Commentary: 'Followship' is the new leadership


It seems that everywhere I turn these days for information and inspiration, the emphasis is on leadership. Books on leadership make up a sizable portion of the Christian non-fiction market. Blogs, podcasts and seminars on the subject abound. A recent Facebook post screams: "The church is desperate for good leaders.” No doubt that's true; yet I submit to you that the church stands in greater need of good followers.

I figured I was on to something when recently coming across this quote from Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy: “To excel at leadership you must first master followership.” Cathy’s long-time associate and president of the company Jimmy Collins turned what he learned into a recent book titled, Creative Followership. With that in mind, I believe that "followship" must take precedence over leadership if the church expects to maximize its influence and growth. Here are five reasons why.

Jesus emphasized following far more than leading.

Calling His first disciples, He said, "Come follow Me" (Matthew 4:19). Later, Jesus proclaimed, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matthew 16:24). The disciples spent three years following before assuming leadership positions.

Too many people are in positions of leadership who don't belong there.

Factors such as personality, likeability and notoriety often outweigh obedience, dedication, and faithfulness when it comes to choosing leaders. Desperate to fill positions, churches choose deacons and form committees with members who attend services sporadically and are often uninformed about the makeup and ministry of the congregation.

Tightening budgets mean volunteer followers will fill the void created by fewer paid leaders.

Unless the trend changes, giving to churches will continue to decrease. Paid full-time positions will shift to part-time as other part-time staff jobs disappear. Actually, this problem creates great opportunity, as 21st-century American congregations begin to look more and more like the church of the First Century (which is actually what most churches across the globe look like, especially in Third World countries).

Followship facilitates submission and humility while leadership can lead to arrogance and self-importance.

I’ve seen too many dedicated believers become prideful once they take on key positions in the church. John the Baptist serves as an ideal role model to safeguard against this. He could have become full of himself due to his success, and resistant when Jesus arrived on the scene. After all, he had baptized people and built up a huge following in the process. Instead, he described Jesus as one whose sandals he was not worthy to untie (John 1:27). At a pivotal moment when he could have built his own kingdom, he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Followship means building the Kingdom of God rather than our own.

Gen Zers and Gen Alphas expect a different model.

We boomers and those beyond are more apt to respond to what we hear, whereas most of those younger want to see the gospel in action. They’re more interested in what the church does beyond its walls rather than within. Followship fits this paradigm much better.

The story is told of a young man who entered the office of John D. Rockefeller, looking for a job. Mr. Rockefeller inquired, "Young man, are you a leader?" The applicant, a simple, honest sort of fellow replied after a moment of hesitation, "I can't really say, but I can tell you this: I'm a good follower." Rockefeller grinned, saying, "I've got a raft of leaders out there already. I sure can use one good follower. You're hired." Aspirations for leadership are great, as long as we first seek to become faithful followers of Christ. Together, we can eagerly anticipate the exciting plans and opportunities He has for us.


Todd Gaddis served 30 years as full-time senior pastor and is currently interim pastor at First Baptist Church in Statham.