Where Leadership is Anchored

Genuine spiritual influence, or leadership, is not anchored in the gifts, abilities and strategies of the pastor or preacher or elder or leader. Genuine influence is anchored in the very opposite: in following. Mel Lawrenz, in fact, upends so much of leadership theory with these words: “The best leaders are the best followers” (Spiritual Influence, 37). Many pastors claim authority — and talk about it often — or they talk about leadership being imposing their will on others. But the apostles were leader-followers and Jesus was himself living out the will of the Father.

What do you do to remind yourself that you are first of all a follower and not a leader? What are the biggest temptations of the leader? 

“Some of the most dangerous leaders are those who think they know better than anyone else, who are interested only in their own inventions and who relish the isolation of being out ahead of everyone else” (37). Mel turns it inside out: “The best leaders you ever followed did not learn leading by leading, but by following.”

Genuine spiritual influence then is leading others into following Jesus. The question then is this: Does this person lead me to follow Christ or does this person lead me to follow him/her? This book will get even more into integrity, but genuine influence entails people following a leader (who is following Jesus). The leader must be follow-able.

I like this idea: there are not two camps in the church — leaders and followers. There are only followers, and some followers are leader-followers but they are still followers.

Another way of looking at leading as following is to say genuine influence emerges from engagement with God. God is at work and we are influencing others into indwelling that life of God. So again this is what spiritual influence is all about: a spiritual person influencing another spiritual person. This begins when we bow before God in prayer and humility, when we serve God in the face of others — when we surrender our reputation to service of God. The pretense of greatness destroys genuine leadership/influence. He uses Zinzendorf as the example here, whose influence is not only worldwide but directly impacted the Wesleys.

This leads Mel to discuss integrity. If you don’t like a leader the issue is trust; leadership and trust go hand in hand. No trust, no influence. Influence does not come from the kind of integrity that means flawlessness but because of the call of God. There is a sense of congruence, of course, of a wholeness at work in the person of influence. Integrity is both a quality and a process. It is a coherence of inner and outer, private and public. (John of Antioch is his example, and a good one.)

Integrity’s challenges: more masks are available today; family structures are more broken; social structures are broken; competition eats at us.

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  • Seems similar to Len Sweet’s I am Follower book. I am glad there are multiple authors dealing with this. An important topic for the US church.

  • RJS

    This is a big one “If you don’t like a leader the issue is trust; leadership and trust go hand in hand. No trust, no influence.

    And trust isn’t something that can be decreed as a “right” of leadership, a God-ordained duty of followers. It has to be earned, and treasured. A betrayal of trust is devastating to influence.

  • MatthewS

    Good thoughts. I’m working through a good book called “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” and there is a discussion about Jesus’ rebuke for the Pharisees, that they sat in Moses’ seat, ruling ex-cathedra, not practicing what they preached (Matt 23:1-12).

    Those who have spoken with authority, such as Moses, Paul, and Timothy, all did so not because of some intrinsic authority they possessed but rather they spoke in line with God’s truth. It is Scripture that is inspired, not the pastor; it is God who is king and no person has the privilege of ruling ex-cathedra in God’s kingdom.

    In addition, those whom we see as being most authoritative are often those who have been able to do and say helpful things for us in our time of need.

    I see these two things as being extremely important for leadership in Jesus’ kingdom: 1) speaking in line with God’s truth (as opposed to ex-cathedra or intrinsic authority), and 2) having an attitude of “ministry” in the sense that we minister to the needs of those whom we serve/lead.

  • I agree with his ideas (as I read them here), but think I would say it slightly differently. It’s an issue of semantics, I’m sure, but I’ve seen leaders who people would consider good “followers” but who do not exemplify the incarnational self-giving servanthood and crucifixion of Christ. Our perception of “following Christ” seems to often entail a deep commitment to intellectual pursuit of God and personal piety (i.e. “vertical” orientation) instead of radical “being with and dying daily for”.

    True leaders are certainly followers of Christ, but “following Christ” seems to imply less today then taking up one’s cross, at least as I see the phrase often used.

    I would say that a true leader is one who outdoes all others in living a life of daily crucifixion (of his goals, will, power, and influence) to love others.

    I’m sure that this is probably what I meant here by “following” but, as I said, there are probably better words to communicate this today.

  • donsands

    Jesus says My sheep will hear Me, and they will follow Me. Amen, we are all followers of the Truth, the Way, and the Life.
    Also the leaders, or pastors, elders, teachers also need to protect the sheep from wolves, as under-shepherds of our Great Shepherd.
    Their calling is a high calling with much honor, and yet James our Lord’s brother says this as well: “My brothers be not many masters (teachers) knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” (3:1)

    Good post to start my day. Thanks.

  • nathan

    This is a pretty key insight. At the church I work at, when we do leadership training, we talk about how a ‘good leader’ is a ‘great follower’.

  • Scot,
    These ideas of Mel’s interlock with the heart of pastoral ministry. So much quibbling about gits, models, teams, systems and so little about pointing. By that I mean pointing away from ourselves to The Leader, The Head, the LORD Jesus.

  • Oops! “gits” in comment #6 should read “gifts.”

  • The paradigm of the follower/leader seems so obvious. I have a feeling that the people who have had the most enduring influence in our lives are people like this.

  • Paul D.

    I also enjoyed Len Sweet’s “I Am a Follower.” My friend James Copple of Servant Forge recently wrote in a Facebook post: “Leadership is about showing up with character, commitment, and compassion.”

  • Phillip

    This reminds me of what I heard Randy Harris from Abilene Christian University say at a conference in July: A cursory reading of the Gospels shows Jesus has almost no interest in leadership…He does talk a lot about following. The only qualification for being a leader in the kingdom of God is that you follow [Jesus] well.

  • Bev Mitchell

    This is a great example of what is becoming clearer almost daily as we discuss many things. If we very consciously and deliberately begin forming our response to any and every question or issue from Christ, and from the Trinity, the way forward can be seen with so much greater clarity. An encouraging and important post.

  • Andrew

    This is one of the reasons I think Orthodoxy is so attractive. It’s followers, all the way back.

  • I wonder if anybody has any thoughts about this. The strongest leaders in the history of Christianity with the most enduring influence are, by nature, radical followers. For instance, Martin Luther… http://www.thebrooknetwork.org/luther/