Jesus did not focus on leadership; certainly not the way many Christian pastors and teachers do today. In fact, I cannot find one place in all of his (red-letter) words where he calls any man specifically to “lead” or to “leadership.” Don’t get me wrong. Certainly Jesus was and is a leader and led not only a band of twelve men but a movement that would fascinate and dominate the interests of countless millions. Still, as I pour over his words, although I personally love the subject of leadership I am hard-pressed to find any inkling of the fascination we have today with the subject.
But, Jesus did lead, right? Of course, none ever did better. But he never taught a course in “leadership.” And, about the time people started to affirm him for all of his great works, he did not try to offer them “10 Ways to Lead Like Me”. No, instead, he said, “I only do what I see my Father doing.” In other words, my effectiveness as a leader is directly tied to my faithfulness as a follower. He made it as plain and simple as that. But, don’t confuse simple with easy.
So then, if the keyword within the influence of Jesus’ passion and persona was not “lead”, “led”, “leader” or “leadership” … what was it?
That’s what it was.
“Come, follow me …” – to be precise.
“Follow me … and I will make you fishers of men…”
“One thing you lack … Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.” (John 12:26)
“If any man would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and … follow me.” (Matt. 16:24 NIV)
The power of personal influence requires two things – influential skills (i.e., leadership) and a willingness to be influenced (i.e., following). A more biblical term would be “disciple” or “discipleship”. But, how is that different from much of what is being pushed in today’s church? First of all, the term leadership itself as we use it today most frequently focuses on the leader and his (or her) leadership skills and influence. We host multitudes of events and produce even more materials designed to help people become more “successful” at leading. We showcase “successful” leaders. But, Jesus never underlined or highlighted the leader the way we do. Rather, he turned it all around and made the follower (or the disciple) his focal point. Thus, he did not say, “Let me lead” … “Get in line” … “Forward, march” … or anything of the sort. Rather, he walked right up to likely and unlikely candidates of his grace and Kingdom purpose and presented two things … one, a Call (“follow”) and two, a Person calling (“me”). “Follow me.” And, his “call” was never a command, a requirement, an order, a gimmick or a sales pitch. It was, and still is … an invitation, … an incomparable one at that.
We put much effort within our churches into host “leadership” events, promoting “leadership” books and heralding “leadership” skills. If we are not careful, however, we will find ourselves with churches full of people more focused on being in charge or leading the way instead of following, serving and yielding to the leading of God and the Holy Spirit.
Is leadership important? Sure it is. But, it seems Jesus passed on more of an “unleaderish” approach to leadership to his disciples. The kind of leadership Jesus taught was a new kind, a Kingdom of God kind; leadership of another kind, from another kingdom altogether than this one. A Kingdom where the “first shall be last” and the “last, first.” Even Paul the Apostle after crisscrossing the globe with the Gospel and setting flames of devotion among the Gentiles and in the corridors of kings, communicated his call to “leadership” this way:
“Follow me … as I follow Christ.”
The call of Christ is first and foremost not a call to “lead”, but a call to “follow.” The true test of leadership is determined by how effective we are at helping others do so well. What the world needs more right now than another leadership conference or book is one man or woman determined to follow Christ better and to help others do the same. Someone who will …
lead … the following way.