Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

3 Ways to Be a Leader, Not a Follower

  • Whitney Hopler Contributing Writer
  • Published Aug 05, 2022
3 Ways to Be a Leader, Not a Follower

If you settle for following others in life, you’ll miss making the important contributions that only you can make to our world. God calls you to be a leader, not a follower. Here’s how to do so, plus encouraging Bible verses about leadership for inspiration as you work to be a leader, not a follower.

What Does This Phrase Mean for Christians?

The phrase “be a leader, not a follower” means that you need to think like a leader – someone who makes wise decisions, acts on them, and inspires others – rather than being passive in life. From God’s perspective, being a leader starts with being a follower of Christ, who will empower you to be a successful leader. When you think of being a follower, remember that following Jesus is the foundation of wise leadership, but following the ways of the world won’t help you accomplish what matters most. So, focus on following Jesus and then using the wisdom he gives you to be a spiritual leader to the people around you. The apostle Paul describes this dynamic in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

It can be helpful to consider this using the imagery of light. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are the source of the light that enlightens everyone with true wisdom. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus declares in John 8:12. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” By following Jesus, you will be connected to the power of his light of life. He will guide you with that light as you seek his help in leadership. As Psalm 119:105 reveals about his guidance in the Bible, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” As Jesus enlightens you with wisdom, your soul lights up, and you’re meant to let that light within you shine so other people can see it. Jesus describes leadership in action when he says in Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

3 Ways to Be a Leader, Not a Follower

It’s an exciting journey to leave passivity behind and say “yes” to God’s call to action as a leader. Here are several key ways you can be a leader, not a follower:

1. Stay closely connected to Jesus.

Doing so will help you set the best priorities day by day. You can come up with all sorts of leadership agendas on your own, and work hard to achieve those goals, but all your plans and work will ultimately go nowhere when you’re disconnected from Jesus’ power. In John 15:1, 4-6, Jesus talks about how a close connection with him is necessary for true achievement: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. … Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

2. Discover more about your God-given purpose every day.

God’s purpose for you as a leader – and as a person overall – is simple yet significant. Every day, God will reveal more about your purpose to you as you seek his guidance and do your best to act on it. Research I explain in my book Wake Up to Wonder shows that reveals feeling awe from noticing God’s work in the world can strengthen people’s critical thinking abilities by making them aware of gaps in their knowledge. That motivates them to learn more, and to discern God’s purpose for them more clearly as a result. As you seek God himself (rather than just your purpose), you’ll notice God’s work around you and feel inspired by awe. That will help you discover and fulfill your purpose in life, including your work as a leader. Simply make prayer and meditation a priority day by day, and in the process of communicating with God, you’ll learn more about the unique ways God wants you to contribute to the world. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus shares a parable that illustrates the importance of fully using your God-given talents. There are valuable contributions that only you can make to the world, by saying “yes” to God’s call to fulfill your purpose. Ask God to show you where your talents and the world’s needs meet, and to help you focus there with your leadership contributions. Keep doing so day by day, and you’ll be living out your purpose well.

3. Move forward with confidence.

Since God is leading you while you’re leading others, you can be confident that you’ll have all the help you need to lead well. When you rely on Jesus to guide and strengthen you, you’ll discover that “the LORD will be your confidence” (Proverbs 3:26). God will do more than just give you confidence; he will actually be your confidence. Day by day, through your relationship with Jesus, you will have access to all you need as a leader. God’s love will flow through your life, giving you confidence by casting out your fear. As 1 John 4:16-19 reveals: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.”

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Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/marchmeena29 

15 More Encouraging Bible Verses on Being a Leader

Whenever you need a fresh dose of encouragement in your leadership work, meditate on these additional encouraging Bible verses on being a leader:

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” - 2 Corinthians 5:20

“… whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:26-28

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” – John 13:13-17

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.’” – Mark 12:28-31

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your] faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” – Romans 12:3-8

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:11-13

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:12

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. …” – Galatians 5:22-23

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” – Philippians 2:3-4

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…” - 1 Peter 3:15-16

“All things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9


God is calling you to be a leader, not a follower. Step into a leadership role in life by choosing action rather than passivity day by day. As you seek God’s guidance and do your best to contribute to the world as a leader, God’s power will flow through you and empower you to lead well.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/kasto80 

headshot of author Whitney HoplerWhitney Hopler is the author of the Wake Up to Wonder book and the Wake Up to Wonder blog, which help people thrive through experiencing awe. She leads the communications work at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Whitney has served as a writer, editor, and website developer for leading media organizations, including, The Salvation Army USA’s national publications, and (where she produced a popular channel on angels and miracles). She has also written the young adult novel Dream Factory. Connect with Whitney on X/Twitter and on Facebook