Four12 article image for 'How Not To Follow' about learning to follow leaders well

How Not to Follow

Honouring and following our godly, spiritual leaders is God’s way. But when following leaders in our churches, it’s possible to fall into immature extremes. I want to look at 1 Corinthians 1, where we learn two important lessons on how not to follow leaders.

1) Too High a View of Leaders

Because of the immature and carnal attitudes of some, the Corinthians had divided into camps or cliques that began to obsess over and idolise these godly men. Paul writes, ‘For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarrelling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”’ (1 Corinthians 1v11) So we see that they squabbled over who was the better leader: Paul or Apollos or Cephas. Later on, we will look at the “I follow Christ” group.

So is Paul saying here that we shouldn’t follow leaders?

Well, later he directs the believers to ‘Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ’ (1 Cor 11:1 NIV) and the fact that he writes the letter to them, encouraging and commanding them, means he expected them to listen to him. Paul didn’t have an issue with strong leadership. Instead, he takes issue with the way they elevate and idolise leaders by putting them in the place of which only Christ is worthy. Paul has to bring them back to Jesus and asked them pointedly, ‘“Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptised in the name of Paul?’ (1 Corinthians 1:13)

Often, we are more concerned about what an elder or pastor thinks of us, rather than what God thinks of us.

The carnal human heart wants to idolise someone or something. We too easily put our hope in man and think a spiritual (or political) leader holds the key to our calling and destiny. Often, we are more concerned about what an elder or pastor thinks of us, rather than what God thinks of us. I’ve been guilty of this.

Even Great Saints Go Astray

A good follower doesn’t put a leader on a pedestal and expect impossible standards from them. Paul drives the point home: ‘What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed… So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.’ (1 Corinthians 3:5-6). It is God who holds the key to your growth, not a leader.

The pedestal belongs to Jesus. In a wonderful twist, the Lord of all stepped off it to become a servant leader

We must remember that the godliest and most virtuous of men have shortcomings, and even great saints go astray. I love how David Pawson writes so honestly in his memoirs: ‘As I have bared my soul (and my body) in these pages, I have battled with the fear of disappointing and disillusioning readers who have looked up to me. As a friend of mine used to say: ‘When people get to know me, all awe and wonder rapidly disappear.”1

Ironically, it is these types of leaders we admire the most.

So the first way we do not follow leaders is by having too high a view of them. The pedestal belongs to Jesus. In a wonderful twist, the Lord of all stepped off it to become a servant leader and shed His blood to forgive our sins.

2) Too Low a View of Leaders

The second attitude we must avoid is illustrated by the “I follow Christ” party. While others boasted of following Paul or Apollos, they boasted of only following the Lord Jesus.

This Jesus camp saw the carnality of the others and swung to the other extreme – we only follow Jesus! They moved from elevating leaders to disregarding leaders. The Jesus-only group are also mentioned as those who quarrelled and caused division, so we know their attitude was also wrong.

Spiritual maturity means a healthy honouring of leaders… even if the leader is much younger than you.

In pastoring over the years, I have seen this attitude in saints – and in myself at times! Some believe they don’t need leaders and form ‘organic churches’, often in homes without any leadership structure. But for many others, they join our churches and are outwardly agreeable and committed, yet remain inwardly skeptical and distrusting. Because of past hurt or abuse by bad leadership, or an independent or over-sensitive heart, these folk keep their physical or emotional distance by choosing not to trust a leader again.

However, the Lord will give great grace to those who choose to think the best and trust their leaders, which is actually a sign of faith towards God and of obedience to His word.

Spiritual maturity means a healthy honouring of leaders. It takes spiritual maturity to recognise spiritual authority, even if the leader is much younger than you.

Following Leaders Well

We must avoid wrecking-ball attitudes towards spiritual leaders – of idolising them and then criticising them; of venerating them and then degrading them; of elevating them and then disregarding them.

I am walking in my spiritual inheritance and calling today because I chose years ago to submit wholeheartedly under the authority of Christ-like and gifted men (Hebrews 13:7;17). I needed these leaders around me to help equip and stretch me then. I need them still today.

Michael serves on the eldership team in Joshua Generation Church and is the Dean of Timothy Ministry Training. He is married to Adrienne, and they have three children. Michael loves to teach, write, train up future leaders and play tennis. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram for more.

