is an extension of Shirley’s influence.

When Shirley herself served meals to college students, with side helpings of love and encouragement, her influence reached past that moment into lives that have since gone around the world with the gospel. Truly, we never know where our influence will end.

4. Influence has a shared effect. Even before the ripples of influence take place, there is another power of influence—shared influence.

Did Virginia influence people through her husband Don because she influenced him? Yes. But it was even more direct. Because Virginia loved and supported Don, their influence on other lives was shared, not just years down the road, but even as it took place.

Dr. Sisk told me last week how God called him to preach on Thanksgiving Day 1954 during a special service at their church. On that very day, he made his decision public. Two weeks later, Virginia also made a decision public at church. “Since God has called Don to be a preacher, I want to be the very best wife that I possibly can be so he can be all God has called him to be.” Her active support in Don’s ministry over the next sixty-three years meant that, in a literal sense, every life Don Sisk touched was impacted through Virginia.

5. Influence continues past our lives, but only through what we do with our lives. Only God knows how far our influence will reach as the ripples continue through the years. But unstarted ripples never continue.

The extent of Shirley and Virginia’s influence may be surprising, but the fact of their influence shouldn’t be. They wholeheartedly served the Lord where He placed them, and they actively reached out to touch lives around them.

So, yes, you and I never know how far our influence will reach. But we shouldn’t be surprised if it goes nowhere because we haven’t used the influence and opportunities we currently have.

Whether our immediate influence is to just a few people or to a large group of people, it is powerful. And when it is used to the glory of God, there is no way to predict just how far it can reach.

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