Reflections on The Power of Influential People

Keith KettenringChristian Living, Ministry Leaders, The Uncommon Journey

No Man is an Island

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.    —- John Dunne

Our lives are so intertwined with others that what happens to them impacts us. Additionally, each of us has been influenced by those with whom our lives are intertwined. Thanks be to God, we don’t travel alone. Some people leave indelible marks on us. That’s what this post is about.


In our newest Manastery venture, the guys are reading “Meditations” by Marcus Aerilius (121-180AD), Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, who devotes the first 13 Chapters of his “Meditations” to those people who shaped his life for the good. He begins with his grandfather (“I have learned to be gentle and meek, and to refrain from all anger and passion) and ends with his father (“I observed his meekness…how free from all vanity he carried himself in matter of honour and dignity…).

One of the “takeaways” from our discussion was the challenge to journal our own list of people who have impacted our lives, helping mold them into who we are today.

I thought you might be interested in catching a glimpse of the men, in my case, who influenced me over the past (almost) 65 years. This is not an exhaustive list neither do they unambiguously represent deep spiritual impact. Often more can be learned from the shortcomings of others than from their strengths. However, there was much good gleaned from these men when I needed it the most.

The list is in chronological order from my younger years to now. Each observation ends with an “impact summary.”

Number one on my list is my father, Joel. His steadfast devotion to God, faithfulness to his family and marriage, and commitment to serving Jesus Christ still resonate within me. In Dad, I observed a longing to know God more deeply while navigating challenging and rewarding phases of life. Seek God and His ways.

Jim Willson. A missionary in Jamaica during my formative teen years, he gave me guidance on many things. But I remember him most for this extremely practical advice: “When you marry, marry a  woman who is healthy.” Of all the things he could have mentioned, he recognized the importance of health, speaking from his own struggles. Now at almost 43 years of marriage and at almost 65-years of age, I see his wisdom. Live Practically.

David Robey. A professor at Tennessee Temple University where I attended, he helped shape my understanding of friendship. As an insufferable introvert, I learned my need for companions on the journey. I don’t need many friends, but I treasure each one. Quality Friendships.

Wayne Haston. An influential Christian education professor during my seminary years, he opened my eyes to a broader spectrum of Christian ministry and practice. In the environment of a ‘fundamentalist’ institution, he challenged me to think well and explore ways to deepen my relationship with God. God-focused Ministry.

Bill Gustafson. The Sr. Pastor of Duncan Park Baptist Church where I served as choir director during my seminary years. His commitment to scripture and shepherding was a needed model for my life and ministry. He lovingly guided toward Christ my rough and often foolhardy ways. Though strong in principle and conviction, he was pliable in God’s hands. Pastoral Shepherding.

David Graham. I served on the staff of Cedar Heights Baptist Church where David was Sr. Pastor. He was a master diplomat and A+ administrator. I learned from him how these skills function in the pastorate and local church. He was also a gentle man, a characteristic I am realizing much too slowly. Kindly Oversight.

Tom Spirlong. A kind-hearted, compassionate man, Tom clearly exemplifies mercy. I learned more from watching him love others than anyone I know.  Though his life has been filled with hardship, he possesses the nack of transforming these into opportunities to demonstrate his tender heart. Of all the people on this list, I want to be most like Tom. Gentle Mercy.

Klaus Issler. I spent over six years in the mentorship of Dr. Issler. In my Ph.D. program, I took every course he taught and chose him as my dissertation chair. Since he’d written a book entitled “Wasting Time With God,” I was known as the student “wasting time with Klaus.” He possessed a sharp mind, effective teaching skills, and insatiable pursuit of God. He influenced me to walk the same path. Open Heart & Intellect

Dallas Willard. Through his meaningfully provocative writings, lectures, and brief conversations, Dallas guided me into a fresh, spiritually-healthy direction that marks me to this day. He possessed a stunning intellect subject to a humble heart producing a warm and gentle spirit. Humble Formation & Wisdom

Bruce Heying & Tom Braun. I can’t separate these friends (though Bruce came into my life first). After a calamitous experience that shattered some of my already faltering footings, these two entered my life showing humility and depth of knowing God in ways rarely seen in men. Characterized by whimsical humor, love for the Church, and relational integrity, they rescued me from despair, pointing me to robust life in union with Jesus Christ. I owe them my life and vow to follow their lead until my dying day. Earnest fervor for people & the Church

There are many more I could list – women and men. But this list includes those whom God sent into my life at crucial times helping guide me to where I am today.

One take away as a result of this “assignment” is to notice how I’ve been influenced most by humble men. I’ve been in academic and ministry settings my whole life. Yet, these environments often do not foster humility.

I also conclude that I require the influence of humble people because I struggle with humility myself. God has sent them to me to teach me humility but I’m not a quick learner. Lord, have mercy!!

During this coronavirus “downtime,” I hope you will reflect on those dear people who have impacted your life. Perhaps you can take some time to connect with them. There’s no better time than now.

Stay safe and healthy!

Dr. K/Keith