On my sabbatical I downloaded Leonard Sweet’s book, I Am a Follower: The Way, Truth and Life of Following Jesus. He quotes what former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower said about leadership a half century ago, that it’s “the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” “That’s our problem,” writes Sweet. “The church has become just what Eisenhower predicted: a place where everyone is trying to get everyone else to do what they want done but don’t want to do themselves.’ Perhaps this explains why the old saying seems to have changed that “20% of the people do 80% of the work. It’s no longer the 20/80 rule. I’ve heard of 10/90 and most recently 3% doing 97% of the work in the church.
“Leadership is an alien template that we have laid on the Bible, and followership is a key not tried in any lock.” It might be good try this key because Jesus says, “Among you it will be different.” You want to be first? Be last! You want to be greatest? Be least! You want to find yourself? Lose yourself! You want to be exalted? Be humble” (Matthew 20:26-27). Sweet reminds, “And even when we must lead, he calls us to lead in a different way—from behind.” Quoting Nelson Mandela, he writes, “A leader…is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”
Sweet’s thoughts on how the church “baptized business literature” gave me pause when I realized he may be right: “…We got caught up in this leadership obsession.” I even bought the book, “Jesus, CEO.” Did we make a mistake and better yet, can we turn back from this “performance-based programming” to one of being first followers of Jesus, the Good Shepherd dependent upon the Holy Spirit each step of the way? “To emphasized followership is not to eliminate the notion that we need leaders. It is to flush the definitions, concepts, and practices of flesh-based leadership down the sewer they came from.” Wow!
Sweet is emboldened to write, “It is time we owned up to the false category of leader and its idolatry. Leadership is a function. Followership is an identity. If we don’t recognize this, we are no different from the Israelites in this exchange with God in 1 Samuel 8:”
People: “We want a king [leader]. Give us a king [leader] like the other nations have.”
God: “They have rejected me as their King [Leader].”
You’ve got to get this book and try to absorb what Sweet is saying: “The digital revolution ends the ‘lead’ model.” Leadership is now about relationship. Just maybe it is time for new mantra: “Everything rises and falls on followership!”
“Leadership is a functional position of power and authority. Followership is a relational posture of love and trust.” “When Jesus invited people to follow him, he was God’s Whisperer: ‘Do you trust me enough to get on the way with me? I’m not asking for anything more than this: trust me enough to get on the way with me; trust me enough to hang out with those who are with me; trust me enough to hook on to my life.’” I will. Will you?
Dr. David F. Nixon