The all-time greatest leader is Jesus, without question. We who follow Him need to take another look at how He led and created other great leaders. He prayed, He chose, He demonstrated, He taught, and He imparted through relationships. Then He commanded them to reproduce what He had done. The Apostle Paul told his spiritual son, Timothy essentially the same pattern. It was common rabbinical practice.
Our modern Western world has opted for a different approach to leadership, which is institutional, top-down, and often leadership by position instead of practice. We have turned organic into organize. “Leadership” is often without followers, let alone reproducers. While there are real relational leaders, there are not enough. “Leaders” by position rather than by relational impartation are often the victims of those who are ambitious for that same position.
“Blue collar” workers more often learn by apprenticeship. This is much closer to discipling, though not the same. When I was young and in the labor force, I learned by watching, listening, and learning. I did not see the boss as my “buddy”, but as one whom I could emulate. I was not on his “Board of Directors,” I was clearly the student and he the teacher. My experience was not egalitarian. I was not a critic of his performance. I was the learner – the disciple of his practice.
The same was true of my athletic experience. My coach was not my “buddy”. Coach was a disciplinarian and did not hesitate to “rebuke and exhort” without much longsuffering.
Our culture of sensitivities and victimhood has invaded the church and rendered discipleship as nigh impossible. People feel free to sit for years and never reproduce, criticize the “coach”, and pay little heed to instruction. The “team” is measured by size and not performance. The leader spends way too much time administrating, solving other people’s problems with little time to truly reproduce what he or she has received from God into the lives of others.
Jesus preached to multitudes but trained individuals. It is okay then to have large crowds but not ok to mistake that for discipleship. The truly great leaders are those who can do both, attract crowds, but save time to reproduce individuals who reproduce others. Why is that important? Crowds do not change the world, but real disciples of Jesus did, and still do.
Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.