Following Leaders

I’ve been reading Brian McLaren’s Finding Our Way Again – the Return of the Ancient Practices. The book looks at early spiritual practices (fixed-hour prayer, fasting, observing the Sabbath) as ways to nurture our souls in today’s crazy world. But something he said jumped out at me in relation to my ongoing disagreement with today’s “Leadership” culture.

“The Greek word akolouzein, which means ‘to follow,’ appears about 90 times in the New Testament, almost always related to following Jesus.”

That one sentence captured my attention, because it unwittingly points out a key danger of today’s “Leadership” obsession. The word “follow” in the New Testament almost always refers to following Jesus. But what I see in much of today’s “Leadership” is a very subtle shift from following Jesus (being like Him), to being a leader (like Him) who others follow.

It explains the insistence of reading into Jesus’ clear teaching on being a servant (Mark 10, John 13) the awkward interpretations of “Jesus as team coach” or “Jesus as CEO.” Because if we make Jesus into a manager/leader who knew how to rally people around a goal, we can aspire to be a manager/leader who rallies people around our goal.

And yes, there are leaders in the New Testament – the apostles and other leaders of the early church. But their “leadership” wasn’t focused on “creating momentum” or “developing influence” or “getting the right people on the team.” They served the early church by keeping the new converts focused on following Christ.

5 thoughts on “Following Leaders

  1. I agree Jon, very well spoken. You’re point Jan, about “keeping new converts focused on following Christ” is so essential. The lack of that focus in most churches today is the single most contributing factor to the lack of maturity in the church. To many this is one of the paradoxes of the kingdom, that Father really can speak into the hearts of those that are young in their journey, and that though they may initially need guidance, that guidance should always point to ways to connect and trust in Him and not in our “prescribed methods of discipleship.”


  2. Would be a good discussion about the use of the variety of the gifts listed in the New Testament: Administration, Leadership, etc. I don’t disagree with you at all…in the big principles. The application, the daily caring for people, the daily ‘rightly dividing the word of truth,’ the daily lifting of eternal values so they can be understood and embraced….then, dealing with the multiplication of more and more people, requires a complexity of gifts and emphases that I may be missing as you wrestle with the topic.

    Jesus is our model. Agreed. He was a foot washer and a ‘go do this now,’ leader. His followers were instructed to lay down their lives, pick up crosses, become generous, unselfish lovers of others…and go into the world, and keep order and unity in congregations, and advance the cause of this kingdom.

    I know you value leadership. I hear your concerns of misapplied secular principles gaining dominance in our language and DNA. Is these, we are alike. Maybe I am searching for practical examples for Tuesday afternoon in the office with staff and a dozen issues of broken people and systems of care all swirling.

    It seems that foot-washing and vision clarification, and administrative savvy and a roll-up-one’s-sleeves work ethic will all be part of a recipe for Jesus’-living.

    pontificating and pondering with you.


  3. Jan,
    Great thoughts. I just ghost wrote an article this morning on a similar topic. MOSES – I recently was thinking about his leadership and so often we refer to Ex. 18 where Jethro describes the need to “lead” or utilize influence over more people. My “light bulb” moment was that this Ex. 18 event didn’t happen until Moses had been in God’s school of learning for over 80 years. He had learned obedience, service and dependance on God before he became “the leader” we look to now. Without the foundation of obedience, service (servanthood) and dependance on God we lead out of our own strengths and don’t necessarily represent Christ as well as we could or how I beleive he desires to be represented.

    Thanks for the inspiration!


  4. Thanks all, for your comments. I know at least 2 of you are pastors, so I really appreciate your comments, and especially your willingness to thoughtfully consider these ideas and even graciously push back a little. It’s always helpful to look at perspectives I may not have considered.


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