Lead the Follower

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  November 5, 2023

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Read Matthew 23:1 – 12
This morning, I want to invite us to pay particular attention to verses 1 – 7 of the text as we think on the subject: LEAD THE FOLLOWER.
As a child, I remember playing the game, Follow the Leader.  The rules were fairly simple.  Basically, a leader is chosen, then the players all line up behind the person who has been chosen to be the leader.
Then that person then moves around and all the followers have to mimic the leader’s actions. Any players who fail to follow or do what the leader does are out of the game. When only one person other than the leader remains, that player becomes the leader, and the game starts over with all the players joining the line again.
As I think about what it means for us to follow the leader, I am reminded of something I heard my dad say once… “If an alien came to earth and encountered a human walking a dog… seeing the dog out front on the leash and the human trailing behind picking up after the dog… which one would they think is the leader?”
Now, as we consider our text for this morning… I want us to think about what it means to follow the leader… and suggest that we take it a step further and think about what it means for us to LEAD THE FOLLOWER.
Looking at the New Testament lesson, we find Jesus speaking to a crowd along with His disciples.  He is offering them words of good counsel as it relates to following the teachers of the law, also known as the scribes, as well as the Pharisees, who were one of the groups of religious leaders in their day.
Listen again to verses 1 -7 of our text as they are found in the Message Paraphrase, Jesus tells them:

“The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.  “Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’ 
I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t sound like these are probably the types of leaders that we should be looking to follow.
So, then what are the characteristics of a good leader?  How should we define leadership, particularly as it relates to the church… the body of believers?
Good question…
And in order to find a good answer… I did what a lot of people do when trying to find the answers to life’s challenging questions.  I looked on the Internet.  And I found a story that I want to share with you as it relates to leadership.
It is credited to a man named Stuart Briscoe and comes from a book entitled, Everyday Discipleship for Ordinary People
The story goes like this:
One of my young colleagues was officiating at the funeral of a war veteran. The dead man’s military friends wished to have a part in the service at the funeral home, so they requested the pastor to lead them down to the casket, stand with them for a solemn moment of remembrance, and then lead them out through the side door. This he proceeded to do, but unfortunately the effect was somewhat marred when he picked the wrong door. The result was that they marched with military precision into a broom closet, in full view of the mourners, and had to beat a hasty retreat covered with confusion.  This true story illustrates a cardinal rule or two. First, if you’re going to lead, make sure you know where you’re going. Second, if you’re going to follow, make sure that you are following someone who knows what he is doing!
 “If you’re going to lead, make sure you know where you’re going. And, if you’re going to follow, make sure that you are following someone who knows what he is doing!”
In other words, it is about more than just following the leader… it is also about knowing how to LEAD THE FOLLOWER.
And as we look at this text, it is clear that Jesus was letting the gathered crowd know that the so-called religious “leaders” they were following would ultimately lead them down the wrong path and they were not the type of leaders that they should be following.
Now, as we examine the text further… it is important to note that Jesus was not denouncing the teachings but was actually denouncing the teachers.  And that is because the teachers… these religious leaders… were less concerned about being holy than they were with looking holy. 
They were focused more on being honored than they were with honoring God.  It would seem that their love for their position was greater than their loyalty to God… and that they were more concerned with serving themselves than with serving God and the people of God.
So, what lessons in leadership can we take from this text?  What guidance does it offer that we can apply as we endeavor to LEAD THE FOLLOWER?
There is no shortage of information related to the concept of leadership… but I want to share just a few of the characteristics of good leaders… Christian leaders… servant leaders that I found.
First, Christian leaders should be certain that their goal is to serve God and others… not simply to receive the title or honor that comes with leadership.
Second, leaders should not use their position for their own advantage or comfort. No task should be “beneath” them… although there are some tasks that may be delegated… a good leader should not ask others to do things that they are unwilling to do themselves.
Third, true leaders will seek to distinguish their own preferences from the will and welfare of the group as a whole.
Fourth, the position should seek the leader; not the other way around.  There may be some situations in which persons may apply for or volunteer for leadership positions. However, when someone strongly desires a particular responsibility, his or her motivation should be carefully examined.
And fifth, leaders must learn to see others as valuable to the Lord and know that we are ALL equal in His sight.  It is not the position that someone holds that the Lord honors… it is the position of one’s heart. 
And what greater example of this type of leadership can we find than Jesus? 
Let’s do a quick review of these characteristics of a good leader:
First, Christian leaders should be certain that their goal is to serve God and others, not simply to receive the title or honor that comes with leadership.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus surrendered His desire to that of His Father.  In Luke 22:42 we read, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
And in Philippians 2:6 – 7, we read, “Who, [meaning Jesus] being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
That alone ought to be proof positive that Jesus’ desire was to serve God, not to get caught up in positions or titles.  His goal was to do whatever brings glory to God.
In John 15, Jesus told His disciples, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
Like Jesus, Christian leaders should be certain that their goal is to serve God and others so that God will get the glory.
Which brings us to the second characteristic… leaders should not use their position for their own advantage or comfort.
When two of Jesus’ disciples asked Him for positions of honor in His kingdom, Jesus told them,
…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:43b – 45).
 And let me just say this… if anyone had a right to be served… it was certainly Jesus. But He never used His position for His own advantage or comfort.
Which dovetails with the third characteristic… true leaders will seek to distinguish their own preferences from the will and welfare of the group as a whole.
Jesus gave His life for each and every one of us.  Second Corinthians 5 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
I can only imagine that given the choice, any of us would have said, “No way, I’m not doing that for those people.  They will never get it right.  They will always want to go their own way…”
But that was not the case with Jesus.  I heard it said like this a while ago, “Jesus became sin, without ever sinning, so that we could be made righteous without ever getting it right.”
Let that sink in for a moment.  He became sin, without ever sinning… so we could be made right without ever getting it right…
Which takes us to the the fourth characteristic of a good leader which is that the position should seek the leader… not the other way around.
When it comes to Jesus being the ultimate servant leader, He came into that position not by campaigning or submitting His resume.  There were no elections held, no interviews conducted. 
No… Jesus came into that position because there was no one else who could have done what needed to be done.  There was no one else who could fulfill all of the prophecies and become our Savior because no one else had what it takes to be the Messiah… the position came to Him.
When Jesus asked His disciple, Peter, who He believed Him to be… Peter replied, ‘“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’  [and] Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.’(Matt. 16:16-17)
Only Jesus could fill that leadership position as the Messiah… our Lord and Savior. 

