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Dare to Be a Daniel: Becoming a Strategic Influencer in an Influencer-led Culture

March 3, 2021 by Admin

By Soo Chang, Head of School

Influence can be as simple as getting others to buy a product you’re promoting or it can be profoundly impactful and lifegiving. The idea of being an “influencer,” like the people we see on social media today, may appear to be a twenty-first century invention, but it is actually as old as human history. We first come across this concept in the Garden of Eden, in Genesis 3, at the dawn of human civilization. There, the negative influence of the serpent’s cunning deception led to the fall of Adam and Eve, our ancestors, with a tragic and lasting impact on human destiny.

Fast forward to our present day and you have a much simpler formula for becoming an influencer: the greater the number of your social media followers, the more “influential” you become. And the more popular you become, the greater your ability to monetize your influence.

Becoming a strategic influencer

What kind of influence do we envision for our Providence graduates? What do we mean when we say that our Christian school is intent on fostering “intellectual preparation, spiritual formation, and strategic influence”? What kind of influencers, or transformative agents, are we aiming to equip and deploy into the world?

In the two preceding blogs, Rod Meadth and I addressed the first two guiding principles for fulfilling the mission to deliver a distinctly Christian education: spiritual formation and intellectual preparation. Today, I’d like to unpack what it means for students to become “strategic influencers” who engage and serve their communities for Christ.

In A Blueprint for a Distinctly Christian Education, I describe the third guiding principle of our educational philosophy as follows:

Providence trains its students to invest their gifts, talents, and passions to glorify God and further his Kingdom by engaging and serving their communities. Providence is ultimately about changing lives to make a strategic difference. It seeks to be the training ground for young disciples of Jesus who have dedicated themselves to making a difference in their generation, for the sake of the gospel, and in gratitude for the cross of Christ. 

A modern lesson from an old story

For over 30 years, the old testament story of Daniel and his three friends—Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—has captured my imagination as a Christian educator and as a parent. I drew on Daniel’s story as I developed the concept of strategic influence articulated in the Blueprint. Daniel epitomizes the kind of strategic Kingdom influencer we hope and pray our own children will become some day.

Before we jump into Daniel’s story, a quick review of the historical background and setting may help us more fully appreciate the young man’s strategic influence.

The southern kingdom of Judah had just been conquered by the evil Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, ca. 603-605 B.C. Daniel’s parents were most likely killed during the invasion even as the holy temple was being looted and destroyed. Daniel and his three friends, along with other sons of kings and nobles, were taken as hostages and slaves to be trained (indoctrinated) as vassal servants. Daniel and his three friends were assigned new Babylonian names—Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—in order to shape their new identities. The young men were enrolled in a three-year academic program immersing them in Babylonian history, language, culture, and religion (polytheism). Needless to say, all of these experiences and lessons were hostile to their monotheistic faith and worldview and diametrically opposed to how they had been raised. Yet, when Daniel and his friends were put to the test in the fiery furnace and the lion’s den, they held fast to their faith in God, the one and only God.

Cultural pressure in a postmodern society

Christian teenagers today may not face the same particular spiritual and social dangers Daniel and his friends faced 2,600 years ago. The cultural influences our children face right now, however, are no less tempting for them to compromise their faith and ditch their Christian convictions. Today’s cultural environment is just as hostile as a fiery furnace or a lion’s den. I realize I may sound like an old-fashioned alarmist when I say that Christian teenagers today are, like the proverbial “frogs in the kettle,” at risk of being systematically steered away from their Christian faith and upbringing one degree at a time. I am not being hyperbolic. The Barna Group has done some excellent research on this topic in recent years and they provide great insights on the truth of that drift, along with advice on how parents and teachers can keep our children engaged spiritually during these challenging times.

The current reality of life in a postmodern world—where self becomes the final arbiter of what is true, good, and beautiful—demands that parents and educators firmly partner together by locking arms and becoming very intentional about how we equip our children academically, spiritually, and socially. The college freshman dorm is just around the corner and we have little time to waste!

We begin with the end in mind (though the ending remains to be seen)

So, here’s the question before us: How can a distinctly Christian school engage with like-minded parents, with God’s supernatural help, to raise strategic Kingdom influencers who can make a real difference for Christ in their communities?

First, we can learn some valuable lessons from Daniel’s parents and the parents of the other three Hebrew boys. These unnamed God-fearing parents were folks who took their faith seriously. We know this by the names they chose for their sons: In Hebrew, Daniel means “God is my judge,” Hananiah means “Yahweh is gracious,” Mishael means “Who is like God?” and Azariah means “Yah(weh) has helped.” Hebew parents never picked a name for their child because it was cute or popular. They named their children prayerfully, mindful of honoring God with their very lives.

Second, these parents probably had no idea what the future held for their children. Neither do we! But it is clear they prepared their sons for whatever might come their way. They prepared them by making sure God was central in their lives. Every time their parents called their names, for example, these boys were reminded of their foundational spiritual identity.

Third, the parents made sure the boys were taught the Torah (the Law) and they learned it well. This is why Daniel and his friends refused to eat the food or drink the wine offered them by the Babylonian king. They knew it had been sacrificed to false gods and they weren’t about to have anything to do with idols, even if it cost them their lives (Daniel 1:8ff). The parents taught the young men how to pray and their first crisis in captivity led them to pray together throughout the night (Daniel 2:17-18). The parents taught them to worship God and him only (Daniel 3:12). They taught them that God was powerful to deliver them and protect them and was worthy of their trust (Daniel 3:16-18). Most of all, these wise parents taught their children to know who they were and what kind of people God wanted them to be.

Finally, the fourth and, perhaps, the most important aspect of Daniel and his companions’ development as strategic Kingdom influencers was receiving God’s sovereign grace (favor).

God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials” (Daniel 1:9).

“And as for these four youths, God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all kinds of visions and dreams” (Daniel 1:17).

“And the king talked with them, and out of them all not one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah…. As for every matter of expertise and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better…. And Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus” (Daniel 1:19-21).

God granted Daniel and his friends knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom. God gave them spiritual discernment. As a result, those who ruled the world found the young Hebrew men to be ten times better than their Babylonian peers. Now, that’s what I call strategic influence! And that’s precisely what we hope to realize in the lives of students. In the words of the Providence School mission statement, our goal is to “prepare students for lives of purpose, equipped with the knowledge, wisdom, and character found in God’s unchanging truth.”

Facebook and Instagram influencers won’t stand a chance.

Read more:

A Blueprint for a Distinctly Christian Education by Soo Chang

Treks, Rocks, Logs, and Spiritual Formation by Rod Meadth

Intellectual Preparation: Shooting Hoops with “KD” by Soo Chang

A New Generation Expresses its Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity by the Barna Group

Learn more:

For more information on distinctly Christian education at Providence School, contact Tawny Kilpper, admissions director, at tkilpper@providencesb.org