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Authority and submission are both given, not taken, in God's kingdom.
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Raising Leaders
Shepherds
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Enlightenment
Building Deep
Prostitution
Godly Team
Breaking Bread
Festivals
Idolatry
Prayer and Fasting
Theology
Foundations
Heaven
Fellowship of Believers
Leading Church
Diversity
Church Accountability
Rebellion
Witchcraft
Baby Christian
Kassie du Plessis
Protector
Tithing
Envy
Quiet Times
Retaliation
Lessons
Spreading The Word
Cheating
Training Teenagers
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Leading
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Self-Righteousness
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Mothering
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Testing
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Conversion
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Fruit of the Spirit
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Messiah
Mind Idolatry
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Honouring God
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Kindness
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Water Baptism
Servant Heart
Living for Jesus
Covenantal Relationships
Division
Accusation
Flesh
Sexual Sin
Scripture
Customs
Provider
Living for God
Mothers
Female Leaders
Calling
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Easter
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Self-Control
Word of Knowledge
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Self-Pity
Courting
Forgiving
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Freedom
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Gifts of the Spirit
Get Baptised
Works and Faith
Morals
Gift of Wisdom
Females in Leadership
Ordaining
Defence
Commitment
Hearing God
Consequences
Receive Forgiveness
Leadership Training
Living Hope
Zimbabwe
Start a Church
Prophet
New Believers
Being Generous
Study Scripture
Jobs
Entitlement
Misotheists
New Testament Prophet
Work Values
Family
Devotion
Goodness
Men
Serving
Word of Wisdom
Brokenness
Sickness
Courtship
Friendship
Church Plant
Hope
Trusting
Gifts
Baptized
Fasting
Overcomer
Words of Wisdom
Leadership
Encounter
Repenting
Challenges
Listening
Caring for Children
Four12 Partners
Training Leaders
St Johns
Relief Fund
Building Church
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Recalibration
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Taiwan Churches
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New Testament Church
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Covenantal Love
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resilience
steadfastness
uncompromising
Four12 Conference
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Healing and Miracles
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Youth
Death
Tribulations
Partner
Overcoming
Humbleness
Immorality
Prophets
Fornication
Planting A Church
Christian Leaders
Debt
The Word
Discipline
Condemnation
Bear Fruit
Complacent
Recalibrating
Teaching Kids
Partners Relief Fund
Apostolic Partnering
Netherlands
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Church Partnering
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Pastors Training
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Existence of God
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Deception
Hell
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Word of God
Ordained
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Breakthrough
Defending My Faith
Covenant
Teenagers
Four12 Churches
Training Pastors
Needy
Rastafarian
Translations of the Bible
Preaching
Authentic Community
Relationship with God
Faith and Works
New Christian
Creation
Reading
Worldviews
God's Love
Apostolic
Faith
Holy Spirit
Pastoring
Suffering
Brotherly Love
Eternity
Community
Wives
Bishops
Shepherd
New Believer
Greed
Immaturity
Raising Kids
Parenting
Poor
Bible
Ordinance
Unforgiveness
Refreshing
Defending The Gospel
Matrimony
Teenage Years
Four12 Church
Youth Leaders
Ireland
Redemption
Godly Leadership
Disciple
Church Discipline
Church Health
False Teachers
Fatherly Love
Tongues
Goats
Fear God
Godly Love
Body of Christ
Authority
Faithfulness
Holy Spirit Baptism
Patience
Teaching
Character of a Deacon
Grief
Compromise
Blueprint
Character
Addiction
Pornography
Signs
Christening
Starting A Church
Parents
Poverty
Study the Word
Stewarding
Punishment
Being Hospitable
Sharing The Gospel
