Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way


Timing is everything.  It counts when telling a joke or giving a speech.  It counts when you’re on the top of a cheer leading mount or when you’re on the bottom in the business world.  It especially counts for Christians who believe God is directing them into a place of leadership.  The Bible furnishes us with many examples of the importance of timing.

Moses knew from childhood that he was to be a leader.  His Mother had probably drilled it into him. She had the time to teach him about his heritage and how God miraculously saved his life.  It was evident that God had a place of leadership for him, but Moses’ timing was off!  In the second chapter of Exodus, Moses decides to assert himself as a leader to protect his people, the Hebrews.  The Bible says he looked to the right and to the left.  Perhaps, he should have looked up and asked God if this was the right time to lead.  His attempt at leadership back fired bMoses wound up far away working as a shepherd for the next forty years.  So badly burned was he, from this experience, that when God did come, at the correct time, to ask him to be a leader, all Moses did was argue.  Poor timing, again!

Joseph wasn’t too cool with his timing either.  He was a brash young man who was excited at the thought of being a leader.  God had revealed His calling to Joseph in a dream.  God did not tell Joseph to share this, however, he immediately told anyone who would listen (Genesis 37).  Unfortunately, the only ones who heard it were his family, and his brothers already were jealous of him.  Poor timing!  And to think, he shared the second dream with them, too!  Very poor timing.  Instead of immediate leadership, Joseph found himself in a pit, and then in slavery, followed by a stint in jail.  God used this interval to prepare Joseph’s heart and mind for the place of leadership which God had for him later.  However, it still seems that, in the beginning, Joseph exhibited poor timing when he shared his dreams.

Paul is an interesting study on timing, also.  After his conversion, he immediately began to preach (Acts 9:20).  It seems as though his preaching, and even his presence, was causing nothing but problems for the believers.  Could it be that he was asked to go away and be quiet?  Acts 9:31 indicates that things went much better for the young church without Paul.  Nor do we hear from him again until Acts 11:25 when Barnabas had to go find him and ask hi m to be a leader.  Although this period had beenused by God to prepare Paul for his future ministry, one cannot but wonder if he had been burned, also, in a poor timing attempt to lead.

Most people have to be talked into leading, such as; Gideon (Judges 6), Esther (Esther 4:11), and Jonah (who not only didn’t want the position, but ran from it, too!).  There are those individuals who are natural leaders and it is evident to all.  Peter was such a man.  People naturally followed him.  His timing was not always the best, either.  He cut off the soldiers’ ear in John 18:10, thinking that was the time to assert himself as leader.  Instead, he was rebuked by Jesus.  In John 21:3, Peter was confused, disheartened, and deeply saddened by his denial of Jesus.  He chose to go fishing, and what happened?  Everyone decided to follow him!  It took some doing for Jesus to convince Peter that he was, indeed, called to lead (John 21:15-17).  In Acts 2:14, Peter finally stands up, at the correct time and place, to take his rightful position as a leader.

Although speaking in front of a group is one of the most common fears of man, I have always enjoyed it.  The speech classes in school and the other opportunities I have had have been fun for me.  Currently, every now and then, I speak at women’s luncheons about how I became a Christian.  Although this is very satisfying, occasionally I feel that I would like to speak on other subjects.  Those kinds of invitations have been few and far between.

Recently, I read a column in a newsletter about a woman who decided to market herself as a speaker.  She sent out letters about her qualifications to 100 local churches.  What were the results?  One reply which didn’t bring about a speaking engagement.  What can be learned from this?  Was it a case of poor timing?  Did God have more work to do in her heart before He presented her as a leader?  Although it is important to use every opportunity which God opens for us, it is still necessary to ask ourselves some hard questions about timing before we jump into leadership of any kind.

As for me, I’ve decided to wait.  Only God knows when, if ever, I’ll be ready to be a speaker.  Far better for me to work on deepening my relationship with Jesus Christ.  It’s God’s job to widen the scope of my influence.  When will I know I am ready?  When the calls and invitations start arriving, then I will know that God did the marketing.

Timing is everything.  Get that straight and you will have God’s best, without it you may fall flat.  God sometimes puts desires and visions into our hearts and minds days, months, even years, before those desires and visions come into full bloom.  The in between time is used by God to prepare our hearts and minds before we go ahead.  God spent a lot of time with most of the heroes in the Bible before He sent them forth.  When they did go forth, they were ready and prepared for the task by God, Himself.  Pushing ahead of God can prove disastrous and lagging behind Him, a poor judgment call, also.  Better to be like Davey Crockett, who said, “Be sure you’re right and then go ahead!”  So, go ahead, be willing to get out there and lead…..but, make sure it’s the right time!



 ”In any given situation, a leader will assert himself,” I muttered to myself as I watched the beginnings of a volleyball game.  From my observation point, it wasn’t hard to figure out that the confused group standing in the sand had decided to play a game of volleyball.  What WAS hard to figure out, was where the leader was who had suggested it!  The group seemed about as disorganized as any I had ever seen, and this time it seemed like forever before someone took charge.  Well, of course, I mused to myself, no wonder she took her time….she was short and petite and all the others were mostly tall and muscular!  Size very rarely determines leadership ability.

Not only do leaders sometimes have problems determining when to lead, but sometimes the call has to be made to follow.  After all, there SHOULD be a lot more followers than leaders.  And, there should be leaders who are willing to follow.

“If you haven’t learned to follow, you can’t lead,” Henrietta C. Mears said.  And, maybe, being willing to follow the harder of the two.  Both leaders and followers are servants are servants of the same God.  The challenge is in determining which position God wants you to fill and when.

