Today, I got the privilege to speak at RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards). Housed at Erskine College, high school students from around SC are selected for a week of training in servant leadership. I have gotten to speak the last few years and have been asked to talk about the role of one’s relationships as it relates to leadership.
OG, Obadiah, and Eli went with me to Erskine. I taught while they were outside playing soccer, and then they came in to share some jokes with the students.
Eli’s joke: “How do you make a tissue dance? Put a lil’ boogy in it.”
Obadiah’s joke: “Why was 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9.”
The boys were a hit as always and the students were so nice to them. I shared about their relationship and how they encourage one another to do better and how we need people in our lives like that.
While this is not a Christian camp, I am able to pull wisdom from the Bible and talk about the issues in order to set these students up for success. I discussed the seriousness of who these students allow to be closest to them. Who will their entourage be? If they want to be a leader on their campus, earn a certain degree, make a difference in their community, they are in need to surround themselves with people who can encourage and help them realize their desires.
Much of today’s talk is contained in Freshman 15, a book I wrote to equip college students. Below is an excerpt from the chapter on “The Entourage.”
I am one of the most inconsistent people you will ever meet. I will bowl great for three frames, and then I will reside in the gutter the rest of the game. That’s not entirely true. I will reside in the gutter of the lane next to me for the rest of the game. At New Years, I will begin a steady diet and exercise routine that lasts all of twenty minutes into the New Year. I will start a span of regularly responding to emails, and then I will have a setback and not reply to anyone for six weeks. I crave consistency.
In my spiritual life, I am even worse. On a mission trip, I will turn into super-evangelistic boy on the field only to revert to an ashamed coward when I return home. My devotional life will get intense after a convicting sermon only to last until the guilt finally wears off. An answered prayer turns me into an intercessory advocate until I stop seeing immediate results to my prayers. I want to do better. I honestly do crave consistency.
Consistency requires intentionality.
If I am not intentional about being consistent in my spiritual life, it will not happen. I used to believe that if I simply desired to grow badly enough, that desire would be sufficient to propel me into growth. Then I got to know myself better, and I realized that my best days are meager, and I need something more to keep me consistent. I need others.
The Dangerous Progression
In Psalm 1, the Psalmist describes a consistent follower of God. He wrote, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (Ps. 1:1). We all want to be like the blessed man. We want God to throw good stuff our way. It is interesting to know that the Psalmist explicitly shows a progression to follow for a person to remove himself from the promised blessings of God.
The first step in the progression is someone who begins to walk in the counsel of the wicked. It doesn’t say that the person is necessarily wicked; the Psalmist simply claims that they are listening to the advice of people far from God. Have you personally witnessed that subtle shift? When a person seeks out advice from people who are far from God versus seeking godly counsel, he is well on his way. The relationship in which that person has chosen to indulge is clearly taking him down a specific path.
The second step down the path of dangerous relationships finds someone who is now standing in the way of sinners. This person is no longer just walking beside people who do bad things; he has slowed down completely to a stop. He doesn’t merely pass them on the road anymore; he is spending long periods of time with people who knowingly sin against a Holy God.
The final step is the most dangerous of all. In this step, we find the person now sitting down in the seat of scoffers. A scoffer is one who mocks or shows no respect to a certain something. It is implied here that this scoffer is one who absolutely shows no respect to God. Our example is no longer just walking beside someone who does evil things; he is no longer standing with people who are characterized by sin; now he is comfortably sitting down with people who mock God and the biblical commands he once followed so closely. The progression is subtle yet deadly, and all steps occurred in the confines of relationships. This scenario is seen often when a Christian starts hanging out with people who don’t esteem Jesus, and then they start traveling down a slippery slope.
That character is the antithesis to the blessed man spoken of in Psalm 1. The blessed man is one who delights in the law of the LORD, thinking about God’s Word all day and all night (Ps. 1:2). The Psalmist even characterizes this man as similar to a “tree planted by streams of water” (Ps. 1:3). A tree will either flourish or fade depending upon its physical proximity and access to a sufficient water supply. The blessed man, the one who is faithful to God, knows that he has to be careful about who or what he allows to speak into his life. People who do not supremely value God cannot influence him, but God himself must influence this man. That’s why those closest to you must be closest to God.
This natural progression happens on every college campus in the country. A freshman arrives at college with great anticipations of living for Jesus. This freshman had a high school graduation service at her church where she received a Bible, a devotional book for graduates, and was featured in a graduate recap video. During the service, her pastor challenged them to live for Jesus in college, and the majority of those graduating honestly had that desire.
Then she actually gets to college where it’s hard to follow Christ. A couple of her church friends went to the same school, so she has a security blanket. Over time, she comes into contact with certain classmates who are having the time of their lives in college. As she begins to get to know some of those people, she realizes that they don’t live for God, but she still likes hanging out with them, and she desperately doesn’t want to be alone. All of a sudden, it moves past being acquaintances, and she starts being influenced by their worldview. She listens to their advice. She starts changing the way she thinks on certain subjects due to their influence in her life. She is walking in the counsel of the wicked.
After a while, her thinking on the necessity of church has shifted. She no longer believes it is important, for her friendships have helped change that thought. Currently, she is no longer merely attending events and aware of people breaking God’s commands. She is starting to indulge as well. She thinks that a lot of what she was taught back home was outdated and unrealistic. She is now standing in the way of sinners and loving it.
Not too long into her college career, she finds herself no longer just merely sinning, but she is literally mocking God with her lifestyle. She laughs at narrow-minded goodie-two-shoe Christians. She is on the top of the world – sitting in the seat of scoffers, and she has found herself very far from Jesus.
You need to realize something – she did not intend to go down that path. No one who honestly loves Christ desires that ending, but in the context of unhealthy friendships, she found herself in a place she never intended to be – far from God. The number one reason was that she allowed the people closest to her to be people who were far from God themselves.
[Excerpt from Freshman 15]
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.
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