Sometimes We Lead; Sometimes We Follow.


That the leaders led in Israel, and that the people volunteered, O bless the Lord.  (Judges 5:2)

No one is a leader all the time in every situation. When the biggest corporate head in America goes to church, as a member of the flock he looks to the pastor as the leader. At his club, someone else is the executive and he is a dues-paying member.

Sometimes we lead; sometimes we follow.

In their book, Why Should Anyone Be Led By You? Gareth Jones and Rob Goffee wondered what goes into making a good follower.

Wanting to find out what leaders expect from members of their teams, they came up with four answers.

1) “I expect my people to speak up and tell me what they really think.”

In huge companies that failed scandalously such as Enron and WorldCom, it appears this quality was missing in the executive offices. No one was telling executives Kenneth Lay or Bernie Evers that the company was in trouble, that his decisions were faulty, and that disaster was looming. They told the boss what he wanted to hear, and everyone paid dearly for this failure.

It takes courage. As a pastor, I’ve been there. The others in the room are either agreeing with the boss or keeping their mouths shut. And yet, they all know the boss’ plans are wrong. They’re just not willing to lay their jobs on the line. Better to be quiet and still have a paycheck coming in. That’s how everyone ended up losing their paychecks.

Bible students will recall that in Genesis 35, God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. Not a lot is made of that at the time, but anyone knowing the origins of those names sees a powerful point. The name Jacob–which comes out to Ya-a-cov in Hebrew–literally means “a heel-holder,” one who takes advantage of others, who gets a ride at their expense. Israel, Yitz-rael in Hebrew, means “one who wrestles with God.”

God was saying, “I would rather have you wrestling with me than taking advantage of your brother.” And don’t we appreciate that about our wonderful Lord!

It’s a trait of a good leader that he welcomes dissent. Not dissension, but dissent. If you think I’m about to make a mistake, tell me. If I listen to you and then overrule you, you’ve done your part. If I am wise, I will value you highly for what you did—unless you are the dissenter on everything I suggest. In that case, your opinion has no weight with me and everyone would be happier if you found another place to work.

2) I expect you to do your job well.

Your responsibility is to complement the leader with the tasks you perform. Not “compliment,” but complement. Complete what he does not do, fill in where he needs you.

If you are the youth minister of the church where I’m pastor, I do not need you to give direction to the other ministers on how to do their work or instruct my secretary on how to serve me better or to prepare my sermons for me. That’s my job.

What I need from you is effective and faithful leadership of the youth ministry in the church. If you do your work well–reaching the unchurched youth for Christ, discipling the believers, leading the teachers and other youth workers, and maintaining some kind of strengthening relationship to the parents of the youth–my ministry as the pastor of the church will be enhanced. The church will be stronger, the Kingdom magnified, and Christ glorified.

When a staff member would occasionally ask, “Pastor, what can I do to help you?” my answer was almost always the same. I would thank them, then say, “Do your work well, and nothing will help me more.”

A typical church has hundreds of needs and tasks which a pastor cannot meet. He doesn’t have a clue how to operate the furnace or tend to the babies or lead the teenagers. He is lost in the church kitchen and a misfit with the small children and over his head studying a balance sheet. The good news is he is not a one-man operation. A church will have people of all backgrounds and many gifts. A wise pastor will work to match gifted people with the needs for which they are just right. Then, he turns them loose to do their work.

He has lots of reasons for this, including these: when they do their work well, it makes his job easier and blesses his ministry. “Don’t we have a wonderful pastor,” people will say. What they mean is, “We have a wonderful church.”

3) I expect my people to cut me a little slack.

No leader is going to please all his staff or the entire flock all the time.

To put it another way, every leader will sometimes transgress in small or large ways. He was short with you, he did not have time when you desperately needed him, he did not do something he had promised. He ignored your staff anniversary, he failed to introduce your visiting parents from the pulpit, he was introducing you to someone and couldn’t come up with your name. He reassigned offices and you ended up getting the former broom closet, and he didn’t even break the news to you personally.

Give him room to be human, to be different, to be tired or irritable or weak.

Appreciate him when he’s sharp and abide him when he’s dull.

Whatever you do, do not call the attention of anyone else to the way he failed you. And, if you are really strong and mature, do not mention it to your spouse either; only to God. Then forget it. “Love does not keep account of wrongs,” Paul tells us in I Corinthians 13. Love keeps short accounts.

Give your leader your understanding. The stresses are greater and the demands heavier in his office. Lower your expectations from him and thank God for anything positive.

4) I expect you to be as authentic as you want me to be.

Followers–whether employees or church staff members or congregational members–sometimes practice a double standard regarding their leader: they expect him to be genuine, godly, and gracious, but do not put the same burden on themselves.

If you expect your leader to be a person of high integrity, to value his underlings, and to show humility in his dealings, do the same yourself. You too have people under you, even if it’s only the members of the class you teach or the children who make up your youth choir. Know their names, pray for them, serve them, and be available for them.

Our Lord told of a man who was forgiven a massive debt by the king, a bill he could not have repaid in several lifetimes. The fellow immediately demanded full payment from a neighbor who owed him a small amount. When that man was unable to pay, the creditor had him arrested and thrown into debtors’ prison. The king heard about it, had the man arrested, then turned him over to his people who would get every last dime the man possessed.

It’s easy to criticize our president, the head of our company, or the pastor of our church for qualities we think they should possess. However, they have a right to expect the same traits in us.

The Kingdom of God does not move forward only by strong leadership. The army behind those generals must be well-trained and highly-disciplined also, otherwise the leaders will give orders that are ignored, call for actions that will not be taken, and expect victories that will not come.

You may not be the leader of the church, but your faithfulness may determine the success of the person who is.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here