We know that progress in the Christian life comes by looking to Jesus (Hebrews 12:1–3). Additionally, God has designed the Christian life so that others lead us in the faith. For instance, a Christian parent should model God’s love and point their child to Christ. A Sunday school teacher or small group leader should provide a mentoring and modeling leadership. Pastors are to provide oversight and live with a growing faith others can follow (Hebrews 13:7).
On at least six occasions, Paul called to others, “Follow me.”
Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.—1 Corinthians 4:16
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.—1 Corinthians 11:1
Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.—Philippians 3:17
And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:—1 Thessalonians 1:6
For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;—2 Thessalonians 3:7
Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.—2 Thessalonians 3:9
Those who say, “Never follow people; only follow Jesus” are overlooking an important biblical truth. We do follow people as long as they lead us to Jesus.
The key, however, in following men who lead us to Christ is that we do not find our identity in leaders or in the movements of men.
If you have fallen into the trap of finding your identity in a leader or a movement, the first step out is repentance—not blame.
Too often, when someone recognizes that they did fall into this trap, they immediately blame a leader or past environment.
The truth is that this issue is a struggle for all of us. Finding your identity in a leader, your alma mater, or church is not an uncommon problem. It is true that there are churches that expect undue followership in every area. But it is also true that we ourselves have a tendency to seek from others the identity that Christ wants us to find in Him.
Leaders who miss this truth find themselves in a disappointing pendulum swing. It works like this: a young leader looks to men instead of to Christ—not for leadership, but for acceptance and validation. For a while, he receives it, but over time, he finds it is hollow. (No human leader can provide the acceptance the human heart needs.) Then, with a heart that has become somewhat jaded toward his heritage or personalities who disappointed him, he swings the pendulum the opposite direction and gives up on the idea of following godly leaders altogether. You might hear him say something like, “Don’t follow men; only follow Jesus.”
Some who see their heritage in a negative light could, instead of becoming angry, consider repenting of the desire for acceptance outside of Christ that crept into their heart.
I know this happened in my life in my 20s and 30s. God had to lead me through a series of trials, which I wrote about in Guided by Grace, to bring me to the end of myself. I had to repent of looking to men more than I should. I endeavor to seek daily what direction is most pleasing to Jesus.
However, leaders who realize the emptiness of the self-journey and blame others for their own idolatry will come to a place of resentment that only leads to discouragement. They may overcorrect in their responses and find themselves, if not in another faith tradition, at least much farther away from their earlier positions of doctrine and practice. Sometimes these folks quit serving the Lord altogether.
This is not an exaggeration. It is a reality I have seen repeatedly.
However, a leader who instead recognizes idolatry for what it is and repents doesn’t resent previous leaders or experiences; he realigns his own identity to enjoying the acceptance he already has in Christ. “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6).
Specifically, he has the opportunity to continue following others who point him to Christ and to a continued walk with Him…while finding himself complete in Jesus alone.
As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him…—Colossians 2:6–10