Leading, Following AND Getting Out of The Way

Posted: December 7, 2010 in church, consumerism, leadership, priorities, productivity

Since becoming the senior staff person at an organization I’ve injected my reading and development with a tremendous dosage of leadership material.  I’ve been to conferences, read books, watched webinars and basically immersed my life in leadership. This has been both good and necessary. But there is a sense – as a Christian leadership – that it all a bit too much.

Here’s what I mean.

Many of the teachers I’ve learned leadership from over the past two years are pastors themselves. Their books are about leadership; their blogs, their tweets, their conferences are all about leadership – which is both needed and good. I’m not throwing stones. But here comes the “but”….

What about “following?”

Being a Christian leader, particularly a Christian leader in the church, my first call is NOT to lead. It is to follow. In our current environment it would be easy for fair observers to say that most church leaders see themselves primarily as CEO’s. There is a temptation, I think, to spend so much time thinking and developing our leadership that we neglect our followship (yes, I know that’s not a word). This, obviously, doesn’t have to be the case. And I assume that the good Christian women and men I mentioned above are great followers of God, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and appropriately follow their church structure and governance. Yet, still, I want to offer my friends a moment of pause to stave off the leadership idol that many of us are unfortunately falling prey to.

An over-focus on leadership will….

1. …crush your humility! If you’re a leader, you have one thing: Followers. This mean there are people who will – whether rightly or wrongly – privilege what you think, say and do. Done long enough, it’s nearly impossible to not believe that you know more and are better at things than they are. What’s worse is that they’ll let you. Giving push-back to your boss or leader is difficult, especially if your paycheck or perceived “spiritual life” is dependent on it. The antidote is not to believe your own hype and continually place your leadership alongside that of Jesus’ and see how you stack up. You’re not infallible and, likely, not the only person in your organization who can do what you’re doing. God’s entrusted you with this season, steward it well.

2. …will make you think you’re supposed to produce something. Leaders love to produce and I’m a big believer in productivity, but that’s also why we need to remember that God is the one who produces. Turn to the Galatian’s “Fruit of the Spirit” for example. Our family has an orange tree in our back yard. In the spring and summer we have oranges at every meal, but not in the winter. Why? There are no oranges in December. But that doesn’t mean the tree isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing. The “fruit of the spirit” works the same way. The fruit is both inevitable (if you believe the Bible) and gradual (like all fruit). Too many times, leaders fear lack of movement and the stagnation of vision, yet, the wise Christian leader should know better. We should know that production cannot be manipulated or coerced…and it’s not up to us anyway. Sometimes we need to let the ground rest and stop trying to “lead” everything.

3. …contribute to a cult of personality. This one is obvious. How many times have we seen a congregational leader fall and the next thing you know the congregation loses 75% of her members? Who were all these people following in the first place? Well, common sense would suggest they were following the congregational leader. This was the wrong leader to follow, but the preacher (or whoever) was too egotistical to ever tell them to trust more in God than the leader. In the absolute worse cases, these cults-of-personality create a Jim Jones or David Koresh. In any event, and to any degree, the same thing is happening; the leader, in his or her own deficiency of following Jesus aids others in moving away from Jesus.

I suppose I say all this as a check to myself and my fellow Christ-followers who are leaders in organization to realize deeply that perhaps the best thing we can do as leaders in not to lead, but to follow God and get out of the way of His Spirit.


Incidentally, uber-blogger, Scot McKnight has blogged about the same here.

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sean Palmer, Redwood Church. Redwood Church said: New post: On Leading Following & Getting Out of the Way! http://ht.ly/3lzH1 […]

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