As readers have come to expect from Dr. Sweet, an upending of long-held paradigms is to be found in the pages of I Am a Follower. Less about mimicking the the ego eimi statements of the Savior and more about challenging modern perceptions of the Mission, Sweet’s book orients around the idea that leadership was not in Jesus’ mind when He set about discipling His followers and the generations that follow through the Bible. Sweet may be right, but a mature and finely-honed sense of discernment are needed to apply this notion, something that those new to the author’s works may not be prepared for.
Many Evangelical’s are immediately critical of Leonard Sweet and his body of work labeling it emergent and him as being on the fringes of orthodoxy. This misses his role as a provocateur working to prod the Christian masses to a deeper meditation of what Christ and His Church are to be about. In Follower, Sweet challenges the infatuation we have leadership in all of its permutations. He critiques the corpus of leadership material, training and practice, saying that it has led Christians away from the true command of Jesus to “follow me.” Creating an environment in which leaders are celebrated threatens to diminish Jesus when those leaders are not intentional about pointing others back to Him. The cure, he says, is for leaders to return to the original position as disciples at the feet of the Rabbi. As their wonder and humility are restored, a new attitude will be reflected in their discipleship of others.
I agree with Dr. Sweet in his premise that good leaders must be first and foremost good followers of Christ. I don’t believe that he intends to say that there should be no focus on leadership in the Church though it is difficult to see in his blanket indictment. Clearly, the Spirit calls some to be leaders. The illustrations that Sweet elects to provide of leaders who ‘get it’ show his bias. Standing up Shane Clairborne as a model of humility is difficult to accept as everything about the carefully cultivated image of Clairborne screams ‘look at me.’ Effective leaders such as John Piper, Bill Hybels and Jim Shaddix can both impress us with the leadership gifts and the calloused knees of true disciples.
Reading Sweet is never easy and Follower is no different. He will cause you to stop and think, considering his use of scripture and illustration. Dr. Sweet’s work is not for the casual Christian who lacks the ability to process the often challenging ideas that he types. The reader must be able to not only say that he or she doesn’t believe what is written, they must also be able to state why.
I am grateful to Thomas Nelson who provided this book for review.