Leadership Principle No. 9–Sometimes Leaders Must Follow; Do It Well

The year our church decided to spend two weeks constructing a new plant for Calvary Baptist Church of Matawan, New Jersey, our youth minister was in charge. Bryan Harris–now pastoring in Vallejo, California–was gifted with administrative abilities and experienced in leading construction teams, so we all followed his leadership. Within two weeks, a new sanctuary and educational building rose on that spot and everyone had the experience of a lifetime.

Two years later, when our church in Columbus, Mississippi, opted to erect our own educational building instead of contracting it out, we put Bryan in charge and the members all worked under his leadership.

The year we took our youth choir and some 20 adults to England for a two-week-mission of concerts and ministry, our minister of music Wilson Henderson was in charge. He was experienced at leading these trips and was close friends with David Beer, the British pastor who was our host in Tonbridge, England. Even though I was the pastor and technically his “superior,” I took orders from Wilson.

Sometimes you are the leader, sometimes a follower. But no one is the leader in every situation. Whatever the occasion calls for, a faithful follower of Christ will want to set the example for those coming after you.


The second week of June each year, the Southern Baptist Convention meets in some large city to do the business of our denomination. Anywhere from 8 to 20 thousand “messengers” will gather for several days of great fellowship, inspiring worship services, and business meetings in which we make decisions that will determine the direction of our work for the next year or more. Outsiders are amazed to see that at several points during these days, we conduct open business meetings where elected messengers may go to microphones and speak out on matters being dealt with. That’s when you learn a lot about your colleagues in the ministry.

At the podium is the elected president of this denomination, in almost every case a pastor of some outstanding church. Behind him stand two or three parliamentarians, usually well-trained pastors who guide the president through the complicated ins and outs of Roberts’ Rules of Order. With motions and amendments to the motion and points of personal privilege, the process can be wearisome.

I’m forever being surprised by the occasional pastor who decides to nitpick the process, to find fault with every resolution, to want to amend every motion in the least consequential ways and generally makes the work of the president exasperating. I sit there thinking, “I guarantee you that back at home, that man hates it when a member stands on the floor of the church business meeting and harasses him the way he’s doing the president.”

Why doesn’t he get it? I wonder. Some people who see themselves leaders and demand loyalty from their flock don’t seem to have a clue how to extend the same trust and service to someone else.

A development of our convention in recent years is that the entire proceedings can be viewed by the rest of the world through our webcast. In the most recent meeting which was held in San Antonio, Texas, I stayed home and watched much of the event over my computer. At one point, I was working at the table in my office and heard a familiar voice. Jay Adkins, a young pastor in the New Orleans area, was speaking to the convention on the motion to have the annual meeting in our city in the year 2012. He wanted it held here sooner.

My point is that even though he was in a large room a long way away, I was watching Jay as clearly as though he were in the next room. And so were members of his church, observing how their pastor behaves when someone else is presiding and he is the supplicant at the mike. It’s good for church members to see whether their pastors are as kind and supportive as they expect the folks back home to be.

No one has expertise in every area. In my case, I have almost none in any area. If you want a Bible study on the Gospel of Mark, we can get started right now. If you need a cartoon, I can have that for you in the next 30 minutes. But that’s about it.

Freddie Arnold who serves on our staff at the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans is almost the exception to the rule that no one can do it all. He’s one of those men you want on your team. He can bring a sermon, teach a lesson, lead the worship, and steer a committee. But Freddie can also repair your car, build a house, repair the plumbing, install the electrical, grow a crop, and teach you how to fish. Officially, his title is Missionary Church Planter of the North American Mission Board, but no job description can encompass all he does in this city.

When you’re out of your depth and someone better or wiser or stronger than you comes along, the ability to step back, shut up, and let the other take the lead is called for. That may seem to some as though you are shirking your responsibility to lead, but it takes great strength and maturity to recognize when another has the gifts and training to lead in a situation where you do not, and to turn it over to him.

In the early New Testament church, Barnabas became a mentor for the young Apostle Paul. When the Holy Spirit called them as the first missionaries, Barnabas went forth as the leader and Paul his assistant. However, it soon became apparent that mission work was where Paul excelled. He was far more effective than Barnabas. The transition occurred so smoothly one wonders if anyone noticed. At that point they went to being known as Paul and Barnabas.

Barnabas could follow as well as he could lead. He was truly a champion in every way–in the forefront or the background–a man for all God’s people to emulate.

The father of a new college student received a letter from the dean. “In attempting to learn the makeup of the incoming freshman class, we are asking the parents to complete the questionnaire enclosed.”

One of the questions asked, “How would you rate your daughter as a leader?” The father wrote, “I wouldn’t say she’s exactly a leader, but she’s an excellent follower and a hard worker.”

A few days later, the dad received a letter from the dean. “You’ll be interested in knowing that the incoming freshman class of our college is made up of 253 leaders and 1 follower–your daughter.”

When the Apostle Paul called for all believers in a church to “submit yourselves to one another,” in Ephesians 5:21, this surely was the point. There are times when we will be called on to lead others and head up projects, but even more likely we will follow the leadership of someone else. Let us be faithful in each situation.

1 thought on “Leadership Principle No. 9–Sometimes Leaders Must Follow; Do It Well

  1. I’m reminded of the piece of folk wisdom … lead, follow, or get out of the way.

    Thanks for your insights which come from an area of expertise that you have been given. Don’t sell that one short .. it helps those of us who do not have the gift of reflection stop and consider.

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