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Do You Lead Leaders or Lead Followers?

In my leadership experience there are two kinds of leaders.

There are those who are willing to lead leaders.

And there are those who will only lead followers.

Some leaders refuse to be leaders of leaders. Sadly I have witnessed many pastors who fall into “follower only” category. They refuse to allow leaders to develop in the church. Perhaps their fear of losing control or power, being upstaged, or simply never learning the value of empowering others, causes them to keep laypeople from becoming leaders within the church.

This is not to say we don’t need to lead followers, because of course we do. Every leader has followers or they would be no one to lead. Some of the best workers in an organization and, certainly in the church, are those who care nothing about leadership.

And I would say we don’t simply need leaders in the church – we need servant leaders. People who serve others expecting nothing in return are the best kinds of leaders and follow the example of Jesus.

Also true, it is hard to be a good leader until one learns to follow. At some point, however, those with the propensity towards leadership in any organization will want an opportunity to lead. This is especially true of younger generations of people.

And when those who were once in a position of being a follower begin to lead the real leadership skills of the people in senior leadership are tested.

Here’s the deal. Leaders of leaders allow other people to develop in the organization. They give people freedom to dream and give people a sense of ownership. They let them determine the “how” in their area of responsibility.

More so, they recognize and even hold as a value that as leaders develop the entire organization advances and everyone wins.

Leader of followers, on the other hand, try to keep followers from ever becoming leaders.

I’ll be honest, it is much easier to lead only followers. People will do what is requested of them. They are loyal and not usually as critical. They don’t challenge systems and traditions, processes and the way things have always been done.

As much as every organization (and church) needs loyal followers – if new leaders are not developed – if everyone remains a follower – not much will be done to take the organization to the next level. People will wait for existing leaders before they do anything new. And the organization (or the church) will be limited to the abilities of current leadership.

And for those who question my often business-like tendencies (even though I have a long business background, which I believe God uses in Kingdom growth), we need only look to the example of Jesus; how He developed the disciples, sent them out, and appointed them as leaders. Call them what you want – use another term other than leader, but they appear every bit a leader by any definition of leadership I use.

The other side to leading only followers – when people with the propensity and desire to lead are stifled from realizing their full potential as a leader – they will eventually either leave the organization or cause problems within the organization. I have especially seen this take place in the church. The organization as a whole suffers, because they are limited to the level of success which can be realized by the intimidated top leader who refuses to let other leaders develop.

If an organization (or church) allows people a chance to lead the organization’s potential for growth increases immensely.

At some point every leader has to make a decision.

Do you want to lead leaders or only lead followers?

Personally, I prefer to lead leaders.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • jimpemberton says:

    I was just having a conversation on this last night, particularly with regard to having a "deep bench" in the church or even having music in a worship service that was too good. Some pastors, I know, feel threatened by other preachers. One pastor I heard about even felt threatened by the music fearing to follow music that people responded well to such they he feared the congregation wouldn't pay attention to his sermon.

    So I have a couple of observations:

    First, raising up leaders in the church attracts good leaders to the church. If a pastor, deacon or elder board, limits the church to their own abilities, the church will remain small and ineffective. Leadership must grow beyond the central leadership. A person with a gift of leadership looking for a church to attend won't stay long in a church where his or her gifts are shut out. They will gravitate toward a church where they can apply their leadership skills to needs within the church or to outreach efforts of the church. The senior pastor of my church has a policy of letting the other pastors preach on a regular basis to build them up so the church will never be without good preaching. At no time does attendance slide when other preachers preach because these pastors have been built up. It's a treat to see them become great preachers and teachers among the church. Our church is bigger than the senior pastor. He guides, directs, and characterizes our corporate identity in Christ. But people often come to the church and stay active because there is so much going on because of the wealth of leadership in the pews that they will always have a place where they can contribute positively to the mission of the church.

    Therefore, second, it behooves pastors and core leadership of a church to see to the spiritual development of these leaders with an eye to letting them lead things in the church. We know that bad leaders can come among us, disrupt the positive direction of the church, and cause division and strife in their lack of spiritual maturity. That's why leaders in the church must be cultivated spiritually. There must be a theological structure and personal conviction thereof to the practical application of their gift. That is to say that their knowledge of God and who they are in him must drive the principles by which they lead in his name.

  • Lori says:

    I've been in a church of both types of pastors. I thank you and Chad for your willingness to trust and your faith you place in those that believe they can do something… hear "go, it's in your hands" is a phrase not too many hear in churches. I believe if people have a willing heart and are doing it for the right purpose to bring others to know Christ or to serve others (where they are being Christ-like), then let them go with prayer. I'm so proud and humbled to be in Grace's church family. Thank you for allowing leaders to lead, and followers to grow to become leaders.