You have likely heard the term, ‘Lead, follow or get out of the way.’ While meant to encourage leadership I believe it merely demonstrates a lack of understanding of what an actual leader is like. We are all called to lead, which sometimes is demonstrated by following and at other times leading by not obstructing good leadership. Getting out of the way as it were. A good leader is first a good follower and analogous to this is the idea that to exercise authority well you need to have had some experience being under authority. To lead well we need an understanding of the impact of our behaviour on others from having been in their shoes. Wherever you are in your journey through life and in your walk with Jesus you are called to lead. Whether that is leading by example, influencing others or having authority over others, you need to lead. So, let’s look at how we do just that.
We can better understand our call to lead by looking at positional and relational authority. We don’t all have positional authority; we all have the opportunity to develop relational authority. Many times, over my years in leadership at work I made this comment, “If all you have is positional authority you don’t have any.” I would then go on to explain the need for relational authority. I people who follow my lead because they freely choose to, not due to forced compliance. I found in my career that when I developed meaningful working relationships with those over who I had positional authority they were more willing to follow my lead and support me in whatever tasks we needed to accomplish. In most leadership roles we need relational authority to accomplish tasks through others.
A great example of relational authority is friendship. I have friends who can ask me for things or ask me to do things and I do those things because we have a relationship and I trust their judgment. In those cases, they are leading me.
We see this in Jesus leadership style. He gathered His followers and demonstrated and taught many things. He coerced no one to follow Him. He often said hard and difficult things and yet they still followed. They followed because they valued the relationship Jesus had developed with them. Jesus presented it to the apostles this way just as they were vying for positional authority over one another.
24 Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ 26 But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. 27 For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. Luke 22:24–27 (NKJV)
Here Jesus contrasts positional authority with relational authority without using the exact words. I suspect my relationship with Him is what led me to begin using the terms many years ago, they described His servant leadership approach. If we believe Jesus, the best way to lead others is to learn to serve them. Which answers the question inherent in my title, are we servants or leaders? Neither really, we are called to be servant leaders so let’s lead by serving others and His kingdom. Whether in practical matters or in the place of prayer, let’s serve.