I am grateful that someone has had the guts to write and publish the things said in I Am a Follower by Leonard Sweet. When I saw the title and description, I expected that Sweet would do something along the lines of what I did here, but he goes much further. The book is an unrelenting attack on the ways that the leadership culture around us has seeped into (and even taken over in some cases) our thinking about, practice of, and teaching on the gospel of Christ.
I was somewhat surprised by how strongly Sweet makes his case. He doesn't just make the much-needed point that Christians need to realize the distinction between the current leadership culture and the message of the Scriptures, but he says things like these, which will seem rather outrageous to many:
- "I hope to convince you to quit defining yourself as a leader, stop aspiring after leadership, and instead set your sights on being a 'Jesus follower'..."
- "Leadership is an alien template that we have laid on the Bible, and followership is a key not tried in any lock. Why is our culture so keen on exploring a concept that occurs rarely, if at all, in the Bible and has little to do with the categorical imperatives of the Christian faith?"
- "This is the great tragedy of the church in the last fifty years: We have changed Paul's words, 'Follow me as I follow Christ,' to 'Follow me as I lead for Christ.' Over and over we hear, 'What the church needs is more and better leaders,' or 'Training leaders is job one.' Really?... Jesus said, 'Follow me.' We heard, 'Be a leader.'"
- "What the world defines as leadership is not the way God works through his people in the world."
- "We don't need more larger-than-life leaders who conscript others into following their vision. We need more down-to-earth followers who invite others into a life that opens into one day becoming not leaders in their own right but unflappable, outflankable followers of Jesus."
While I would have been satisfied with what I expected (for Sweet to instruct us to stop presenting the development of yourself into a leader as a part of the gospel), he tells us instead that we can throw the leadership framework out the window. He makes a strong case that it is only in learning to follow Jesus that God does his work in the world, and our obsession with leading often gets in the way of that happening.
The book is divided into four main sections, plus a prologue, introduction and epilogue. In the first main section, Sweet goes straight to the heart leadership culture and our addiction to it, describing why Christians no longer need to live in it. In the remaining three sections, he describes followership as the way, the truth, and the life of following Jesus, respectively.
Anyone familiar with Sweet's writing will know his style. Honestly, I have to have a high degree of interest in the topic to get all of the way through one of his books, but when I do, he leaves his point deep within my thinking gives me things to chew on for years. He has done that again in this book.
For all of my life, I've loved being a follower and felt like I should be a leader, but my attempts to do so haven't turned out very well. Now, with Dr. Sweet's permission given in the book, I feel great freedom in saying, I am a follower.
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