Leading From Behind

In her 2010 article, “Leading From Behind,” Professor Linda A. Hill proposed that the most effective business leaders in the future will (as the title implies) lead from behind. She borrowed the phrase from none other than Nelson Mandela. Mandela stated that a good shepherd, “stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

I am certainly not a business leader, so I can’t effectively comment on how such a tactic would work in the world of commerce. As an employee, I never ran into a business leader who employed such a tactic. In the places I used to work, someone told me what to do, and I did it. (Although now that I think about it, there were times when I led from behind as an employee. But don’t tell my bosses I said that.)

Not Everyone Agrees

One of our more recent presidents has been accused of leading our country that way. In fact, Richard Miniter wrote a book with the same title as Professor Hill’s article about that president’s leadership (or, from his perspective, the lack thereof). Apparently, not everyone agrees with Mandela.

From a theological perspective, I find Mandela’s statement to be fascinating. The reason for this is his statement that good shepherds lead from behind—or as we usually like to say, they drive their flocks. He is literally correct, of course, but there is one notable exception to this. In Israel, the shepherds lead their flocks—they don’t follow them. As we know, in the Old Testament, Israel’s kings were called their shepherds. Israel was to listen to the shepherd’s voice and follow him.

Then Jesus came along. He was referred to as the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20). Jesus verified this in John 10 when he said (among other things), “He goes on ahead of them.” This metaphor would not have worked in another culture where the shepherd followed.

Then arose the church. Somewhere along the way, the church decided that pastors (another word for shepherds) should be like Jesus—they should lead, and the congregation should follow. Sounds a bit scary, but we basically said, “We’ll pay you to speak, and we’ll follow where your voice takes us.” It all sounds good on paper, but it’s neither Biblical nor practical.

Pastors Aren’t Jesus

First of all, the church is an all-volunteer organization for all things at all times. I’ve never run into the parishioner (let alone an entire flock) who does everything the pastor says to do. Secondly, pastors aren’t Jesus. I’ve never known a pastor who has it together like Jesus.

The fact is (at least as I see it), a good pastor can neither lead from behind nor from the front. Pastors can’t sit back and hope the church does everything right, nor can they bark orders and expect things to happen.

In actuality, a good pastor leads from among the sheep. That pastor understands who he (or she) is. [To be continued…]

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently resides in Aldie, VA.]

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