Everyone follows (or is led) by someone else. Even Presidents and CEO’s have been instructed and have absorbed the philosophies of their teachers. This of course can be good or bad, depending on the teacher. For example learning leadership from General Colin Powell, or Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (both who have written books on leadership) or Steven Covey (Management guru) could be very good. Adopting the leadership principles of Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler would be another matter entirely.
The problem is that there are all sorts of leadership materials. There is a cacophony of voices calling for you to follow them. Even the salesmen on the phone are seeking to lead you in a certain direction (that usually involves your credit card). How do you choose between the good and the bad?
This morning our text addresses how to be a wise Christ-follower. To do this we have to pay attention to the good leaders and teachers around us.
7 Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith.
8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 9 So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which don’t help those who follow them.
Following Your Leaders
We are told to remember leaders but not just any leaders . . . we are to remember the leaders who taught us the Word of God. He is not talking about business leaders or academic leaders, or even athletic leaders. He is talking about spiritual leaders.
So how do you define a spiritual leader? It is someone who taught you the Word of God. You might think that this means Pastors and Teachers. I hope many of them are included in this category but Pastors who
- Preach what people want to hear
- Are building Kingdom to themselves
- Are promoting a political agenda
- Or who are simply telling people to be nicer
Are not included in this category. We must be discerning. More on this later.
While we just narrowed the picture of what a spiritual leader is we also need to expand that picture. It is not only Pastors who can be these kinds of leaders. My hope would be that many of you and even more hopefully that all of you would fall into this category with some people. In other words I hope you are all teaching the Word of God at least to your children. There are people who have a gift from God and a commission to teach but all of us have opportunities to teach the Word of God to others.
A leader of this sort may be living or dead. It may be someone you have met or someone who has impacted your life from afar. I want you to broaden your minds to Sunday School teachers, youth groups leaders, authors, people you hear on the radio, and it possibly include songwriters or poets. Anyone who teachers the Word of God falls into this category.
Now that we have defined what a spiritual leader is let’s look at what we are supposed to do when we have identified these spiritual leaders. We are to do two things: consider the way they lived their lives and then we are to follow their example.
The first thing is that we are to look at the way they lived their lives. The Greek construction means to look at their lives “again and again” we are to look at the results and the impact of their lives. What we see on closer inspection will determine whether to follow them or not. We should look at several things,
- Do they try to do live by the Scripture that they teach?
- Do they have a spirit of humility?
- Are they honest about their ongoing struggles?
- Do they possess a servant’s heart?
- Do they reflect their faith in their dealings at home?
- Are they kind to others?
- Do they keep they temper under control?
- Are they honest in their business dealing?
- Do you get the sense that they are people of prayer?
- Are people being impacted by their teaching/life?
- How are they viewed in the surrounding community and other Bible teachers (do they have a good reputation?)
You may not be able to get all this information from everyone who teaches but the point is this: a leader you want to follow is one who is not just one in name but also one in life. This is why integrity is such a big deal.
You can get this information from personal observation, from biographies, and from people who know the person well. Most of the time you can sense whether or not someone is the “real deal”. However, it is always a good idea to ask these questions.
We all know that no leader is perfect. They won’t do all these things perfect every time . . . but it should be the way their life “leans”.
Second, once you have examined their lives; once you have determined whether or not this is a person worth following . . . if they are worth following then follow them! Learn everything you can from them. Watch what they do and how they do it. Look at the way they handle conflict and bring about change. Look at the way they handle problems and the approach they take to the Word of God. In other words, learn everything you can about these people.
I have some people I respect greatly. I read about them. I read the books they write. I try to implement what I learn from them. Those who are alive and impact me I want to learn everything I can from them. I ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. I turn to them when I have a problem and I listen to what they say and try to understand why they are saying it.
When you find a good leader . . . follow them.
How Do You Become a Good Leader?
There are thousands upon thousands of books about leadership. However, I really believe that though leadership skills can be learned, a true leader leads by character not by knowledge.
I feel presumptuous giving any kind of guidelines for developing leadership skills as a believer but here are a few that I believe we get from the Bible
- A godly leader is one doing the work of God, not building a kingdom for him/herself. This is one principle with which I suspect you will always be struggling. As you listen to the Apostles they were constantly telling people not to honor them because they were “men just like they were”. It is easy to start off with the right motives and drift into visions of grandeur.
I’ll never forget one of the times I saw Chuck Swindoll at a conference. The best part of the conference was the way this man worshipped. As you watched him you could see that it was just him and the Lord on the platform.
The first time I heard Alistair Begg it was in a small Pastor’s conference he was leading with James Montgomery Boice. Begg was always poking fun at himself. It was obvious that he did not take himself too seriously.
- A godly leader lets the Word of God teach him/her before they teach others. They know that wisdom comes from the Lord. You should not presume to speak FOR God unless you have spent much time with Him making sure you are hearing Him correctly.
- A godly leader is looking to find ways to communicate the truth to others rather than merely impressing others with their knowledge. Have you ever encountered a teacher that taught in a classroom and you left saying, “Wow!” I didn’t understand anything that that guy was saying but . . . he sure was smart. The best teacher is concerned about communication of truth not impressing others. He is concerned about communicating the truth of God’s Word in a way that is clear.
