Over the past few months, I’ve been reflecting on a thought that, at first glance, seems a little out of place in leadership conversations.
Let me backtrack a little.
A few months ago, as I was talking with the Lord and asking Him about leadership, He said to me very clearly, “In order to be a good leader, you need to be a better follower.” This wasn’t a reprimand, it was graciously matter-of-fact. To be a good leader, you need to be great at following the person, values, and / or mission you esteem. You are motivated by their vision and cause. Whether you like it or not, their voice is the trump card.
The more I reflected on this concept, the more I sensed the Holy Spirit’s gentle invitation to slow down, un-hurry my spirit, and allow my heart to grasp the basic truth the Father was speaking to me in that moment: true leadership comes down to following Jesus well.
As I sought to respond to the Holy Spirit’s invitation, I grabbed my journal and pen, and started listening. With that in mind, here are a few lessons learned on leadership that stem from following Jesus:
Leadership is followership
When you compare the Kingdom of God to the world we live in, the “currency” of leadership is very different. God’s standards have nothing to do with making a name for ourselves, belittling others to get ahead, or working ourselves into the ground. When James and John argue about position in the Kingdom of God, Jesus says, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant…” (Matthew 20:26). In fact, God-ideas and God-strategies can look and feel crazy to the outside world. Is it any wonder that the Kingdom of God is upside down when we examine leadership through followership? Our leadership “wins” are based on a rubric that make little sense to a world that doesn’t adhere to heaven’s economy. Our job, as followers of Jesus, is to ask God to strengthen our faith backbone and lean into a language, culture and currency that is not native to us.
We are fueled by a mission and vision that is outside of ourselves
John 10:27 -28 gives an account of Jesus using the illustration of the Good Shepherd: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” We are the sheep, Jesus is our Good Shepherd; we can trust that what our Good Shepherd says innately reflects who He is. Our ability to successfully move forward as leaders depends on our ability to recognize and respond to His voice in obedience. And, because we know that what He says reflects who He is, we can move forward with confidence in a mission and vision that is outside of ourselves, trusting the very nature of God. As we grow and mature, our rhythms and habits evolve to reflect our spiritual maturation. There is an immense amount of self-control, sacrifice, and surrender that is brought before the throne of grace so that we can be the spiritually fit leaders God has called us to be. As we grow, and our relationship with the Lord deepens, so does our confidence. We can hang our hat on the fact that God is faithful and that He is who He says He is. So don’t lose hope. Keep your eyes on Jesus and move forward in confidence.
Faith is sometimes spelled R – I – S – K
There’s an element of risk associated in following anyone, since we are trusting something outside of ourselves – this is true of our relationship with God. As followers of Jesus, we can fall back to His nature when we feel the prompting to take a risk: Look at how faithful He’s been! Look at how He made a way for me! God is who He says He is. He is my Father, and I am His child – I can trust Him. Lean back into the truth of who God is when you feel “the nudge.” Declare those truths confidently over your life and lean in! What do you have to lose? And more than that, there is so much more to gain! Our limitless, powerful God is inviting YOU to partner with Him in His Story. Let’s allow the supernatural to become so very natural in our lives so that we can be confident disciples of Jesus who make Christ known to the world around us.
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him! (Romans 8:15 – 17 MSG)
That’s great, Rachel, you may be thinking, but what does this look like every day?
Here are a few suggestions for us:
Take stock of who and what you follow:
Who are you following?
Are they good for you?
Do they cheer you on in Christ’s mission?
Do they have more influence over you than Jesus does?
For me, this has meant inviting the Holy Spirit into my social media portals. I’ve asked Him to speak to me about who I should and shouldn’t be following. Maybe this sounds “extra,” but at the end of the day, I want to walk with Jesus and follow Him well; I’ve learned that when you invite Him to speak into an area of your life, He’ll do it. And, I have to admit: I am so much better off for it.
Ask God for a spiritual bowel movement. Yes, I went there. Have you ever noticed that sometimes we, as Christians, look and feel constipated? We’re carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders and are owning things that are not ours to own in the first place. It’s caused a “back-up” in our own system. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). We want to become like the person we’re following. We want to become like Jesus. And he is LIFE. And JOY. This chorus keeps coming back to me: “I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me, it makes the lame to walk and the blind to see. Opens prison doors, sets the captives free. I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me. Spring up, oh wells!”
It's ironic, isn’t it, the idea that leadership depends on followership – namely, following Jesus well. Our ability to follow Jesus and say “yes” to him influences and impacts our ability to influence others. Here’s what floors me: Abraham’s “yes” blessed an entire nation. As you follow Jesus’ voice and step out in courage, not only will that obedience bless your life, it has the power to bring breakthrough and freedom to the lives of those around you. All it takes is one moment of insane courage as we turn our eyes toward Jesus and put one foot in front of the other.