When I was young, I loved to play a game called “follow the leader.” In the game, a leader is chosen and then proceeds to lead the group by walking, running, skipping, flailing their arms, spinning around, etc. As the followers begin to fall away, unable to duplicate the leaders’ moves, the last person becomes the new leader, and he or she continues to lead the crowd, often trying to come up with difficult moves and tasks to make it hard to follow. I don’t know if kids still play this game, but I am convinced that many adults still do.
Disagree? A quick look at social media will open your eyes. You’ll be surprised at who adults follow. History shows us that in the 30s and 40s it was Hitler. In the 50s and 60s it was Castro. In this millennium we saw Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and scores of third-world countries led by insane megalomaniacs with one goal in sight: domination. But there’s no way that can happen to us, right? As Christians we have discernment. Wisdom. God-given choices. We’re way too smart for that. Or are we?
A recent scroll through YouTube left me stunned at some of the teaching that is followed by scores of believers. Just like in the game, we can easily become the kind of leader that we follow. That’s what we’re being trained to do!
In Paul’s first letter to his dear brother in Christ, Timothy, he urges him to first accept those in spiritual authority over him, but also to guard against false teaching. In 1 Timothy 6:3-5 (ESV), Paul writes, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” The notion of “teaching that accords with godliness” intrigues me.
Are you a leader whose teaching and guidance does not align with godliness? Maybe you’re a team member who is following a leader who’s “puffed up with conceit.” Or maybe you’re finding the messages you are hearing on Sunday morning to be leaving you with thoughts of envy, slander, evil suspicions, or constant friction.
So what do we do to guard against following a “false teacher,” especially since we are to follow those in authority over us? As we grow in our walk, we should also grow in our discernment. There is nothing wrong with assessing our leaders as well as assessing ourselves as leaders. As I evaluate myself as a leader, and as I look to follow others, here are a few points I try to keep in mind:
- Does what this leader teaches, preaches, and lives out align with Scripture? Now we’re not going to get it perfectly right all the time, let’s just say that up front. No one is perfect, only Jesus was. But we can strive for excellence and for a life that honors God in word and in deed. Is the leader you are following “practicing what he preaches?”
- Do you see the fruit of the Spirit in this leader’s life? “For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV) Sister, make yourself a list. In one column list the fruits. In the next column, record a few ways you see your leader exhibiting those fruits on a daily basis. If you’re evaluating yourself, you may want to ask for help from a friend or colleague. Sometimes it’s hard to see the fruit in our own lives, and it’s also hard to admit where we are lacking.
- Is the person you are following inspiring you? When you are with this leader are you feeling poured into in a way that makes you leave feeling encouraged and hopeful? When I leave my church on Sunday morning, I leave feeling rejuvenated, energized, and on mission. When I end a meeting I have led, I want the team I am entrusted with to be eager to serve and prepared for our tasks with ready hearts and minds.
As we seek to walk closer with the Lord, we must regularly ask these questions of our leaders and of ourselves. In addition, I often ask myself if I am the kind of leader that I would follow. When I come up short, and I have, I pray for the Holy Spirit’s help in bringing me back in line with the way Jesus led: humbly, and by example.
Our time here on this planet is brief. We don’t have time to spend on following a leader who is prideful, insecure, or domineering. Instead, choose someone who is leading from a place of grace, peace, and genuine humility. May God bless you with the necessary wisdom, discernment, and courage to make these choices.