- A godly leader is constantly examining their own lives because they understand that they teach as much by what they do as by what they say. They are forever mindful of Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees who were able to teach others but did not understand the truth themselves. Leadership is not a title, it is a lifestyle. You do not become a leader simply because you are made the President, CEO, Manager or even Pastor. You become a leader when people actually follow you. You can be a boss without being a leader.
- A godly Leader works with fear and trembling because they know they will be held responsible by the Lord if they lead someone astray. James warns those who teach that they will be examined with a more strict judgment because they are either helping people or hurting them.
- You can learn principles of Godly leadership but you aren’t a leader until you are actually influencing other people. How you are influencing them (either bringing them to the Lord or pushing them away from Him) will determine whether you are a godly leader or not. God puts us in positions where we can lead. It starts in the home and extends out from there. Some will lead big groups; others will lead a few people. We need every leader. And we need every leader to lead well.
The Leader Above All Leaders
8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
No matter how good the leader is that you decide to follow, you will find flaws, you will see inconsistencies, and you may at times be disappointed or disillusioned. Throughout the history of the church of Christ there are, unfortunately, many who have been hurt because leaders abused their position.
As the saying goes: “even the best of men are only men at best.” And I think this is the reason the Holy Spirit now points us to Jesus. He is the one who is the same yesterday (when He died for us and called us to salvation), today (when He intercedes before the Father) and tomorrow (when He will return as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The fact that Jesus is the same does not mean He is boring. It means He is consistent! He is dependable. The theological term for this is immutability. It refers to the unchanging character of God. We never have to worry that the Lord is going to disappoint us. We never have to worry that He is going to lead us in the wrong way. This is why the first thing you want to look for in an earthly spiritual leader is someone who seems to walk closely with Jesus.
We turn to Jesus as the superior leader. He is the One who determines what is true . . . there is no NEW truth in the gospel. Any leader that contradicts or even “adjusts,” “modifies,” or “waters down” what Jesus said is leading you astray. Jesus is not just the defender of truth, He IS the truth Himself!
We are told not to be attracted to “strange, new, ideas”. How do we know if an idea is strange or new? Simple: if it contradicts the clear teaching of the Bible or goes against anything that Jesus taught, it is a false teaching.
Before you look for a leader to follow here on earth, it is vital that you know the One who alone is worth following: Jesus. You can read all kinds of books on leadership. You can attend dozens of leadership conferences. However, if you do not have a relationship with Jesus, all you have are gimmicks designed to help you get people to do what you (or the organization, or the government) want them to do. It is only when you have a relationship with Christ that you even know where ultimately, you need to be going.
So, where do you stand with Christ? Do you see that He alone is the truth? Do you understand that He is the only way to be forgiven and to have a true relationship with God? Do you see that He wants to lead us not merely to success in this life . . . He wants to lead us to overcome in life AND in death. He wants to give us a new life that will never end?
Before you worry about what kind of leader you are or what kind of leaders you are going to follow, make sure you have turned to Jesus. You do that by coming to Him with open hands and saying, “Lord Jesus, I come to you as a sinful person. I know I cannot make myself right with You. Please draw me to yourself. Make me new by applying the payment of the cross to my sin. Save me as only you can do. Amen.”
He is Capable to lead us through any situation. Every leader has weaknesses. The Lord does not. He will never disappoint. He always has the answer that is needed. He always knows the right path to travel. He will never shrug and say, “I don’t know”. He will never respond to by saying “Whatever!” If you turn to Him He will direct your path.
We all follow someone. It is natural and it is normal. We determine our values from what we have been taught so we need to make sure we are being taught well. We are taught by parents, family members, teachers, authors, various commentators, the radio stations we choose to listen to, the television programs we watch and in hundreds of other ways. These people and things are all teaching us something . . . either good or bad. We need to realize that we are perpetual learners. Consequently we need to work hard to make sure that we are learning the right stuff from people who are attached to the source of truth. Rather than being led unconsciously by the voices around us, we need to make this a conscious choice.
We also will likely have someone following us. Whether it is your child, a child in the Sunday School class you teach, a co-worker, or even someone who watches you from a distance (I know, that’s a little creepy isn’t it?), you are likely leading someone. The question then becomes: where are you leading them? Are you leaning them TO the Lord or away from Him? Are you building a Kingdom to yourself or are you working to expand God’s Kingdom here on earth?
It is a terrifying question. That is why it is so important for us to keep our eyes on Jesus. We should be trying to lead others as He did. And we should be trying to lead whoever follows to the Lord of Life.
We can only lead if we know where we are going. This is why our relationship with Jesus is so important. He is “the way, the truth, and the life and no one can get to the Father apart from Him.” (John 14:6). In other words, if we aren’t in a “made new” (redeemed) relationship with Christ, then we can’t get to where we need to be going. So, before you try to lead . . . know where you are going and how you are going to get there. If you are leading to someone other than Christ, you are leading people astray. Find someone who can lead you to Christ first . . . then you can lead others.
The greatest need of leadership is consistency. We live in a cynical world. We have been burned and disappointed by leaders so many times that we begin to assume that all leaders are going to hurt us. As a result, we resist following anyone. This makes us subject to more subtle and subversive leaders.
To gain credibility as a leader we must follow the Lord consistently! That, of course, is what every believer is called to do. People are watching and they are quick to dismiss anyone who is not consistent.
Before we can be a good leader we must strive to be good followers ourselves. The one we follow (or at least should follow), is Jesus. If we are following Jesus fervently, others will notice. Then they too will want to follow Him. And they may just do so, by following you.