Why do people follow you? Why do you think they do? Why do you follow people?
In the Church there tends to be three main answers:
- Personal Loyalty – because you like someone, or they like you. Admiration and example can come into this (to an extent). Has a strong feel of being noble.
- Fear – although we naturally may assume this would never be a motive in our ministry or the church we are involved in. Fear is more common than we think, for example, fear of rejection from the leader-figure can cause us to follow. Or fear of letting the ministry or leader down etc. etc.
- Gospel Vision – similarly to personal loyalty this can include admiration and good example, however it goes much much deeper. Even to the point that you may disagree with the leader on many accounts, he might lack social skills and charisma, but he/she is advancing the gospel. (Excuse my jargon: advancing the gospel can include: more people loving Jesus, the church being built up, justice pursued, in general anything which helps God’s will be done on earth – this is certainly NOT an exhaustive list.
Whether or not you agree that these three reasons are main factors which come into play when moving us to follow. I hope I have explained them well enough so that at least you understand the concepts. Obviously the third option is the best, at least as the main reason. It can be good to have the first one in play too I reckon.
When the main reason for following is number 1 the leader can be tempted to make decisions based on popularity rather than what is best for God’s purposes. Despite being an attractive model by definition, having this as the primary motivation can be detrimental to the flourishing of a ministry. Also when a leader experiences rejection or failure, and they are resting on 1, the rejection will cause more damage and healing will take longer.
If the main reason for following is number 3, the leader is freed to make unpopular decisions based on God’s will. Failure and rejection can be bared, not necessarily less painfully, but with a healthy perspective.
We see this model in Jesus’ life and ministry, certainly the cross was not a popular or comfortable decision for the disciple’s leader to bear. His promise of persecution and hardship (Matt 10), certainly didn’t make people drawn to Him anymore. Washing feet wasn’t about creating a likable personality, it was about demonstrating servanthood as a means of leadership. However He was able to lead and His disciples able to follow because they weren’t thinking about following the most likable leader, but the Godly leader through thick and thin.
This sunday as we go to our churches, lets think why are we going? Is it to have a nice time, to enjoy ourselves and hearing a nice sermon and good music. Or is it to help advance the gospel. As we lead people towards God are we leading in a way that boosts our ego and popularity or in a way that builds God’s kingdom on earth.
Obviously there is a tension here, in that the truth must be s
poke gently and in love. But nevertheless it must be spoken.
I hope you can see the further positives and implications for Gospel focused leadership. As well as the subtle dangers of focusing on popularity. My prayer is that God would give me the strength to lead others towards the advancement of His gospel rather than an advancement of my reputation.