Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Lead, Follow, Or Get Out Of The Way!

Written by: on November 14, 2014

Lead, Follow or get Out of the Way!

“If no one’s following, you’re just out for a stroll.”

“Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

“Leaders are readers.”

“Leaders inspire.”

“Lead, follow, or get out of the way!” (Seen on a bumper sticker…)

These are just a few of the dozens of leadership platitudes circulated in recent years.  Leadership gets a lot of press nowadays.  This hasn’t always been the case.  The very idea of “Leadership” as a separate discipline is a recent innovation within the academy.1  During the 1990’s, the broad field of “Leadership Studies” began to develop as an academic discipline alongside classical management theory.  Little by little, it has supplanted management theory as the idea “du’ jour.”  Highly effective leaders are elevated to iconic status while capable managers/administrators are oftentimes treated with disdain and contempt.  Why?  Probably because to a capable manager/administrator, it seems that the process is more important than the people.  So the people turn their ire toward the manager.  Never mind that the manager is simply maintaining the culture that has been created by the leader.  The leader generally stays safely out of the line of fire while the manager/administrator takes the darts.

Management theory developed in the era of industrialization when the primary emphasis was on the scientific development of better technologies and systems to build products, “in an era defined by machines and inward-focused machinelike business organizations.”2  People were largely viewed as commodities, easily replaced.  If one should break, another could simply be inserted to take its place in the machine.  “The classical theorist gave little attention to the human aspects of the organization… The whole thrust of classical management theory and its modern application is to suggest that organizations can or should be rational systems that operate in as efficient manner as possible. This is easier said than done, because we are dealing with people, not inanimate cogs and wheels.”3  Human commodities…  Hmm…

So, who is a leader beholden to?  To whom is she accountable?  Is there any inherent obligation to strive to make the organization she leads a place where humans can flourish?  Or do the organization’s goals and purposes carry the day?  If the former, then leadership is gift from God, instituted to express divine intent among the pinnacle creation.  If the latter, then people really are interchangeable, proverbial cogs in proverbial wheels.  It seems to me that God is about the business of easing suffering and elevating the oppressed.  If this is the case, then it must follow that the leader’s task is to be out front in this pursuit, to lead people and organizations toward this end goal!  For Christian leaders in all arenas (business, corporate, church, non-profit, community) the ultimate goal of extending the Kingdom of God here on the Earth must remain the preeminent pursuit, trumping everything else.




1.  Note, the very existence of graduate programs in leadership, such as the DMinLGP, is a relatively recent phenomenon.

2. Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana, eds., Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice: an Hbs Centennial Colloquium On Advancing Leadership. (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2010), 573.

3.  Morgan, G. Images of Organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. 1998. 3.

About the Author

Jon Spellman

Jon is a husband, father, coach, author, missional-thinker, and most of all, a follower of Jesus.

16 responses to “Lead, Follow, Or Get Out Of The Way!”

  1. Jon, what your reflection hits at for me is something like an ontological question. Leadership at its core is a spiritual challenge. We were able to “forget” this for a time in modernity for some cultural reasons that are now becoming history. And sadly, even the church largely forgot this reality! It’s striking to me that many of the prominent voices that have called us to remember are not Jesus followers. But no one can lead in times like these without a solid spiritual footing; there is too much pain, uncertainty, anger and fear out there — an emotional climate that attends rapid change and institutional collapse.

    • Jon spellman says:

      Len, I’m trying to remember in all things that I am first a child of God and follower of Jesus. I am these things before a leader, coach, director, whatever… This is ENTIRELY a spiritual pursuit!


  2. Nick Martineau says:

    Jon & Len,

    Thanks for this post. Being reminded of humanity is so mportat as a leader yet we too often get busy and forget about the pain and suffering of this world. Jon I really apprecaite your last sentence, “For Christian leaders in all arenas (business, corporate, church, non-profit, community) the ultimate goal of extending the Kingdom of God here on the Earth must remain the preeminent pursuit, trumping everything else.”

    Everything else is secondary.

  3. Brian Yost says:

    Reading through your catchphrases about leadership brought back some memories. These are phases that I have heard taunted both inside and outside of the church. When I hear them inside the church, I want to cringe. Not that they are all wrong, but because slogans and models often take the place of leading out of a personal relationship with God. Rather than build relationships and hearing from God, we do leadership in 3 easy steps, with guaranteed results. It’s all about context; when we lead out of a love for God and others, leadership theories and techniques become a wonderful tools. When we do not lead out of love, these same tools can become harmful weapons.

  4. Mary Pandiani says:

    Jon – I’m curious as to what your definition of a good leader would be. What leadership qualities do you notice in yourself as valuable in pursuit of God’s Kingdom? From my own observation, I have a feeling you’re quite effective as a leader, so I’m wondering what you connected to about leadership theory and practice?
    By the way, can I just say I always appreciate your words?! You have a gift of writing. I hope you continue to hone that skill as you step into a new season.

