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What's the Problem with "Leaders"?


In recent years, I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with the pressure within evangelical circles for people to ‘be a leader.’ Christian leadership classes, books, and seminars seem to be everywhere and even some of my closest friends and colleagues devote much of their energy to making, mentoring, and developing ‘leaders.’


Yes, there is a legitimate need for trustworthy lay ministers capable of leading well within the church. But this is not at the core of my disdain.


Yes, there is an understood (and maybe too leanly spoken) idea that by ‘leadership’ we typically mean true disciples who lead other disciples as they, themselves, are led by God. These men and women are skilled, gifted, and equipped with real world knowledge, Godly wisdom, and a Kingdom mindset to set others ablaze for God. This, again, is not the problem. It’s something else.


As I’ve wrestled with this annoying little pebble in the ‘soul’ of my shoe, I’ve come to a conclusion: The problem is rooted in the title, in identifying - and thereby elevating - a person as a ‘leader.’ There is a difference between saying that a person has skill in leading others well and labeling a person a ‘leader.’ They communicate different ideas, feelings, and expectations – both to the person being labeled and to those around them. 


The title of ‘leader’ demands a clear distinction in the body of Christ, a distinction that has to do with value. Whether we realize it or not, we tend to value ‘leaders’ more highly than we value those who are not considered leaders. This is just human nature and something we hardly notice, but it’s there and needs to be acknowledged.




By valuing ‘leaders’ more highly than non-leaders, we automatically diminish those who don’t have the leadership ‘calling’ or ‘mantle’ or whatever the catchy word of the day we’re using. 




Maybe this all sounds like rubbish to you and I get it. I was there! Always wanting to be named the leader of something, getting acknowledgement for my talent and skill. It meant someone ‘approved’ me, stamped ‘accepted’ on my forehead for all to see. Who doesn’t want that? The problem began when I arrived at what some would call ‘leader status’ and I realized that while I was enjoying the attention of others, it seemed that Jesus was standing in the back of the room with His head down. 


Before that, I had felt His wide smile, and the warmth of the Father too, even as I struggled through my bruised ego, hurt feelings, and being left out of ‘leadership’ circles. Why had I heard the beautiful, melodic voice of a proud Papa saying, “That’s my girl!” when I was struggling and now that I had ‘arrived’ He didn’t seem to be proud of me anymore? I thought that was where He wanted me. To be a ‘leader.’ To influence the world for His glory. What had I lost sight of along the way to this ‘leader status’?


Well, let’s consider the connotations or expectations of someone with this title. There surely is a job description somewhere but I’m more concerned with what’s unsaid and unwritten about this ‘leader.’ See what you think:


A Church Leader is someone who:

  • others look to for answers, advice and accolades.

  • has skills in many areas that are highly impressive.

  • may be a pastor, teacher, counselor, or elder.

  • is, more frequently than not, a man.

  • can stand in front of others confidently and speak publicly.

  • memorizes scripture and spends lots of time studying the Bible and praying.

  • gives their time freely without many boundaries.

      (…if I haven’t lost you yet hold on…)

  • is available to care for, cry with, rejoice with, and advise others at a moment’s notice with natural and supernatural wisdom.

  • has all the answers about the Bible, family, finances, sexuality, marriage, parenting, trauma, healing, discipleship, worship, politics, and on, and on and on.

  • is like Jesus everyday, in every way, in every situation and with every person.


Who could do this? Why do we expect all this from those who ‘lead’ in the church? Who could stand up under this kind of pressure? Why would we even want to be under this title of ‘leader’ if these are the expectations?


But more importantly, is this what God wants for His church? For His people? 


Is this hyper-focus on raising up ‘leaders’ God’s idea, or ours? Because I seem to remember reading that we’re all called to follow Jesus. And if that’s the case, then wouldn’t that mean we’re all called to be followers instead?


That may not sound appealing to the independent American church-goer! But I think that if we had a revelation of what God’s heart is towards His people, we would feel differently.


God’s Kingdom has always been built on the upside-down nature of the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus spoke those words and lived His life on earth, He showed us what it looked like to live as a follower. Because Jesus was always following His Father. 


Jesus led by following. 


Once this revelation hit me, I began to weep for the body of Christ. Ours was never a high calling. It was always a low one. To lay our lives down, to put others first. In short, to live like Jesus. To follow Him. 





This is our true calling, and our deepest longing: to follow Jesus…together. 






Can you imagine what the Church would look like if we all laid down our lives, our own ideas and plans, our pride, our desire for control and approval, and instead, sought to truly follow the Lord, together? 


Over the next several months, I am going to be praying and dreaming about exactly this and I hope you will be, too. 


I would love to hear your thoughts and anything God reveals to you about what it means to be #freedtofollow Jesus!




2 comments

2 Comments


I have been "assessed" for my leadership personality, skills etc. I can tell you that most who do this assessment have their own construct of what it means in the "organized church" Church nowadays is a business. you need good business managers, who are spiritual, and humble, and skilled in the human psyche, and transparent to the rest of us....until the rest of "us" say he's not a leader - look at his stuff....


There is no greater love than this, that one would lay down his life for a brother.

To me - leadership has to be love based. Love requires time....."Does anybody really know what time it is, does anybody really care?"

Love ya!

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Renee - beautifully put, and accurate in my opinion. I think something similar can be said about telling people God has "a higher calling" for us and that He has called us to do "great things." Neither of those is bad on the surface, but there are hidden messages and unrealistic expectations that go along with them. The people Jesus elevated in the Sermon on the Mount were the "last," the meek, the servants. In my own experience, I feel like we were encouraged to become spiritual celebrities like the ones we oohed and ahhed about in church. And it was understood that the "great things" we would do would be large-scale and widely known - with accompanying notoriety. T…

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