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Statement: The Leadership Obsession

Statement: The Leadership Obsession

Try this little experiment. Go to and do an advanced search. First, search for books that have the word "leader" in the title. If you do it soon, you’ll see there are 24,668 results. Number one in the list (sorted by relevance) is something about being the "pack leader" in order to transform the life of your dog. After browsing a bit, do another advanced search, this time with the word "follower" in the title. You’ll find 865 results, most of them about Christian followers of Jesus (though a few leadership books that happen to have the word "follower" in the title have snuck into our search). For every book about being a follower there are at least 25 more about being a leader. I don’t find Jesus quite so obsessed with leadership as we are. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Now try this. Go to Search for how many times Jesus uses the word "lead" in the Gospels. You’ll see there are 21 times this happens in the NIV, and most of the references are negative! Judas leading the crowds to apprehend Jesus; the blind leading the blind; and so on. None of them are commands to the disciples. Now check out how many times He uses the word "follow." There are 86 references—four times as many, most of them positive and many of them direct commands … as in "come follow me." Jesus was far and away more concerned about His disciples’ ability to follow well than about them leading well.

Why are we so obsessed with leadership? Why is following so disdainful to us? We don’t even have the word "followship" in English. Now, to be sure, leadership is a wonderful spiritual gift, one that I even think I possess. But how is it that Jesus taught so clearly and thoroughly about following, and I can go to, restricting my search to "religion and spirituality" and still come up with 15 times as many "religious" books about being a good leader as I can about being a good follower?

The American quest for independence has poisoned us. The leadership obsession within capitalism has infected our spirituality. These influences have convinced us that following is for wimps.

Submission is central to spiritual growth, and following is almost always the more important quality in the Kingdom of God than perfecting your leadership gifts. The problem is that books on submitting just don’t sell. I’m still waiting for someone to write the book Extraordinary Submission: Turning Good Leaders into Obedient Followers. I have the feeling it could be a long wait.

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