I have come to a big decision. The title of my blog is changing as of right now! It is changing because I am changing and recognizing that there is a great need in the church today to redefine “leadership.” Too often we as pastors, leaders and Christian educators (me included!) have bought into corporate models of leadership and greatly missed the fact that Jesus redefined leadership itself.
Actually and arguably, 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 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 Kindgom 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.
And, it seems Jesus passed on this “unleaderish” approach to leadership. It lingers for a few decades, but has been missing for some time. For 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.
So, here goes. Join me on this journey of discovering together more of what Jesus called us to do. His central call to his disciples was not “Come. Learn some leadership skills and I will put you in charge.” Rather, it was “Come. Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” By today’s standards Jesus’ leadership was rather unleaderish. Let’s see if we can learn more of what that truly means. Any thoughts so far?