In his compelling book I am a Follower, Leonard Sweet launches straight into his main thesis: we have believed we are in a leadership crisis, and that the church needs more leaders. Wrong, says Sweet. It’s never been about leading. The first words Jesus says to his disciples are ‘Follow Me’.
Sweet points out the negative associations we’ve placed on being a follower, which is “a second class term at best”. Anyone can be a follower, after all. Leadership is where it’s at, right?
The cry for leadership is deafening among our social disintegration, our moral disorientation. We have come to believe that we have a leadership crisis while all along we have been in a drought of discipleship. The Jesus paradox is that only Christians lead by following.
Leonard Sweet, I am a Follower
I found the first chapters of this book stomach churningly good, like gulping air – real genuine air instead of our own manufactured varieties. Sweet calls us away from ‘leadership models’ and instead focuses our attention on followership, Christ is our leader. We can only ever be ‘first followers’ – those who in following Christ create a wake behind them where others can join in – like the video of the man dancing on a hillside that Sweet cites at the beginning of his book. We need first followers. But we need to get away from our ideas of leadership that revolve around our titles and positions. We need to go to followership conferences, not leadership conferences.
He’s not saying that we ditch the idea of leadership altogether, but that we re-define it and place it firmly in the kingdom style, where “first followers are always trying to get out of the way and make others first followers of Jesus as well”. We need to leave behind our flesh-based understanding of leadership, let go of our precious titles, and focus on the following.
After this blast through our cultural immersion, Sweet takes us through three sections: the way, the truth and the life. Because, as he says,
…to follow Jesus is a way, a belonging. To follow Jesus is a truth, a believing. To follow Jesus is a life, a behaving. It is to have a mission, to be in relationship, to live an incarnate, abundant life.
These following sections reflect Sweet’s poetic style of writing and the depth of his thinking. I was, I confess, still reeling from the first section as I read, so I will probably have to re-read it in order to really appreciate the latter parts. But throughout the book Sweet emphasises the relational, not the hierarchical.
In a world – and a church – where there is so much debate over who gets to be a ‘leader’, it feels like something searing across all our hierarchies and positioning, calling us to get on with the call.
The call to follow.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review.