FOLLOW THE LEADER. Session 45. Leadership vs. Followership. And So We Close. Part One.

As I see it, leadership, in its’ truest form, is not all that complicated.

A person becomes a leader when they lead others. And in order to be a leader, you will need to have at least one other person looking to you for leadership. Leadership, you see, is not a title. It’s not a position that you necessarily choose for yourself. It’s a natural thing that happens whenever a person puts their heart and mind toward something. Leadership is simply what happens when you and I pursue someone or something with passion, and then, in the midst of that pursuit, we look over our shoulder, and poof, there is someone there looking back at us!

Our blog study through the Gospel of John illustrates my point. At no point in the Jesus-story does the Great Rabbi turn to His good friends and commission them to be ‘leaders’. What does happen is this. Jesus invites everyday, common folk to join Him on a holy assignment from God. “Come, follow me,” Jesus says. And for those who respond, we find them walking with Jesus, listening to Him, watching Him heal, deliver and comfort people who are found in various stages of the human condition. In the meantime, the disciples watch Jesus challenge the religious status quo, turning over tables set up by the established traditions of the day. Whether it be the Roman government officials or the Temple Priests, no one is off-limits to the Great Rabbi’s challenging questions.

One of the primary challenges to the status quo is Jesus’ continual confrontation of the systems of leadership. At almost every turn, the Master is found pointing out the self-seeking, self-serving attitudes lurking behind a system of power where leaders are actually kings. And while it’s obvious to all that worldly systems of government run naturally by this ‘dog-eat-dog’, ‘winner-take-all’ attitude, it’s shocking to see that the religious system of Jesus’ day is no better. In truth, a system, which was built to honor God and value people, is doing just the opposite. So when Jesus arrives on the scene, He tears apart a system of ‘business-as usual’ and insists that any church, which will bear His Name, will run on a different set of tracks.

Over a three-year period of time, Jesus lays out the tracks for His Church. Tracks that are built on Kingdom principles, not worldly truths. One of the key Kingdom principles Jesus spells out so clearly is that ‘leaders’ will be ‘followers’ first and foremost. In the world we live in, for example, leaders must be dynamic vision casters. Movers and shakers. Charismatic men and women with drive and passion to stir the people they lead. But in Jesus’ eyes, a church ‘leader’ is a ‘faithful servant’. Someone who has been entrusted by God with a responsibility for loving and caring for others. A pastoral shepherd then, is a man or woman who takes on a holy call from God to love and lead the people of God that Jesus brings into his or her circle of influence.

Now, as I close, let me make this thing personal.

You, as a pastoral shepherd of God’s people, are one of the most important components in God’s Kingdom work here on planet earth. While only Jesus saves, it’s His faithful shepherds who tend His flock, overseeing the day-to-day life of the church and His people called by His Name. Commissioned by the Lord Himself (see Matthew 28-18-20), we pastoral shepherds play a vital role in Jesus’ worldwide plan to save and redeem beloved sons and daughters from a hurting world gone astray.

But something’s wrong in the American Church.

As I see it, pastoral shepherds have become distracted. Busy-ness, which eventually leads to weariness and burnout, has taken too many of us off course from the unique Kingdom call on our lives. C.S. Lewis, in his classic book, Screwtape Letters, warned us of such things when he penned his imaginary letters from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, a junior level tempter named Wormwood.

“There is only one thing we can do. We must redouble our efforts. We must do everything we can to make sure that these humans do not believe in Jesus. And if they do believe then make them lukewarm and too busy with other things to be of any use to Him.”

My own experience (30-plus years in pastoral ministry) has taught me that we pastors tend to define our success in ministry by utilizing what we’ve come to call the 3-B Syndrome. This ugly three-pronged standard for success in the Americanized church utilizes three key tools in measuring our effectiveness (or lack of) in our ministries.

The 3-B Syndrome works like this: In order for a pastor and a church to be ‘successful’, by Americanized standards, we must focus our ministries on the 3-B’s: BUILDINGS, BUCKS, and BUTTS.

If you and I can lead our churches to bigger and better numbers in each of these 3-B’s (bigger buildings, increased giving, and more people in the pews), we are a success. It all sounds great when these 3-B’s are on track. But unfortunately, for those of us who fail or falter in any (or all) of these three arenas of ministry, our net worth as a pastor, and our success as a church, begins to crumble.

In a concentrated effort to avoid failure in the 3-B’s, many of us in church leadership roles have become so busy tending to these three task-masters of success, we’ve lost our way, becoming discouraged and disheartened at our lack of ‘success’ as defined by the American church. Statistics show us that pastors, particularly, are highly susceptible to the fallout surrounding failure in the 3-B’s. One recent report in a nationally syndicated newspaper called pastors an ‘endangered species’.

The average stay of a pastor in an American church is less than three years. The pressure for ‘success’ is very high. Many of us feel so pressured to increase our numbers; we forsake our God-given call as shepherds of God’s people. Trying to become successful ranchers, business managers and CEO’s, we labor busily to develop ministries and programs that will feed the 3-B monster we’ve all created.

Despite the perceived success by a handful of ministries, most American churches are struggling to survive. Shrinking numbers in the 3-B categories leave most pastors questioning their call, growing weary in their well-doing, and becoming luke-warm in heart, mind and spirit. So many of us have so little spiritual life inside us, we wander around aimlessly looking for new ways to become ‘successful’ in ministry. Over time, we grow desperate for answers and are left to scavenge for ‘scraps’ that fall off the tables of those ‘successful’ pastors who have written ‘how-to’ books on growing the church. Sound familiar?

Let’s face it, friends. So many of us pastors are hoping to find that magic bullet which will finally make our churches ‘successful’, and in the process, we’ve abandoned our First Love of Jesus, leaving us to become burned-out evangelicals with little fire left in our bellies.

Next time, let me unfold for you, what I’m hearing from the Lord on how we can begin to address this problem.

Pastors & key leaders…plan now to join us for our first SMALL GROUP RETREAT for BUSY, 3-B PASTORS. August 17-18 in Cedar Rapids. Click here for more details.

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3 thoughts on “FOLLOW THE LEADER. Session 45. Leadership vs. Followership. And So We Close. Part One.

  1. I was ordained a Deacon in the United Methodist Church in 1983, and an Elder in 1989. In 1980 I began my service as a summer supply preacher in western Oregon. During Seminary I served an internship in Portland, and my first appointment was in 1986. I have served churches on and off ever since then, with a break only to attend graduate school. Much of my self-identity has been built around my work as a pastor to the extent that I have come to believe that everything about the success or failure of the churches I serve hinges upon me. I have become identified with the outcomes of everything that happens at church. This identification with my work has become the “possessions” about which Jesus spoke. It doesn’t help that the General Church as well as the Annual Conference hierarchy is looking to scrutinize the “outcomes” of pastoral work in order to determine pastoral “effectiveness.” The denominational embrace of quantifiable measures of “success” and “effectiveness” are hard to square with the teachings of Jesus.

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  2. Breaking free from the 3-B Syndrome is hard. Both pastors and lay people will not find it easy. During my sabbatical, I sensed God showing me the extensive need for a support network amongst pastors/shepherds of smaller churches like the one I’ve been pastoring for thirteen years. If we truly want to begin measuring our success as churches using a different measuring stick, we must be intentional in our efforts.

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