Restoration
Training Kids
Malawi
Leading Youth
Surrender
Testimonies
Christ
Delegating
Servant
Social Gospel
Character of God
Worth
Gift of Tongues
Godly Elders
Big Churches
Salvations
Sacrificial Love
Baptism
Fear of God
Hospitality
Peace
The Bible
Church Leaders
Hardship
Fellowship
Holy Living
Character of an Elder
Adultery
Rebelling
Signs and Wonders
Baptise
Infant Baptism
Power
Possessions
Study the Bible
Steward
Hatred
Hospitable
Spreading The Gospel
Relationships
Training Children
Health
Youth Training
Counting the Cost
Healing Equip
books
Raising Leaders
Shepherds
Contentment
God's Character
Affirmation
Judaism
Enlightenment
Building Deep
Prostitution
Godly Team
Breaking Bread
Festivals
Idolatry
Prayer and Fasting
Theology
Foundations
Heaven
Fellowship of Believers
Leading Church
Diversity
Church Accountability
Rebellion
Witchcraft
Baby Christian
Kassie du Plessis
Protector
Tithing
Envy
Quiet Times
Retaliation
Lessons
Spreading The Word
Cheating
Training Teenagers
Cancer
Youth Ministry
Following the Call
Four12 Equip
Eldership Training
Community Leading
Pastors
Rest
Sacrificial Serving
Sonship
Jewish
Reason
Selling Out
Prostitutes
honour
favour
Children
Forgiveness
Income
Prophetic
Tithes
Helper
Illness
Principles
Living for Christ
Government
Discipling
Sancti
Words of Knowledge
Babies
Prayer
Sexual Purity
Christmas
Jealousy
Meditation
Promises
Loss
The Cross
Persecution
Unfaithfulness
Sacrifice
Brazil
Prophetic Training
Healing Conference
Identity
Small Group
Biblical Pattern
Systematic Theology
False Gospel
Testimony Apostolic
Jews
Reasoning
Watering Down
Reaching Out
Christian Character
Generosity
Jesus
Purity
Trust
Helps
Mortality
Christian Family Values
Lukewarm
Home Group Leaders
Exhort
Sanctification
Dominionism
Beliefs
Praying
Celibacy
Fathers
Comparison
Training
Bible Study
Tests
Cross
Fear of Man
Find Forgiveness
Sacrificial Service
Brazil Churches
Prophetic Equip
Voice of God
Team
Home Group
Change
Servant Leadership
Apostolic Leaders
Authentic
Religions
Intellectual Pride
Ambition
Fruitfulness
God's Favour
Christian Living
Gentleness
Joy
Repentance
Unity
Loving People
Infirmity
Family Values
Righteousness
Leading
Exhortation
Self-Righteousness
Kingdom of God
Commands
Provision
Sex Before Marriage
Mothering
Women in Leadership
Halloween
Honesty
Testing
Crucifixion
Conversion
Guilt
Sacrificial Giving
Church Merger
Equipping
Saints
Leadership Team
Priesthood
Jehovah's Witnesses
Women In Ministry
Fruit of the Spirit
Womens Ministry
Messiah
Mind Idolatry
Megachurch
Biblical Paradox
Honouring God
Church Leadership
Church Life
Giving
Kindness
Revival
Water Baptism
Servant Heart
Living for Jesus
Covenantal Relationships
Division
Accusation
Flesh
Sexual Sin
Scripture
Customs
Provider
Living for God
Mothers
Female Leaders
Calling
Christian Fellowship
Backsliding
Easter
Witnessing
Infidelity
Biblical Culture
Merging Churches
Prophetic Equipping
Gift of Prophecy
Apostle
Priesthood of All Believers
Finance
Servanthood
Biblical Church
Praise
Atheism
Church History
Living the Gospel
Paradoxes in the Bible
Honouring People
Church Planting
Community Leaders
God the Father
Leaders
Salvation
Women
Afterlife
Protection
Dating
Decisions
Eldership
Fleshly Desires
Shame
Truth
Traditions
Works
Morality
Wisdom
Women Leaders
Ordaining Elders
Christian Community
Backslidden
Resurrection
Testimony
Masturbation
Communal Culture
Partnering Churches
Prophesy
New Churches
Five Fold Gift
Trinity
Tithe
Relationship
Employment
Thanksgiving
Atheists
Old Testament Prophet
Ambassadors
Truth in Tension
contradictions
Treasure Hunting
treasure
Deacons
Culture
Good News
Maturity
Self-Control
Word of Knowledge
Bitterness
Self-Pity
Courting
Forgiving
Anger
Freedom
Submission
Gifts of the Spirit
Get Baptised
Works and Faith
Morals
Gift of Wisdom
Females in Leadership
Ordaining
Defence
Commitment
Hearing God
Consequences
Receive Forgiveness
Leadership Training
Living Hope
Zimbabwe
Start a Church
Prophet
New Believers
Being Generous
Study Scripture
Jobs
Entitlement
Misotheists
New Testament Prophet
Work Values
Family
Devotion
Goodness
Men
Serving
Word of Wisdom
Brokenness
Sickness
Courtship
Friendship
Church Plant
Hope
Trusting
Gifts
Baptized
Fasting
Overcomer
Words of Wisdom
Leadership
Encounter
Repenting
Challenges
Listening
Caring for Children
Four12 Partners
Training Leaders
St Johns
Relief Fund
Building Church
Evangelist
Dreams
Communion
Being Accountable
Occupation
Rejection
Misotheism
The Case for Christ
Kingdom Priorities
Biblical Contradictions
Movement

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