To most any observer, there are at least some similarities between leadership and discipleship. For example, the real focus of discipleship is on the person who is being discipled, as is the real focus of leadership. It is a moot point to have a superb leader if no one is following. If a leader points the way through a forest and there is no one to hear his directions, then the “leading” might as well have not happened at all. In fact, it didn’t!
There are other similarities. Because it’s God’s aim (Romans 12:2), the goal of a disciple-coach is transformation. Whenever we are leading, our goal is the wellbeing of the follower as their life meshes with the will of God.
It is sobering for me to entertain the idea of leading a congregation because I am not endeavoring to bring about any self-empowerment; rather, I am entering into the act of caring for followers. This keeps me from using coercion at all. All power belongs to God when it comes to either discipleship or Christian leadership.
Here is another similarity: When I become a disciple-maker, ultimately I will be replaced. Hopefully some of those I coach in following Christ will carry on the gospel beyond my years. Some of those I have coached will take my place in the very endeavors I treasure most. After all, discipleship has really happened effectively when the person I am coaching outdistances me and I must step aside.
The same is true for leadership. If I have been effective, I can focus my attention elsewhere and celebrate the wins of those who have learned to take the reins themselves. This is delegation; but it is also discipleship.
According to Joseph Rost in “Leadership for the Twenty-First Century,” leadership “is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes.” Influence is central to both leadership and discipleship. Leading is good when the follower knows it’s his own idea to follow in the direction the leader is leading. The purpose is mutual as a result of good leadership. Discipleship is like that too. The leader has won them over when they know it is no longer the leader’s idea. Leadership is discipleship!
W. Stephen Williams is pastor of Simpson Missionary Baptist Church and an IBSA zone consultant in southern Illinois.