Recently I attended a newly formed Bible Study.  As the leader laid out the ground rules for the group it was very interesting to watch what enfolded before me.  As each point was given, it was as though she had asked for opinions (although, she really hadn’t) for many came forth.  It seemed the room was full of leaders who were determined to tell everyone how things should really be done.  Being a chameleon myself, and able to take any position (leading, following, getting out of the way) I held my peace as long as I could.  Finally, I said, ” And, let’s add one more item….that we will pray for our leader and support her in her decisions for our group.”  Okay, okay, so it wasn’t very nice, but, as I said, “in any given situation a leader will assert herself.

Where would we be today if no one had followed Moses out of Egypt.  It was a difficult group, that’s evident from the story in Exodus, but, at least, they DID follow.  Grumbling or not.  There had to have been a lot more followers present than leaders when the people of Israel demanded that God give them a king in    1 Samuel, chapter 8.  And, how wonderful for us today, that twelve men were willing to follow Jesus.

Following is VERY important, and just as much of a gift as leadership is.  It isn’t always easy to be a follower, to be supportive of the one in charge, but it is extremely important in getting the job done.  There are several steps which can be taken to ensure you have chosen the right time and place to follow.

1.  Be sure you are following a godly person.  Know your leader as well as you can.  Consider carefully, and prayerfully, any and all differences between you and the leader.  Doctrine?  Personality?  Preferences?  You don’t have to agree with everything, but you DO have to know whether or not the differences are those which you can live with or not.

2.  Believe in the full sovereignty of God.  You may have decided to follow your leader, but unless you believe that God is ultimately in control of EVERYTHING you may find yourself wanting to bail out long before you should.   Or worse, wanting to set the guy straight on the “right” way to do things.  God has not relinquished the throne, He’s still in charge, and He can still be trusted (Romans 8:28-29)

3.  Accept the fact that there are always different ways to accomplish the same task.  As Tillapaugh says in his book, The Church Unleashed, ” ask yourself, is it doctrine or is it preference?”   Doctrine you correct, preference is just preference.

4.  When functioning as a follower, constantly be asking yourself, “what do I need to do to become a better follower?”

Perhaps, in the final analysis, leaders make the best followers.  After all, they usually understand what the leader is trying to do, the importance of cooperation, and the difficulties which the leader may be facing.

After you have considered these points, then throw your whole heart into being the BEST follower you can be.  Whether you lead or follow, remember what God has told us in Colossians 3:23 & 24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”



 ”That’s it, I’m leaving,” and I turned back into our room and started packing my bags.  No, I wasn’t walking out on my husband or kids or parents….I was walking out of a Christian organization.  And, my husband was right next to me…. packing his suitcase, too.

“Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”  We were choosing to get out of the way. “You need to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away…” the popular western song says.  And we were choosing to walk away.

I believe with all my heart that we have become a nation of quitters.  We just quit and give up way too soon in most cases.  So the decision to actually walk out is VERY difficult, it was for us.  Probably, the decision to quit is even MORE difficult than knowing when to lead or follow.  But, even so, in some cases, it is the best and only decision to be made….the only stand which can be taken.  Knowing when to get out of the way is not for the faint hearted.

Paul knew when to get out of the way.  Many times in the book of Acts he went into the Jewish Synagogues to tell about Jesus, only to walk away later because of the unbelief which was there.

In Acts 18:6 he was really strong about it, announcing, “Your blood be on your own heads!  I am clear of my responsibility.  From now on I will go to the Gentiles!”

Our time of learning about getting out of the way came less than a year after my husband’s retirement.  We had heard about a three month Christian school which was for people who were at a change point in their lives.  It did sound wonderful…three whole months to concentrate on God and on what He might want us to do with the rest of our lives.  We knew that we had a few doctrinal disagreements with this particular group, but we naively believed it wouldn’t be that big of an issue.  After all, we were ALL God’s children.

So we moved into our little room for the duration.  We were told to have an open mind and a closed mouth…just let God show you what is important for you….let everything else go.  So, we did.  We set aside the knowledge and teaching we had received from God over the last 25 years….and we listened. We honestly did.  But, day after day, as our minds were fed error, we realized that we knew too much…we couldn’t ignore the false teaching.  We knew the Bible didn’t say that, we knew the verses being used were being incorrectly interpreted, we knew the practices and experiences being taught would not produce healthy, mature Christians.

As the days went by, we thought of ways we could help.  Maybe we could stay and serve by teaching Bible….explain and clarify points which had been taught incorrectly.  Perhaps, we could work within the organization and help others by educating them in truth.  We had even met two leaders who had urged us to do just that.

In Mark 6, Matthew 10, and Luke 9, Jesus sent out His followers to the children of Israel to repent and follow Him.  I really believe that if Israel had received Him at that time His kingdom would have been established, by-passing the church age,  but they rejected Him.  And Jesus said, “if the people will not listen to you, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave as a testimony to them.”  They walked away.

Day after day went by…we tried.  But, by the last week we realized that the teachings were just too far out….and the job just too overwhelming….for us.  We would be swallowed up…our own ministry constantly under suspicion because of the group we would be aligned with…no, for us it just wouldn’t work.  We left a few days shy of completing the course.

Even God Himself knows when enough is enough.  Genesis 6:6 says His “heart was full of pain,” nevertheless, He gathered Noah and his family together and got them out.  He walked away.

Our hearts were full of pain as we left that group.  Pain for those who were being led astray, but we couldn’t stop those who were leading….we could only leave…walk away.

There is a time to lead, there is a time of follow, and there has to be a time to get out of the way.  We will not always be able to wholeheartedly follow someone who is teaching incorrectly.  Paul tells us in 2 Peter 2:1, “…there will be false teachers among you.”

We need to know when we are aligned with the wrong group and we need to know when the task is more than we can tackle.  We need to know when to walk away.




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