Follow the Leader

by Envoy Pat Wood (R)

I love playing games, mainly classic board games and interactive games.

One of the games I loved as a child was Follow the Leader. I believe it’s a universal favorite among children, transcending generations and time.

When the teacher announced, “Let’s play Follow the Leader!” everyone would frantically raise their hands, asking, “Can I be the leader?”

The true challenge was perhaps not the game itself but the fierce competition to be the leader. The disappointment and frustration of not being chosen led to vocal outbursts and even meltdowns.

One day, I encountered a group of children playing Follow the Leader through an obstacle course. I watched as the first person chosen to lead the group shouted, “Hey guys, follow me!” He barreled through with no regard for the ones who followed. Several children who struggled gave up in frustration, but the leader was exuberant about his successful completion of the course.

Next up to lead the group was a little girl. There was one obstacle she’d struggled to navigate the first time. This time around, she was determined to conquer it.

After successfully overcoming the obstacle, she didn’t celebrate her achievement. Instead, she stepped back and coached each child individually through it, reassuring them with the words, “Don’t worry, I’ll help you!”

I thought to myself, This is a wonderful example of true leadership. Who wouldn’t want to follow a leader like that?

The Bible records that Jesus tells people to “Follow me” in 12 different conversations. With these two words, He offered an alternative to the established teachers and leaders of that time. Jesus’ message was to move away from the existing establishment and follow Him instead. The establishment had had its turn as the leader, and now it was time for Jesus to lead.

The established leaders were perfectionists. Their position was of great importance to them, and they demanded respect. They expected those who followed them to abide by their rules and held themselves up in their vain conceit as the perfect example.

Jesus introduced a new style of leadership that was different from the norm. He was fully aware of human nature’s imperfections, but instead of condemning people, He showed compassion to society’s most marginalized members. These included tax collectors, a woman caught in the act of adultery, those suffering from leprosy, and even the despised Samaritans.

He didn’t force people to comply with rules but instead showed them a superior way of life and allowed them to choose whether to follow Him. He taught that those who aspire to greatness must first learn to serve others, and He exemplified this by washing His disciples’ feet.

Jesus had every right to boast of His position and authority and to demand respect; after all, He was the Son of God. But He didn’t. Philippians 2:6–8 says Jesus didn’t consider His equality with God something to boast about or use to His advantage. Instead, He humbled Himself, taking on the nature of a servant.

Leadership is not solely about the leader but about the people under their leadership. It involves creating an atmosphere of trust where individuals can come together in safe spaces to learn and grow together. A leader should strive to build relationships and communities where everyone is welcome and unity, grace, and mercy are evident. This is precisely how Jesus led when He was among us.

Who wouldn’t want to follow a leader like that?

Envoy Pat Wood serves in retirement as the divisional lay leadership development coordinator for the Southern New England Division.