5 Cautions About Emphasizing Leadership Over Followership

DucksLeadership matters. A lot.

But sometimes I wonder if we’ve elevated the value of church leadership over a much more important biblical trait – followership. Also known as discipleship.

Before any of us are leaders, we’re all supposed to be followers of Jesus.

At best, any leadership authority we have in the church is reflected and borrowed leadership from Jesus himself.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” The very strong implication of that statement is that if the leader stops following Jesus, we should stop following that leader.

That’s why church leaders need to be very careful to be followers of Jesus first. In fact, our followership should be more obvious than our leadership.

Another phrase for this is “servant leadership.” And the order of those words matters. Being a servant always comes first.

When we forget this, bad things can happen. I don’t need to go over the list of Christian leaders that have fallen. But it’s hard to think of any Christian servants that have fallen.

If you’re in church leadership – a high, noble and important calling – here are five cautions we should all be aware of:


1. A Servant Leader Is Not a Boss

Bosses are in charge. What they say, goes.

But Jesus gave his disciples a different way to look at leadership:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28

The pastor isn’t the boss of the church. Jesus is. And even he came to be a servant first.


2. If We Have to Remind People We’re the Leader, We’re Not

One phrase that should never come from a pastor’s mouth is “I’m in charge here!”

The moment we feel the need to say that, we’re no longer leading.

Certainly there will be belligerent and toxic people in the church. Those who try to usurp authority. But the answer to that problem isn’t to assert our authority. It’s to re-assert Jesus’ authority.


3. It’s Not Our Responsibility to Create a Vision Or Mission Statement

A lot of churches went through a season several years ago when we became obsessed with writing Mission Statements. I’ve addressed that in the article, Your Church’s Mission Statement: Do It First, Write It Later.

I’ve also dealt with some of the problems with top-down vision-casting in, 5 Problems With Top-Down Vision-Casting – And a New Testament Alternative, so I won’t go into that in detail here either. But I will summarize the issue this way.

Servant leaders don’t make, cast or reinforce their own vision or mission. We’re simply called to remind people of  the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Then equip people to follow Jesus in doing both.


4. Don’t Take Credit We Don’t Deserve

Leaders, bosses, pastors, teachers and other authority figures have to fight the very strong pull towards receiving more praise than we deserve.

Especially in our self-esteem-obsessed culture, it’s good to be reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

True servant leaders think more highly of Jesus than they do of themselves.


5. If Our Church Can’t Make It Without Us, It’s Not Healthy

The primary task of pastors is not to do the work of ministry. It’s not to get people to buy into our vision. And it’s certainly not to create a culture of dependency on us and our leadership skills.

Our calling is to equip the saints.

A church filled with people equipped to do the work of ministry is a well-led church. It’s also a church that is more dependent on Jesus than on the pastor.

Servant leadership is not about doing ministry for others. It’s also not about getting them to do ministry for us.

It’s about helping other Jesus-followers be better Jesus-followers by being better Jesus-followers ourselves.


So what do you think? Have you emphasized leadership over your own followership?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

 (Ducks photo from Pedro Ribeiro Simoes • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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2 thoughts on “5 Cautions About Emphasizing Leadership Over Followership”

  1. Awesome! Great way to “reframe” our concept of church leadership and our role as pastors. This blog post, like many of yours, helps provide a healthy “counter” option to what the church culture of the past has promoted: bigger is better, along with CEO type pastoral leadership to get you bigger! There have been several great “strong church leaders” who have brought great vision-casting and blessing to big churches and the American church in general…yet there is a bigger picture of serving and this is a healthy reminder that CEO type leadership is not necessarily Jesus’ calling for pastoral leadership. Thanks.

  2. Pingback: 38 Great Links for Leaders, Readers, and Creatives, February 21, 2015

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