The Blog: Pastor Parsley's Personal Blog Pastor Rod Parsley

To Lead, You Must Follow

2/12/2015 3:00:00 PM — One of the most misunderstood aspects of leadership is that you can only lead from a position of power. But that doesn’t make sense when you really think about it, because the number of positions of power is extremely limited. The trend in business is toward flatter organizations, with fewer levels of management, not more.

Fortunately it’s possible – and vital – for people to lead at all levels of an organization. Most of us will lead and follow in our lifetimes. So it’s important to know how to follow if you really want to be an effective Christian leader.

Mel Lawrenz notes in the book Spiritual Influence that the best leaders are the best followers, and that we prepare to lead best in the role of follower. For example, we often think of Jesus’s disciples as followers. But the reality is that they were trained to lead once Jesus ascended to heaven. And that they did so, in events recorded in the Gospels, in the book of Acts and beyond.

Lawrenz notes, “The greatest gift a leader can pass on is the model of the follower-life. Making people dependent on us today only sets them up for disappointment later. Eventually, people will lose their leaders, because no human leader is steadfast like God. Teaching people to follow Jesus puts people in the one place in the universe where they will never be left alone.”

Martin Luther, one of the boldest leaders in the history of the church, did not have an ambition to break from the Catholic Church. His discovery, as a young monk, of the gospel of grace forever changed him, but he strove to follow the Catholic tradition as far as Scripture would allow. He did not seek to make a name for himself, only to follow principles that were higher than himself. He had the humility to not seek out leadership, but his fidelity to the teachings of Scripture made him a leader.

Lawrenz notes, “No one really wants to follow you, per se. They really don’t. (But) they want to know that, by following you, they are really following a higher principle, a transcendent truth.” If you are truly seeking God, you will naturally attract people who are doing the same thing. You have nothing to offer anyone unless you are following Christ yourself. Do that as a follower of others, and eventually you will have the opportunity to influence others.

A characteristic of leaders closely related to the humility to follow is integrity. The news anchor Brian Williams could tell you today about the cost of a life without integrity. After admitting that a story he had told for 12 years, about being in a military helicopter that was fired upon in Iraq, was a fabrication, he was suspended from his job for six months, and he may never return to it. He was marketed to us as someone we can trust, something that is clearly not the case. Great leaders, and great follower, are marked by integrity.

Lawrenz notes that the word integrity comes from a Latin word meaning “whole or intact.” What to do then, with broken, sinful humanity? Probably the best place is to admit that we are broken and sinful. Jesus said in Luke 14:11, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (ESV).

Importantly, integrity – wholeness – requires flexibility. An architect will tell you that a building or bridge that is rigidly built will also crack the first time the earth shifts. Likewise leaders need to make plans, but retain flexibility to alter those plans, like a quarterback who can call an audible at the line of scrimmage when the play called in the huddle clearly won’t work against the opposing defense. The apostle James said it this way:

Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit —yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
- James 4:13-16, ESV

Lawrenz suggests that integrity is the result of a growing coherence of the leader’s public and private lives. Are you one person on the job, but another person at home? Or worse, are you one type of person one day and another type of person the next day? The people you influence shouldn’t have to wonder from moment to moment whether they’ll be dealing with “good boss” or “bad boss,” “nice dad” or “mean dad,” and so on.

The brilliant Dr. Albert Mohler shares what I believe is another prerequisite for advancement and promotion when he states that character is not only essential to leadership, it is the foundation for leadership. People simply will not follow someone they do not trust. Character occurs when the leader’s lives are in alignment with their convictions.

In the culture, there is an argument about whether a leader’s public and private lives must be congruent to lead. The result is prominent people who take public leadership roles despite the fact that their private lives have been less than consistently honorable. But the follower of Jesus Christ does not have the option of having separate public and private lives! As Solomon told us, that just doesn’t work: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7, ESV).

Do you want to lead in ministry, in business, or in the home? Start by showing the people who you really are all the time. Don’t try to be someone you’re not, because that will tell them that they can’t depend on you to be consistent in your actions. And that will spell the end of your opportunity to influence them.

- February 12, 2015