Followership vs. Leadership

Edwin Copeland Church United Director

We live in a day and age that is obsessed with leadership development. We are constantly inundated with books, blogs, articles and podcasts bosting 7 secrets, 6 principles and 3 steps on how to become a better leader. We attend seminars, workshops and leadership programs looking for the latest and greatest guru in hopes that they will unlock something within us and set us on the path to greatness. However, in spite of all our efforts – reading books, listening to podcasts and attending seminars – we’re mentally and spiritually tired. The quest of chasing leadership development in hopes that we’d discover or sharpen our purpose, skills and calling still leaves us asking the question: now what? 

Enter Jesus’s words from the Sermon on the Mount: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be given to you.” What was Jesus’s view on leadership development? He was more concerned with our followership than our leadership. Jesus understood that our followership will determine our leadership. In a world that is becoming more and more obsessed with “capital L” leaders and gifted communicators, we’ve forgotten that what we win people with is what we win them to. We’ve become so enthralled with where we are going and how we’re going to get there rather than first asking: who are we becoming? Jesus was more interested in who we are becoming rather than the next leadership principle to get us there. 

Author and pastor Jack Miller summed it up well: “How blessed it is just to be a follower of Jesus. Isn’t our leadership often lacking just because we have weakened in followership? I know that it is my own experience repeatedly: I get overly concerned on how to be a better leader, but Jesus is concerned about making me a better, more humble, dependent follower of him.”

As Jesus spoke to the masses for his Sermon on the Mount, it is hard to imagine that he didn’t have Psalm 1:3 and Proverbs 4:23 in mind. In Psalm 1:3 we find wisdom to delight in the Lord day in and day out, as the person who delights in him is like a tree planted by streams of water – yielding fruit in season and whose leaves do not wither. Proverbs 4:23 takes it a step further: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Seeking after the Kingdom of God simply isn’t possible without fixing our eyes on Jesus and following him. Though in our quest of maximizing leadership, we’ve often created followers who are more in love with the leader or the platform of leadership than they are with Jesus. 

 

Followership over Leadership

The Christian life is rooted in followership. The more we follow and seek after Jesus the more like Jesus we will become in our leadership. To lead like Jesus requires us to follow Jesus – not just at our conversion or the day we got saved, but in the words of Psalm 1:3: “by day and by night.” The answer to how to become a better leader is to first become a better follower. Leading without following damages our soul. It leaves us disillusioned, exhausted and constantly looking to the next book, article, guru or seminar to help unlock something only Jesus holds the key to.

Embracing our identity as a follower deeply roots us, unlocks our gifting and fuels our divine design. As Jeremiah 17:7-8 reminds us, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out roots by the stream.” Followership is the key to leadership. Followership is the water needed to bring life to the roots of leadership. Followership reminds us that it’s not about us but about Jesus. Followership leads us to rest in the fact that in Christ we are more loved, accepted and approved of than we could have ever dared dream or imagine. Followership reorients our hearts and our minds towards who Jesus is, what he has done for us on the cross, and what that means for us today. 

No matter what industry or sphere of society you find yourself in, leading without following will result in chasing metrics that will never be satisfied, leaving you and your soul exhausted. It will never be enough. Your church will never have enough people, your businesses bank account will never have enough money in it, you’ll never have enough followers on social media, your parenting will never be perfect – you’ll simply be chasing after a moving target. Follow Jesus. Rest in his love, embrace the new identity he gives you as his beloved son and daughter, and relax. In Jesus, the struggle to try harder and harder to become a better leader is over. In Christ you are free – free to follow and free to lead in light of his love. 

 

Edwin Copeland serves as the Director of Church United with the National Christian Foundation of South Florida where he works to unify the Church through collaboration and celebration to see faith, hope, and love spread throughout South Florida. To learn more about Church United, visit churchunited.city.

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