Contrary to what some people seem to think… there was and is no amount of lobbying, campaigning or any other human effort that would allow anyone other than Jesus to fulfill that most sacred position.
There was and is and will only ever be one true Messiah… Jesus the Christ.
And that brings us to the last characteristic of a good leader which is that leaders must learn to see others as valuable to the Lord and know that we are ALL equal in His sight.
Jesus does not look at any of us as lowly peons or minions.  He does not see us as mere servants that are here simply to do His bidding. 
On the contrary.  If we look at John 15, we read:
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
 And as if it were not enough to know that Jesus calls us friends… He lets us know that we can do great works just as He has done. 
Just listen to what He said in John 14:12, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
Jesus calls us His friends.  He says that we will do even greater works than those that He did while He was on earth.
And lest there be any doubt about whether or not we are all equal in the sight of the Lord… the Apostle Paul said it like this in Romans 8 (16-17):
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
 Now I said all of this to say… that if we are going to follow the leader… we need to be sure we are following the best leader there is… and we need to make it our mission… to LEAD THE FOLLOWERS to Him.
That is what the Great Commission is all about that we find in Matthew 28 (19- 20) when Jesus said:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Now, in spite of what others may try to have you believe, there is no greater leader that we can follow than our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.
Jesus set the perfect example for the type of leaders we should all strive to be… even as we go out into the world and do our best to lead other followers to Him. 
And that is really what the Christian life is all about… following where Jesus leads us so we can LEAD THE FOLLOWER to Him.
And if that is your desire this day… then won’t you stand and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship: Where He Leads Me #346