The Great Leadership Paradox

When you think about the qualities of a leader, what characteristics come to mind? Someone who is courageous? Strong? An encourager? What about . . . a follower?

When I became a worship leader at my home church, my understanding of leadership was minimal. Leading worship at Sunday services, let alone planning them, produced stress in me because of the pressure I felt to be a good leader. I wanted people to admire me as a confident, steadfast leader, but with that as my focus, my team suffered.

My striving led me to stumble on a piece of wisdom that reversed my thinking: “Stop trying to be a worship leader and be a lead-worshiper.”

Instead of trying to be the best leader or impress people, I needed to shift my gaze vertically to the One who deserves the worship. How could I lead a time of worship if my focus was on me? Before I could expect to lead people well, the Lord convicted me that I needed to first follow Him. 

Jesus did not call people to become leaders. He called followers. The desire to be a better leader is not inherently bad, and godly leadership in a variety of styles is needed everywhere. All sorts of resources exist to help us become better leaders—podcasts, books, conferences, and more; however, when we set out to be leaders without first being followers of Jesus, our ministry lacks effectiveness.

Three Ways Following Jesus Equips You to be a Better Leader

1. Following Jesus leads to Truth.

Your beliefs affect the way you lead. What you are rooted in personally will overflow publicly. Because we are fed lies daily, seeking Truth is critical to avoid being deceived. God has given us His Word as a method of defense. It is full of wisdom and Truth that fights off the darkest of evils. We have this sword at our fingertips—do we use it?

God’s Word is not only true, but profitable (2 Tim. 3:16–17). It’s profitable for your entire life and for your leadership. In the Old Testament, God appointed Joshua to lead the Israelites. The Lord spoke to Joshua, saying, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Josh. 1:8).

It is not enough to simply read the Bible like any other book, placing it back on the shelf after one read. God told Joshua to meditate—to reflect—on His Word. Likewise, we need to read it. To chew on it. To memorize it, that it may overflow from our words and actions. Not out of obligation, but delight (Ps. 1:2). 

We get to study and interact with the living Word of God that brings freedom and joy. What a delight indeed! Take a moment to consider this: is the Bible my baseline of truth and what I filter all of life through?

2. Following Jesus leads to humility.

Jesus was the most humble servant and at the same time the greatest leader. 

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5–8)

Though we are sinners and can never be perfect like Jesus, we are called to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1). Paul’s life was changed by the gospel. He considered himself the worst of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), yet he exhibited a life of godly leadership, encouraging us to follow him as he follows Christ: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

We often associate leading with being in charge or having control. Rather, Jesus tells us about a different way to live: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:24–25).What if instead of fighting for control over the event plans, insisting on the next Bible study, or emphasizing the leadership hierarchy, we surrender our pride? In whatever leadership capacity the Lord has placed you, let your followership to Him be evident in your leadership of others. 

The way Jesus led was not a common mindset. He humbled Himself before others. He even washed their feet! “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14–15). 

Instead of striving for great leadership, let’s strive to follow Jesus’ example and fight our selfish desires. Give to those who are in need. Look for ways to serve our community. Walk in a spirit of humility. Love as He loved us—unconditionally. If the King of the Universe, the greatest leader of all time, reached down to us and demonstrated true servanthood, how much more are we to serve those around us? 

3. Following Jesus leads to fruitfulness.

Something I learned in my days of being a lead-worshiper was that while it is good to make a plan, leaving room for Jesus to work through the Holy Spirit is imperative. Asking the Holy Spirit to lead and direct us is all part of following Jesus. A college professor of mine would open every class with this prayer: “May we tap into Your Holy Spirit today.”

We cannot lead well without following the Holy Spirit’s leading on a constant basis. 

  • He teaches us and reminds us of the good news of the gospel, allowing us to express His Truth and share it with others: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
  • He shows us the way to live: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).
  • He helps us in our shortcomings: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).

Good leaders bear fruit. As we follow the way of the Holy Spirit, He produces and cultivates fruit in us that is beneficial to how we live and lead. Imagine if we exemplified each of these characteristics in our leadership: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22­­–23). This is the same Jesus-embodied fruit that drew others to Him. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to illustrate these qualities in our own lives so that we may encourage and equip others well, especially in women’s ministry.

The Mystery

It’s a great paradox, but it’s true: the best leaders are the best followers.When your priority as a women’s ministry leader or in any leadership position is to first be a follower of Jesus, your leadership style will follow suit. What if you were known, not for your leadership qualities, but for the way you follow Jesus? May we pursue the way of Jesus and allow Him to direct the way we lead.

To read about some life-giving leadership qualities, check out this post!

About the Author

Micayla Brickner

Micayla Brickner serves on staff with Revive Our Hearts and loves encouraging others with the truth and wonder of the gospel. She is a big fan of chasing sunrises, sharing conversations over coffee, and finding joy in everyday moments. Micayla and her husband, Adam, live in the Midwest with their son.