Sometimes leaders need to be followers

Because I work in a leadership position, I’m constantly trying to learn new things about how to be a better leader. I constantly want to grow my leadership skills, know what God expects of me as a leader, and how can I grow those whom I lead to carry on the work that I currently do. One lesson I’ve learned is there are times where the leader has to be willing to follow.

If you’ve ever sat back and watched and observed a group of people, it usually doesn’t take long to identify the leaders and the followers. Everyone of us ends up being the leader at some point in life – even those who are quiet and shy. But there are some people who are just more prone to lead and some more prone to follow. Age doesn’t matter. Adults at work, teens at school, and kids in a kindergarten class or daycare playground will all have leaders and followers.

The same is true among siblings and within families. There are leaders and followers found in the sports team or cheer leading squad. They are at the office. They’re in politics and government offices. They’re within the church. And they’re found in criminal organizations. Some lead others toward excellence and some lead others into the path of sin and rebelliousness. Some follow good leaders and some follow bad. And sometimes leaders need to be followers.

Leaders must prepare the next leaders

As Jesus started his earthly ministry, he knew that part of being a leader was to prepare the next leaders. He knew His time on earth was limited and that He would return to Heaven once He accomplished God’s plan to redeem man. And so, he chose 12 men and said, “Follow me.” And for the next 3 1/2 years he would live with them, teach them, train them, and get them ready to spread the gospel message to every nation.

What if Jesus came to earth, died, was buried, and resurrected but no one was prepared to spread the news and tell others about His free gift of salvation? Jesus’ ministry on earth was to redeem man. He accomplished His mission. The disciple’s mission would be to spread the good news. Because Christianity is still thriving today, we know they accomplished their mission.

Who Is God Wanting You to Prepare?

Whatever leadership role God has called you to, what are you doing to train the next person to fill your shoes? If you are in a ministry role, who will carry on the ministry God has begun where you are? If God calls you to the next church or ministry organization, who will follow you in the work being done where you are now? What if God calls you home to heaven? Will you leave the team you are leading floundering without a leader? Will the flock you shepherd be left without a shepherd to care for them? 

Jesus’ very first instructions to these 12 men was, “Follow me” for the purpose of preparing them to spread the gospel.  Who have you invited to follow you so that you can mentor and train them to lead and continue the work God is doing when you are no longer there? Just as Jesus invited the disciple to “Follow me,” we have the responsibility to invite others to follow us and we have the even greater responsibility of leading them ever closer to Christ as we train them to carry on the work of the Kingdom of Christ.

“Follow me”

Leaders know that whatever ministry, organization, or team they are leading, the responsibility falls on them – the buck stops with them. They make decisions, set goals, have a vision, strategically plan, create teams, assign tasks, and evaluate effectiveness – and they often get so caught up in leading that they forget Jesus’ first instruction: “Follow me.”

Whether you’re a church leader, non-profit leader, retail leader, or corporate leader, if you’re a Christian then Jesus’ first instruction is the same today. He says, “Follow me.” If you are a leader, are you allowing Christ to lead you? Are you a leader that’s willing to follow the example of Jesus and submit to the will of God, obediently following His instructions to you? If the ministry, organization, or team had to score you on how well you are following the leadership of God, how would they score you?

What does it mean to follow?

What does it mean to follow? It means that you come after someone else. It can also mean that you follow them in the sense of seeing that person as an example or someone you look up to or admire. When kids play “Follow the leader” the “leader” does something and everyone else mimics the “leader.” 1 John 2:6 says, “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” When Jesus told the disciples to follow him, he was inviting them to go on mission with Him, to learn from Him and do what He taught them. If those who follow you walked in the way in which you walked, is that a good thing or bad?

Leaders take the people following them…somewhere

There is another aspect to Jesus telling the disciples to follow Him that we as leaders can learn from. Leaders have to take the people following them somewhere. If you stay right where you are, then you’re not leading – you’re just joining in. Jesus was leading the disciples to grow in faith and to experience a relationship with God. As a leader, are you leading those who follow you to Jesus?

Looking through the eyes of Jesus’ followers

There is also an important thing for leaders to see through the eyes of Jesus’ followers. With the exception of Judas who betrayed Jesus then hung himself, the other eleven disciples grew to love and respect Jesus so much that they changed their world as they took the gospel to every nation, starting churches wherever they went. They even died because they would not stop telling others about Jesus. They were so committed to Jesus and the task He gave them that they were willing to die so that others would know who Jesus was. 

If you’re a leader, how do those who follow you see you? Are you a person they respect or hate? Are they committed to you because they see you as a person that seeks God’s will and know you to be a person that obeys God. Do they trust you to lead them as God leads you?

Jesus is our example of how to lead others

As leaders, we need to follow Jesus. He is our example of how to lead others. We should lead with the same character traits as Jesus did – love, loyalty, integrity, honesty, compassion, grace, forgiveness, humility, wisdom, sacrifice, giving, tenderness, accountability, instructing, and setting the example. If those who follow you scored you on an annual evaluation in each of these areas, what scores would they give you?

Lord, because you have called us to step out and lead, the responsibility is great and to be a great leader, we need to first be a follower. Thank you that you invite us to follow you and may we never forget that as a leader our greatest responsibility is to be a follower of you. May we lead others in such as way that we lead them to you. Show us from those you’ve appointed us to lead the ones you’d have carry on behind us and train them to continue you’re work. May we lead with the same character traits you did and may we ever be more like you. Be our example. Lead us Lord, because leading others is often difficult and messy and we can’t do it alone. 


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