Leadership is over-rated. Followership is under-rated. For every
Nehemiah that God calls, He calls thousands of workers on the wall.
For every Moses, millions of followers. Most of us are followers.
Few of us are leaders. We need to follow well.
The key verse on this is likely one you have never heard preached
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.
They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them
so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of
no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:17 [NIV]
We don’t hear this preached on because it is a bit awkward for
the pastor to preach on it. If he did, it would go something like
this: “Listen to me! Follow me! Obey me! Make my life a joy! God
said so!” Truth is, God did say so.
When was the last time you asked someone why they were doing this
or that and they said, “Out of obedience to my pastor.” Read Hebrews
I work with a lot of hard-working, sincere pastors who are trying
to lead their people to do what God would have them to do. Some
groups are more difficult to lead than others. Try to be in the group
that is easy to lead.
An example at my church
My pastor has recently launched a church-wide emphasis on prayer.
He and the staff went to a Brooklyn Tabernacle prayer conference a
few months ago and have been prayerfully considering how to make
prayer a more vital part of our church life.
The plan they came up with calls for canceling the Wednesday
night service, which has long ago ceased to be a vital church-wide
time of prayer and had turned into a hodge-podge of good activities
for every age group. In its place, they are putting a Tuesday night
all-church prayer service. Part of the desire to change nights is
just to draw attention to the fact that this service will be
different than what we are used to on Wednesday nights. All
activities that were on Wednesday night will either be moved to
Sunday night or cancelled. If you want more details, see
Now, for a guy like me, I might be tempted to think, “Why are we
talking about this? We can all pray at home. Let’s talk about
doubling groups. Let’s talk about giving Friday nights to Jesus.
Let’s talk about evangelism. ”
I might be tempted to think that, but I think, the more biblical
attitude is to repent of that kind of thinking and follow my pastor.
After all, he is asking us to pray. Probably a good idea, ya think?
This does not mean being a yes-man. This does not mean agreeing
with everything your pastor says. It does not mean that we don’t ask
questions. But, it does mean we have a bias to follow. We have an
assumption that we will likely be willing to follow. We might fine
tune and adjust the plan, and learn as we go. But, the default mode
is to go.
Attitude is everything. Tone is everything. If you couch your
comments in a “I believe in you and appreciate you, pastor” kind of
tone, he will likely welcome your comments. Also, the ratio is
important here. If all he ever hears from you is how you think he
can do better, he is not likely to respond positively. If you are
constantly saying, “Atta-boy” to your pastor, he is far more likely
to hear your push back.
I remember when I was on church staff there was one particular
couple who, on one level, probably helped me to be a better minister.
They had lots of ideas about how I could do a better job. I didn’t
implement every one of their ideas, but I implemented several of
them and I am sure the ministry was better because of it. But, it
seemed that ALL they had to say to me was what I was doing wrong and
how I could do this or that better. It got old. Fast. Don’t be that
way to your pastor and staff.
What keeps churches from growing?
I have never heard anyone say this, but there is a reason why
many churches are not growing. Lots of us know about it. Few are
talking about it. Why are many churches not growing? It is not
because we are not purpose-driven enough, or missional enough or
simple enough. Why are many churches not growing?
Mean people. Just plain mean. I talked to a pastor recently whose
wife was physically roughed up by people in the church. They didn’t
like the direction he was leading the church, and he is a pretty big
man–6’3″ and 200+ pounds. They didn’t like the way he was leading,
so they decided to beat up on his wife. True story. Mean people.
Hateful people. People who are just plain mean.
And, there is a reason they are with us, and a reason why they
have such power. Nice people will get out of the way. Nice people
will often get out of the way and let mean people rule. Mean people
like to rule. For nice people, leadership is just work. For mean
people, leadership is power and it is a craving of their soul. For
churches to create the kind of loving atmosphere that glorifies God,
attracts people and nurtures our soul, we must learn to deal with
mean people. Mean people don’t follow Hebrews 13.17 very well.
Can you take this too far?
Of course. Taken too far, you end up in Jonestown. Jesus spoke of the narrow way. It is narrow because it
is so easy to fall off one side or the other. But, for every church
I see who followed the pastor too willingly, or too blindly, I could
show you a hundred where they wouldn’t follow the pastor if he were
the Apostle Paul, Moses and Nehemiah all rolled into one.
Of course, if your pastor asks you to do something immoral,
unethical, unbiblical, wrong, or just merely stupid, you won’t want
to follow. The apostles set the example here: we will follow God,
Following God normally means following people. For most, it
doesn’t mean leadership; it means following and following well. Need
someone to follow?
- Follow David Francis and Lifeway in creating an I6 Sunday
For an online course, see
- Follow Rick Warren in the PEACE Plan.
- Follow your pastor in whatever vision God gives to him and
the leaders in your church.
- If you can’t find anyone else to follow, follow me in
helping groups double every two years or less. For a summary of
the plan, click here:
God has called many of us to be leaders and we need to learn to
lead well. But, God has also called us to be followers and we need
to learn to follow well.