Leadership Essential #1: The Art of Following



Leaders are followers.

Flying back from India in 2001, I was reflecting on what I had seen and learned over the previous two weeks.  I had a renewed passion for my city (Madison) and for the calling God had placed on me and on the Church to actually transform the missional context we were placed in.  There was a quiet, yet persistent voice stirring in my spirit on the long flight home.  God was impressing on me that in order to actually reach this city, we would need to multiply missionaries.  Moving church attenders, and good members to become missionaries would demand leadership!  I also realized that I had absolutely no credibility in this arena.  I was trained to be a pastor who did some mission work.  I was trained and equipped in a system where the centrality of the church in society was assumed.  What our church really needed was a missionary who did some pastor work.  I went to the seminary to become a pastor, not a missionary.

I was unsettled.  The closed system that I was trained in shaped me to be in charge. It shaped me to be a manager and caretaker of those who already believed, “fit in”, and were comfortable with a church ethos.  Yet, I knew that this group of people were here in this city, at this time in human history to “connect people to life in Jesus.”  How were we going to really do that?  How were the people in our community, in our neighborhoods, our relational circles going to get to know Jesus?

We had to multiply missionaries because we were living in a mission field.  What do you do when you are being led to do something when you have no experience doing it?

You follow someone who does have experience.  You tag along with someone who does know.

That’s when an amazing calling landed on ME.  “Come, follow me, Jeff.  I will make you  a missionary.”  (Mark 1:17)

Follow me……

I didn’t know how.  I was trained to be competent, in charge, sure, certain.

Up to that point, honestly, I had never done ministry where I wasn’t in charge.  Familiar culture, familiar rhythms, familiar routines…..in some respects, closed off to the world.  Open to the world coming, but no sense of sentness to the world or how to engage that world.

This was all new; following Jesus where I wasn’t in charge.

  • How do I follow Jesus when I’m not at church?
  • How do I recognize Him in my neighborhood?  I didn’t really know.  I was not there very often.
  • How do I know what Jesus is up to in my neighbors’ lives, my friends’ lives?  How should I know?  I never had any meaningful relational exchanges.  To be honest, I didn’t even really know what was really going on in the lives of the members of the Church.  I was too busy leading.

All that would have to change if I, as a leader, was going to help people learn the Art of Following.  I needed to learn the Art myself.

Here’s a couple of things I’m learning about the Art of Following, (and trying to help others learn too):

Questions Keep Me In An Open Posture

Asking questions keeps me from assuming.  Assuming keeps me closed, and hinders my ability to receive anything new from God.

Every Situation Is An Opportunity to Learn

Am I here to prove something, or learn something?  I love the story of Cornelius and Peter in Acts 10. God put Peter in an unfamiliar position.  Peter learned from unbeliever Cornelius just as much as Cornelius learned from Peter.

My Security Is Found In The Character of God, Not In My Competence

I am slowly shifting from being certain in what I can see, control and observe to the never changing reality of who God is.  I am frequently asking myself:  What am I sure of?  This question always leads me to God!

Missionaries Do Ministry In Cultures Where They Are Not In Charge

I am slowly believing that Madison, Wisconsin is a mission field.  I am a stranger in a strange land, and am learning to embrace the uncertainty of it all.

Jesus Is Our Great Sent One

Jesus was not just sending us with a Great Commission in Matthew 28, He Is the Great Commissioned One.  If Jesus as our First Missionary was taken into places He could not see the end of, what about me?  So, I am learning to watch Him in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and let Him lead.

What are you discovering about the Art of Following?


Read and Review the first post in this series:                                                                                                      10 Leadership Essentials: How Leadership Relates to Discipleship