Follow Who?

This article is part of the “spiritual leadership today” study/discussion going on this year. For all articles in the series, click the Spiritual Leadership tab at the top of the page. To have them delivered, subscribe to The Brook Letter]

Spiritual leadership today means inviting people to follow by listening, watching, and imitating. Not that this is a safe proposition. The easy and safe thing to do is to lead by words alone, perhaps even secretly hoping that no one is really watching who we are behind the words, because we know that our house is not entirely in order. All of us are embarrassed by some of what we are. Humility dictates that we shudder to think of people examining our lives and imitating the worst side of our temperaments.

Yet, someone like the Apostle Paul did encourage others to follow his example (1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Thes. 3:7). And he was criticized for that with withering accusations from other leaders. Paul’s letters reveal more personal pain from the criticism of fellow believers than from the unbelievers who threw him in jail. His jailers were less of a drain on him than his “friends” who were glad he was in prison. Each person who reads Paul will have an opinion as to whether he was a braggart who did not listen to others and who expected people to be his followers, or whether he was a bold leader whose humility is found in his frequent admissions that he was “the worst of sinners.”

Followers today want to know whether the talk of the leader matches the walk. Is there congruence here? Or is the talk just talk? The cry for authenticity today is really people saying: don’t give me a line, I don’t care about mottos, I’m not buying fancy rhetoric on its own. I don’t need a show, I need reality. Show me the way. Show me that it is trustworthy. Show me that it works. Show me that it rings true.

Every audience has this baseline of people expecting congruence and authenticity in their leaders. But there are masses of naive people as well who can be swayed by the catchy slogan or the satisfaction-guaranteed promise. This is firmly lodged in human nature and it is not going to go away. There are television teachers, traveling evangelists, and marketing geniuses who are skilled at attracting substantial followings. They are “spiritual leaders” and claim that their ministry is authenticated simply because they have a mass of followers. It can be a sick, symbiotic relationship wherein the “leader” offers happiness or health, large numbers of people “follow,” and the following feeds the ego of the “leader.” This is one of the dangers of spiritual leadership. One can claim to be a successful spiritual leader simply on the basis that people are following something as vague as a generic promise of contentment.

Other leaders claim authority based on numeric results. “More” authenticates. What more needs to be said?

But anyone can call himself or herself a spiritual leader and claim authority on the basis of how many people place their bodies in an auditorium, or, to go to the opposite extreme, by how exclusive the “in group” is on the basis of exclusion. A cult’s self-definition is centered as much on the masses who do not belong, as those who do.

But on those days when we get it right, when we start the day with one singular desire: to follow Jesus wherever he may lead us–it is a wonderful thing. It is liberating to know that Jesus still deploys his disciples into the villages and cities, to confront sin and defend the downtrodden. It is calming to know that battles lie ahead–because that is the way spiritual progress is made–but that it is God’s power that will prevail, not ours. It is freeing to remember that, at the end of the day, it does not matter whether our names and reputations have been elevated, but that we have accomplished something of major importance if someone somewhere gains a clearer view of Jesus.

The greatest gift a leader can pass on is the model of the follower-life. When leaders make people dependent on them, they set them up for disappointment. Eventually, they will be abandoned because none of us as leaders are steadfast like God. Teaching people to follow Jesus puts them in the one place in the universe where they will never be left alone.

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Follow Who?”

  1. Model, equip, and lift up those who are living it out by testimonies. We are seeking to do this by having every household claiming a “family night” and/or date night once a week that includes an acts 2 slow meal together, sharing highs and lows, opening the scriptures to the texts for the past week, and then praying for one another and people on our prayer list. The evening culminates with sabbath play (recreation, games, hiking or a family walk in the neighborhood, could even be a prayer walk and intentional outreach for connecting with neighbors. I am making home visits to do house blessings and break bread together in peoples homes to model this with them at the kitchen table.

  2. Regina Refosco from Brazil

    In my opinion, one way I can strongly show people I am a follower of Jesus is when I make my relationship with people treating them, serving them, speaking with them, smiling to them, touching them, not how I would like to do to a human being but how I would like to do to The Lord. It is in Colossians 3.23 . I have been trying to do that for all my life after knowing Jesus and this verse. All of us can try to do that and people can see and say some word about.

  3. ” …it is God’s power that will prevail, not ours. It is freeing to remember that, at the end of the day, it does not matter whether our names and reputations have been elevated, but that we have accomplished something of major importance if someone somewhere gains a clearer view of Jesus.” These words are very encouraging and comforting. No matter what I try to accomplish the only accomplishment with lasting value, helping to lead others to Jesus Christ, is done by the help of the Holy Spirit.It is freeing to me that God will previal inspite of my poor attmepts and my foolish, selfish desires. Thanks for putting forth these wise words.

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