Living Christianity Blog

Godly Leaders Are First Followers

Everyone follows someone. Sometimes we do that willingly, sometimes begrudgingly. But we all follow. Why is following an important part of leading?

Countless books, workshops and programs have been created to teach people how to be effective leaders. But rarely do you see books and workshops about being an effective follower. Learning how to follow is not as exciting as learning how to lead. But consider this: To be an effective godly leader, you have to be a humble follower.

I once sat through a workshop that discussed American values, and the top one listed was “success.” When I looked around me, I saw many people driven to be No. 1. But the way some get there is not always with the best interests of others at heart. People often step over and on top of others to achieve their personal or professional goals—to climb up the ladder. Some use various methods, such as personal charisma, the power of persuasion, ruthlessness or the ability to work unceasingly.  

But the greatest leaders lead by following certain principles. During His ministry on earth, Jesus taught His disciples a revolutionary concept that remains true today:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

Jesus taught that before we lead, we must first serve. A servant or slave describes an attitude and example of putting others’ interests above our own and submitting ourselves totally to the will of others—following. Jesus’ approach to leadership was contrary to the popular thinking of His time, and it continues to be different from common thinking today.

What should a Christian follow?

But who or what should we follow? As Christians, here are four examples of what we need to follow in our lives (of course, this is not a comprehensive list):

1.God’s truth.

We live in the information age, yet not all of it can be trusted. Some of it is even intentionally false and misleading. But God’s Word is the truth, and it never changes (John 17:17). It provides a solid, perfect guide for us to follow. We read the Bible not just to learn, but to follow it.

2. Jesus’ example.

Jesus Christ’s example is the only human example we can totally rely on to safely follow. We should follow His example in our words and actions (John 14:6; Matthew 16:24).

3. The Holy Spirit.

Those who are directed by God are led by His Holy Spirit, which teaches us the right way (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:25; John 14:26).

4. The fruit of God’s Spirit.

God’s Spirit within us produces fruits if we are allowing it to lead us; these fruits embody the kind of values our day-to-day decisions ought to be based on (Galatians 5:22-23; 2 Peter 1:4-8).

What should we avoid following?

But, just because following is an important part of being a leader, that doesn’t mean we should follow everything. Consider these things we should avoid following:

1. Our heart.

The prophet Jeremiah was inspired to write, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). That is, when our heart leads us to make decisions apart from God’s Word, it can lead us far astray. We should always trust God’s Word over the impulses and feelings of our heart and emotions.

2. Societal trends.

Societal values are careening downhill at breakneck speed. Following society will lead us down the proverbial path to destruction (Proverbs 14:12).

3. Idolatry.

“Idolatry” can be defined as anyone or anything we worship and value above God. Idolizing something means we elevate it in priority above God and His truth. We need to make sure we follow nothing over God (Colossians 3:5; Psalm 135:15-18).

Be a real leader

Leading isn’t about having the most money, power or influence. Leading is about setting an example that others are inspired to follow. It’s about putting their needs first and quietly doing things because they’re right. And the best preparation for leading is being a follower, which is all about cooperation. It’s about saying, “How can I, as a member or ‘follower’ of this team, help others accomplish the goal at hand?” 

The time may come when you are asked to lead because of the way you’ve effectively followed—because good followers make the best leaders.

For more insight on leadership, read “Leadership Secrets of Nehemiah” and “Three Lessons in Leadership From General Patton.”

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