You’re a Bigger Difference-Maker Than You Realize

At the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention just two weeks ago, my company sponsored a tree in the exhibit area. This was a very special tree, one unlike any you’ve seen before. In fact, something very special happened over the course of the week, and I had the privilege of watching it happen. I occupied a consultation space right next to this tree, and every day I watched people walk by, stop, and write the name of a person who made a big difference in their lives as a Bible study leader on a tag that they later hung on a branch. By the end of our time in Anaheim, hundreds, maybe even thousands of names were dangling from this tree.

Some of the people who wrote the name of their special somebody placed the person’s name on the tree, backed up, and took a snapshot with the camera on their smartphone. I watched several go and find the person who made a difference in their lives as a Bible study teacher, pointing out that person’s name to them as it hung from that tree.

I took the time to do this, too. I wrote the name Helen Jensen on a tag and tied it to a branch. She was my mother’s third grade Sunday School teacher who led my mother to the Lord when she was a ten-year-old girl. This relationship with Jesus changed my mother forever, and she was the strongest spiritual force in my life growing up, making sure that my sister and I were in Sunday School and church every Sunday, even when my father had stopped attending. Where would my life be today without my mother’s strong spiritual leadership and faith in Christ, and what might have happened if Helen Jensen had not become mom’s Sunday School teacher? I can imagine that my life might have had a different trajectory.

I also imagine that Helen Jensen never knew the impact she made on my mother. How could she? Mom went on to have other Sunday School teachers, but Helen was the one God used to bring my mother into His Kingdom. My mother made sure I grew up hearing about Jesus. She made sure that no matter what, my sister and I grew up in and around the church. My mother cared for my sister’s high school sweetheart and showed him kindness during those turbulent years. He’s now been in ministry for decades pastoring churches in Texas and Oklahoma, and he earned his Ph.D from Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. I just finished 12 years of providing daily leadership to all of Lifeway’s adult ongoing curriculum series that reach about 2.6-2.8M adults weekly. I have authored several books, booklets, and thousands of blog posts related to Sunday School. I travel and train pastors and group leaders around the country. And I can trace all of these wonderful things God has done in my life and in the lives of others through my mother; but to be honest, it truly all began with mom’s third-grade Sunday School teacher, Helen Jensen.

Helen never knew how God was going to use my mother and those of us who knew her, but He did. Helen thought she was “just a teacher,” and probably felt as though she wasn’t contributing a lot to Kingdom work, but she did.

If you are a group leader, or perhaps if you are the one leading the entire groups ministry at your church, I want you to take heart today. Be encouraged that God sees your good work for Him. Be assured that you do not labor in vain, but that God is using your gifts and abilities to change people’s lives for eternity. In fact, He is using you to change the lives of people you’ll never meet on this side of heaven.

You’re a bigger difference-maker than you realize.

Keep up the God work!


  1. Fabulous message! I love this idea of putting names on a tree as a tribute to people who shared the love of Jesus and encouraged others along the way. We all have deep-seated Christian roots that were sown, watered, and shaped by godly people who were placed in our paths by our heavenly Father. What a sweet, sweet post!

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