Needed: Leaders . . . and Followers

LEAD, FOLLOW, OR GET OUT OF THE WAY. I don’t know when I first heard that phrase, but I’ve heard it repeated hundreds of times since. Sometimes it’s said with disdain and other times as a serious reminder that action is needed.

The need for strong, biblical leadership in the Christian Reformed Church is as pressing today as it has ever been. As I travel across North America and meet with people in local churches, I learn that many congregations are experiencing a leadership crisis.

The reasons for the crisis are legion. In some cases it’s related to cultural issues and shifts in congregational expectations of elders, deacons, and pastors. But churches are also facing new challenges. People have many more choices in all areas of life than they used to. Expectations are at an all-time high. Television and other media have raised the bar for local leaders.

The Christian Reformed Church has made a conscious choice to meet this challenge head-on. As part of the church’s 150th anniversary, we are planning to put in place a leadership institute that will promote, sustain, and equip church leaders.

It is a huge step in the right direction. As we move into our next 150 years as a church, we need to equip and train people to lead the church forward so that, together in the power of the Holy Spirit, we will transform lives and communities worldwide.

As we do so, we must remember the rest of that little phrase about leadership. We need leaders, but we also need followers. I believe that part of the reason for the shortage of good leaders in the church is that the church has lost its ability to follow.

That may seem harsh, and perhaps one could blame a lack of strong, biblical leadership for the problem. But it often appears that good people are simply unwilling to follow their leaders. The independent spirit that so permeates our culture has found its way into the pew.

In a previous “Dear Reader” I suggested that the best model for leadership is the biblical model of a shepherd—one who walks among the sheep and is loved and trusted by those he leads.

Moses was a shepherd-leader. His training began in the courts of the pharaoh, but it was completed among the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro. His encounter with God in a burning bush occurred as he tended sheep in the wilderness.

Moses was a true leader, chosen by God to lead Israel out of slavery to the promised land. Though Moses did experience a few leadership failures, the bigger problem was Israel’s failure to follow. Time and time again we read of Israel grumbling and complaining or making golden calves or refusing to move into Canaan. The people were afraid—afraid of God, afraid of the Canaanites, afraid of change, afraid of the future. They trusted neither God nor Moses.

I’m not suggesting (though some might) that today’s church is as stiff-necked or stubborn as Israel. I am suggesting that all of us ought to examine our hearts, minds, and motives to determine whether we’re willing to move forward as a church.

Is the Christian Reformed Church ready to follow? Are we willing to follow Jesus into the next 150 years of service? Are you and I prepared to equip, develop, and support the men and women whom God has called to lead us?

“Lead, follow, or get out of the way”—the words might seem simple, but they could serve us well as we seek to encourage and equip leaders for the future. The church needs the brightest and best we can offer. More than ever, it needs Christ-following leaders. Pray with me that God will provide them and that we will not stand in the way.

About the Author

Jerry Dykstra served as the executive director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America from 2006-2011.
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