One of the fundamental tenants I’ve lived by for 30+ years in ministry is this: leaders make all the difference. I’ve heard it and said it in a myriad of ways, such as, “We don’t need more followers, we need more leaders,” “Quit following anybody and start leading somebody,” and the classic, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”
However, some often wonder, “If everyone leads, who will follow?” In fact, I’ve encountered people who ask, “Where are all the people these leaders are going to lead?” Essentially, some aren’t quite sure if they agree with the view that, more than anything, there is a need, across the board, for increased leaders.
Underneath these kinds of questions is an underlying misconception that leadership is only for those who rule from the top, telling everybody else what to do. This is a false perception of leadership, an incorrect understanding of the nature and essence of leadership.
Frankly, if this were the right perspective, then it would be true: we don’t need more leaders. But it isn’t correct, which is why I still maintain raising up more leaders is the critical task. And rightly so, for the truest and most concise definition of leadership is, simply put, clear and compelling influence. And what isn’t more needed now than a clear and compelling influence for righteousness! Of course, I wholeheartedly accept the fact that not everyone will lead (i.e., influence) in the same manner. But are some simply exempt from leading? No. Quite the opposite! In fact, I believe each and every one of us can—and should—rightly influence someone.
Oh, perhaps you will not be influencing from the auditorium platform. And maybe you won’t influence from behind an executive’s desk. But you are influencing someone, hopefully for righteousness. And therein lies the crux of my assertion: we need more influencers!
Often, some say to me, “I’m not cut out to be a leader.” What they actually mean is they don’t want to make the hard decisions and be generally and ultimately responsible for the direction of a particular ministry, effort, enterprise, or business. Fine. I can live with that. But can you at least influence one other person on behalf of the vision? Can you at least alter the direction of a single individual because of the mission? Of course you can! Hence, you are a leader. So I continue in the flow of what I’ve received, firmly planting both feet upon this stance: the church needs more leaders.
Incidentally, those who influence best are already following. It’s ludicrous to ask, “Where are the followers?” when, in God’s economy, the best leaders are followers. After all, it’s servant leadership (i.e., humble influence) we, as pastors, are trying to spark among the flock. What kind of servant leadership? Primarily, leadership that doesn’t bark out orders or pass down mandates, but serves the body in a fashion that breeds initiative and personal responsibility.
Consider this: some of the best leaders I’ve known have hated the spotlight and thrived on one-on-one discipleship and mentoring. They couldn’t make an announcement without stuttering or preach a sermon without shaking nervously. Yet, they were, by far, in the elite group of influencers! Others responded to them and loved them, mimicking their lifestyles and imitating their values. Truly, a duplication of lifestyle in another is at the core of true, biblical leadership; it’s the essence of true influence. Need proof? To the Corinthians Paul said, “Follow (lit., mimic) me, as I follow (lit., mimic) Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1), and to the church at Philippi he commanded, “the things you’ve learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice” (Phil. 4:9). In the same vein, he instructed his spiritual son Timothy to “follow my teaching” (2 Timothy 3:10).
I’ll always remember what a volunteer said to me years ago as we were discussing this very topic on a Web-based forum. “I am curious how one participates in ministry without leading? Does not the little old lady who makes homemade cookies exhibit a degree of leadership through her service? Isn’t that the whole lesson Jesus was teaching His disciples by washing their feet? How can one truly serve without leading? Leadership is not ‘who makes all the plans,’ but rather, ‘who is meeting the needs.’”
Consequently, it is not expecting too much to ask that all of us lead someone. Regardless of your personality, your spiritual gift, or your background, each of us can influence at least one other person to become actively involved in a growing relationship with Christ. In doing so we abort the passive, consumer religion that abounds in our society for active, investment-based Christianity that makes an incredible difference in the life of another. Now that’s leadership!