    • Jon spellman says:

      Mary, that is a question that, while it probably shouldn’t be, is really hard for me to pin down. In my attempt to avoid platitudes, I probably have a tendency to overthink these kinds of things. I think good leaders will have a few characteristics, tendencies really, in common with each other. Situational awareness, adaptability (all things to all people…), an ability to broker win-wins where conflict seems insurmountable, helps others become significant without needing credit…

      These are a few hallmarks of “good” leaders I think…

      Now, whether or not I’m effective at these things remains to be seen really. I know I try to be better at them, but I feel that a leader isn’t truly great until these things (and a few others) have become instinctive, intuitive…

      Thanks for the kind words about my writing. I thi

      • Jon spellman says:

        Think I have become a good writer because sometimes I think I don’t speak really well… When I write, I can deliberate and refine to get the right words to say what I’m really feeling. As a leader, I tend to be a push over in person so when I’m face to face, I don’t always hold people accountable to good behavior so I have developed writing as a way to a little stronger from a safe distance, maybe?


  5. Dave Young says:


    You post is causing me to think about how leaders can easily objectify people. Not the obvious evil, like we saw in SA, where people of color become less human and therefore your treatment of them as ‘cogs in the wheel’ or tred on the tire, is completely acceptable.

    It’s actually causing me to think about how I’m objectifying people for the purposes of getting stuff done at church. This month we’re briefly discussing church governance, the not so subtle push is ‘say yes’ when asked to be an elder, deacon, or trustee. We need you so the wheels of the church can keep rolling. Ugh, where is the balance. Always Jesus. He led without using people. Lord help us.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Dave, great observations. As a consultant, I’ve been able to observe both good and bad leadership…and the impact within organizations. In some organizations, people are treated like resources. I hate it when they refer to people as “FTE’s”. You called out that we often “objectify people for the purpose of getting stuff done at church.” I think our culture has a tendency to “use” others to achieve goals. A good leader will step back and recognize that taking advantage of people in order to achieve goals is wrong. Instead, they collaborate with people to achieve goals. These are two very different approaches.

  6. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Jon, Good observation on the cliche leadership culture that has emerged over the 10 years or so. It made me think of the “church sign theology” our culture. It is amazing how our culture cheapens so many good things through our consumer-driven, on-demand, I want it when I want it and as much of it as I want mentality and delivery systems. If we see this trend in leadership and theology, I wonder if those practicing law, psychology, sociology, etc . . would say the same thing is happening in their fields. I wonder what that looks like in other such fields???

    • Jon Spellman says:

      I think it is observed in other disciplines but the difference is, we (as theologians) have a deeper moral stake in this whole thing. A sociologist can look on at trends from the outside and study them from a safe distance with a certain degree of moral passivity. We don’t have that luxury because of our core beliefs being anchored in the scriptures. It’s different for us.

      A lawyer, may also see the same things but simply use the information craft a new approach to benefitting and profiting…

      Ours is a different mandate isn’t it?

      • Dawnel Volzke says:

        You ask, “Ours is a different mandate isn’t it?” I will answer that with a question…isn’t this a mandate for all Christians, no matter the profession? All Christians have a moral compass that needs to point north to Christ.

        Being a church leader means that one should be specifically skilled and called to lead within the church. Some Christians are called into leadership roles within other industries, such as lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc. I don’t believe that their mandate from Christ is any different, rather they are to fulfill their role as He calls. In other words, there are good and bad leaders in any industry. As part of our responsibility to Christ, we don’t treat others as a commodity.

        This being said, I believe may times the church has put the wrong people, in the wrong seats, on the wrong bus. Then, once the problem is realized there is a hesitancy to correct it. Too often, the church puts unskilled people into leadership positions because they are charismatic, a good speaker, motivational, etc. On the other hand, most corporations won’t think twice about getting rid of a bad leader that is toxic to the organization. From what I have seen, these are the organizations that thrive and have high employee morale. They don’t fire someone in a negative way, yet they recognize that sometimes they must do some weeding so that the flowers can grow. This being said, every leader should have a deep moral stake…or they really aren’t a leader.

  7. Travis Biglow says:

    We must lead! I feel the same way about this its just that some people are in the place of leadership and they are nothing but clogs in the sink. They have mastered religion and denominational protocol and they are not moving out the way for real leadership. And don’t have a vision. That will disqualify you immediately from leadership in some circles. But I thank the Lord that he puts up and sets down. This is usually for something important. I remember my resignation to just work at a church and help the pastor to build it. I was so continent with that because my leadership was relegated to the education department but i did not have to lead the church. I liked being behind the scene. But God wont let you hide if he wants you to lead. I was not reluctant to lead but i felt comfortable where I was. I am enjoying leading as a pastor and chaplain. I really have a lot more on my plate than i had thought but I thank God for his grace that blesses us to do what we do! By All Means Lead!

  8. Jon Spellman says:

    And by any means necessary!

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