Many people say that leadership is simply a case of having followers. But it seems to me that there are definitely two types of follower, and hence two types of leader. I am talking about Christian circles here, but I think that a similar point could be made in the wider world too.
The first kind of follower is one who simply reads, listens to, or watches another, and is affected by them. Sometimes the changes produced will be profound and deep, even life-changing, other times the effects will appear deceptively superficial. The reality is that we are the product of thousands of small moments where we say “aha!” We read a blog and it makes us think. Thats leadership. We listen to a sermon and the truth comes alive. Thats leadership. We recently heard a testimony at Jubilee in which someone said that they had probably listened to the gospel 10,000 times but when Dr Kenneth Ulmer preached it again for us they understood it for the first time! This person’s life was demonstrably changed by a single sermon, although of course the previous ones must have played some preparatory role. I think probably the best word for this kind of leadership is simply: INFLUENCE.
Thus, I would argue that this role of a preacher, blogger, or author, is an important one. It is highly influential on others. There have always been such people in the wider Church who’s influence is broad. And yet, such a form of leadership could be argued to lack depth. Your internet preacher is not your pastor. The blogger you correspond with does not know what is going on in your home life. The writer you read could be dead and their book could still transform your life, but it is a relationship with a book not a person.
I do believe that it is healthy to allow multiple influencers to affect you. I also believe that we must be careful in filtering the things we read or hear. You don’t have to read many blogs before you discover that even friends like myself and Frank Viola can and do disagree profoundly sometimes. If you simply lay yourself open to all the influences in the global Church today without carefully considering what you are going to adopt, and what you are going to sift out you will be very confused! Also, if you are rely on the internet to fulfill all your fellowship and teaching needs your Christianity will be fatally flawed. The Internet cannot make disciples, and that was Jesus primary mission for the church. Influencers as I have been speaking about can and do support disciple-making. But to become a disciple of Jesus you need someone in your life who leads you at a far more profound level than spending a coffee break reading a blog like this one.
There is then of course a second type of leadership, and once again it is demonstrated by the type of follower the leader attracts. A follower in this case is really a disciple of their leader. They place themselves under that leaders direction. They join the leaders church or group of churches. They become part of their organization. This leadership is really a position of leadership. It is what a pastor or denominational leader holds. It is a form of leadership that is outworked through relationships. We call this type of leadership AUTHORITY. Whilst influence can have great breadth, this form of “in your face” local leadership can have great depth.
There is no substitute for becoming a member of a local church and placing yourself firmly under the authority of another. As you follow a leader as they are also following Christ you will grow in your Christian walk. There are of course limits to such a form of leadership, and abuses have sadly occurred with all too regular frequency. We are not called to be mindless drones. And we are not called to follow our pastors away from the Bible! Allowing yourself to be influenced by those outside your local church can help act as a check and balance, or a calibration of the influences you are placing yourself under at home. Listening to others outside your stream can help you understand your own stream better. Sometimes it is possible to maintain your connection to a local church whilst you disagree about certain doctrinal or practical issues. But there are limits to that of course. In a local church people who agree on at least primary and most secondary issues agree together to be a community of Christ under the leadership of elders.
What kind of leader are you? Are you an influencer? Or are you a positional leader with authority? Be content with what God has made you without longing to be the opposite! Of course there is an overlap. You better hope that if you have a position of leadership you can also influence. I know that I am much stronger on the influence side. What limited authority I do exercise in my local church is delegated authority, that I hold only as part of the core leadership team of the church. I am not an elder or pastor. I am not paid by the church. These days I do not actually direct any individual ministry or group in the church. Instead I function by what I do from the front on a Sunday morning meeting (a form of influence in our own congregation), by being part of various meetings behind the scenes and pointing out what I see…a form of “minister without portfolio,” and in speaking with individual church members. But I am so glad that I am not just another rootless influencer of the body of Christ who has no church home. My roots at Jubilee ground me, and everything I do on this blog comes under the authority of my pastor Tope Koleoso and the other elders (especially my dear friend Dave Pask). I worry about anyone who exercises any form of broader ministry without such deep oversight at the home base.
Pastors, you are competing with thousands of other influencers for the attention and followership of your flocks. Its no good these days to tell them to ignore these voices, you have to make sure that your own voice, supported by your authority, is powerful enough to form a foundation in the lives of your people that will help them sift the other influences. If you are someone with broad influence you better hope you have a church home somewhere you can grow in being both under authority and exercising authority. I do believe that all leaders should exercise at least some authority and at least some influence. But every leader will be predominantly either an influencer or a director. Which are you?