I read an article some time ago about a young woman who had applied to a certain college. Like at most schools, the application had several personal questions. To her surprise, she was accepted at this school. In her acceptance letter, it said something like this: ‘Dear ____, We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at _____ University. Since every other person who applied said they were an outstanding leader, and you said you were not; we felt it only right to have at least one follower in this year’s class for all these future leaders.’

It is doubtful that all the others who applied to that school were outstanding leaders. To be sure, some probably were, but leadership does not come easily or equally for everyone. In the church we invite people into all kinds of leadership positions for all kinds of reasons, both good and bad. With the rotation of committees and chairs of committees, leadership in the church is in constant turnover; which in turn often leads to uneven results.

When we look back to Jesus and his disciples, it is clear that, while each one was important, they were not all equal leaders. It seems as though Peter and John were more prominent than some of the others; and it should not surprise us that it was so. In virtually every group, someone usually emerges as the accepted leader. It happens on a football team, at family reunions, in the workplace, in a rock band, and the list goes on. Everybody cannot be the leader. Why is this?

I have a friend in Washington state, now well into his 80s. We first met when he did some consulting work for me when I was in the supermarket business. His specialty was strategies for loss prevention, which included employee theft, vendor theft, shoplifting, etc. His business model began to change when he realized that some companies had better leadership than others. He used a particular testing instrument to evaluate one’s personality, and he came to believe that those results made a huge difference in determining ‘ahead of time’ a person’s aptitude for leadership. It was all very fascinating to me back then, and it still is.

He and I have recently reconnected with one another after nearly forty years, and his work has taken him into a study of character in addition to everything else his curious mind has chased. While not based on scientific research, but rather on sixty years of study and observation; he has come to some interesting conclusions around character and leadership. 

First, he says that 85% of people are much more comfortable following than they are leading. This is why, when some of these folks get thrust into a position of leadership, many of them do not do well. Obviously, people at the top end of the 85% will do better at leading than those at the 30% level. But his point is that there are more good followers than there are good leaders; and there is nothing wrong with that reality.

Second, he would contend that 15% of people have the ‘right stuff’ to be an effective leader. The things that make up the ‘right stuff’ have a lot to do with one’s level of emotional intelligence. He draws a fairly hard line on this point saying ‘You either have the right stuff or you don’t; it cannot be taught’. Others might choose to debate him on that.

Third, and what makes him a bit different from others in his field of work, he says only a few in that 15% know how to actually use what they have to lead effectively. Again, a lot of this is wrapped up in one’s understanding of emotional intelligence. The good news is, according to my friend, a person with the right stuff can be taught how to use it well. This is now the main focus of his firm’s work. I think I agree with his assessment, and I also believe it has implications for the church today.

Someone, clergy or laity, leads in virtually every congregation. We do not all lead equally well, though when someone is placed in or elected to a leadership position, we expect they will do it well. Some churches are blessed with a larger pool of leaders than some others, but we must be careful not to expect each person to lead in the same way and with the same effectiveness. And that is OK, too.

Jesus taught all of his disciples the same things. He gave them the same directions and mandates. He also knew they were different. They were all faithful followers and good people, save one, but only Peter was the ‘rock’, the foundation of the church. We should expect the very best from leaders in the church. We just need to remember that not everyone does it the same way.

Mike Queen
A native of West Virginia, Mike Queen, has served churches in North Carolina the last 36 years. Recently retired after twenty-five years as pastor at First Baptist Church in Wilmington, NC, Mike, along with his colleague Jayne Davis, has founded a ministry of encouragement called Hopeful Imagination to work with traditional churches dedicated to finding God’s way in a changing world. Mike and Bobbie, his wife of 45 years, live in Wilmington and they have continued their ministry by serving as interim pastor in other NC churches. He is a consultant for CHC and a co-coordinator for CHC-Carolinas.