Why You Must Set the Example


It was a warm summer day and I had gone outside to mow the lawn. I was wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and my grubby ballcap. I started the lawnmower engine and began my first pass in the front yard.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something that surprised and delighted me.

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When I turned around, there was my 4-year old son Ben. He had his toy lawnmower and was following about fifteen feet behind me—far enough to be safe, but close enough to watch what I was doing. He was even dressed like me, down to the ballcap.

Little did I know he was watching me closely and copying my every move.

3 Circles of Responsibility

Whether or not you realize it, people are following you.  The question is not whether you will be an example, but what kind of example you will be.

Given this reality, we must take responsibility for our lives. There are three circles of responsibility:

1. You are responsible to yourself. Life is a gift. Most people go through each day acting as if their lives are a burden. They act as if slogging through each day is a drudgery they must endure. There are problems in life, to be sure, and we all get depressed sometimes. But when you see life as a gift that you are given, you see problems in a whole new light. You also become much more grateful for each day.

2. You are responsible to others. Many people don’t buy into this philosophy. They only look out for themselves and “take care of number one.” But if you are a Christian, or even more generally, simply a mature person who understands what life is all about, you realize that you have a responsibility to others. You must leave the world better than you find it.

3. You are responsible to God. You are a steward of the life God has given you. You are not your own. You are not the ultimate authority in your life. God is. The question is: Do you recognize and act upon the fact that God is in charge of your life? Do you live with an awareness that your life is temporary, that it will end one day?

These realities can bring a new awareness of the brevity of life. We must live every day with an awareness of the immense responsibility we carry.

A Story About Unexpected Influence

It really is quite amazing how we can have so much influence over others, many times without even knowing it.

A number of years ago, a year or two after I became a college professor, I gave a Chapel message on the subject of dating. It was a very strong message, and I pleaded with students to think long and hard about whom they were dating. Some of them were dating people who were dragging them down. After the Chapel service was over, I didn’t give much more thought to it.

A few years later, one of our students told me she had been visiting the college that day as a prospective student. She heard my Chapel message and felt so convicted that she broke up with her boyfriend. At the time she told me this, she was dating one of the most dedicated male students on campus, and today they are happily married and serving in vocational ministry.

I don’t mention this story to make myself look good. In fact, I was completely blown away when she told me this. I felt very humbled that apparently God had used the message that day to nudge her into making a drastic change in her life. Rather, I mention it to illustrate how we can influence others without even knowing it.

Whether you do it from a stage, an office, or on the phone, you speak words every day that impact others’ thinking and values. More importantly, you influence others by the example you set and the actions you take.

It all comes down to this: No matter how much you talk, your actions always speak louder than your words. (Click to Tweet that.)

When you consider the number of people you interact with regularly, it’s quite staggering. We should never take this responsibility lightly! But the great news it that we have an incredible opportunity to make a positive difference in the world through our words, but even more so through our actions.

Who has influenced you greatly through their words or actions? What difference did it make in your life?


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I'm Kent Sanders, and my passion is to help others fulfill their creative potential. I teach worship and guitar at Saint Louis Christian College in Florissant, MO. I love being Melanie's husband and Ben's Dad.
  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    My Pastor has been a huge influence on me since I was 14 years old. There was a time when I was a “prodigal son” and he would call me and simply let me know he was praying for me. He never judged me, he was always there.

    • kentsanders

      Thanks Kimanzi. I’m thankful for people like that in our lives who don’t give up on us.

  • http://www.qualitylivingmadesimple.com/ Joshua Rivers

    I can relate to your lawnmower example. My son did that to me a couple years ago.

    I then was able to witness my son being the example. We taught him how to vacuum several years ago. About a year ago, I walked into the room when he was vacuuming, only to see my daughter following him with the toy mower. Now she is learning to vacuum.

    We are all examples, no matter what age we are.

    • kentsanders

      Very true, Joshua. Thanks for commenting. I wish I could get my son to vacuum more… LOL

  • Melissa AuClair

    A mentor invited me to a writers group a few years ago. Then, I had only considered writing a hobby and had a lot of unfinished items lying in journals and the hard drive. After joining the writing group I finished my first novel and I’ve been completing projects ever since.
    Great post; it’s good to take some time and think about who has influenced us. I’m convinced there is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. It also gives me room to consider my responsibility to those who I am influencing.

    • kentsanders

      Melissa, somehow I wasn’t aware that you had written a novel – is that a relatively new book?