Follow Well To Lead Well
Dennis Liu, Co-Lead Pastor of Vineyard of Harvest Church, offers insight into what it means to "follow well" so we can "lead well" as people of the Kingdom.
Co-Lead Pastor, Vineyard of Harvest (Walnut, CA)
Just the other day, my oldest son, Silas (age 7) ran to me and indignantly announced that his younger siblings were not listening to him. He brought this to my attention because he obviously felt I needed to respond to this grave injustice. I felt sympathy for him… for maybe 3 seconds. Then I quickly remembered that just earlier, he wasn’t listening to me. So I took that opportunity and turned it into a teaching moment.
I said to Silas, “Hey, you weren’t listening to me a moment ago. How can you expect your siblings to listen to you now? You need to follow well in order to lead well.”
You might think that would be a complex notion for a 7-year-old to grasp, but I could tell by the look on Silas’ face that he was connecting with that idea. Even for a 7-year-old, it makes sense that we need to follow well in order to lead well.
Obviously, my little speech to my son pales in comparison to how Apostle Paul puts it, but in Colossians, Paul gives the church a similar exhortation. So take a look as Paul answers the question, “How can we follow well in order to lead well?”
Colossians 3:22-25 (NIV)
₂₂ Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. ₂₃Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, ₂₄ since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. ₂₅ Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.
Let me first point out that Paul was not condoning slavery. In fact, in other places in Scripture, Paul shared about the high value of all human beings, especially as brothers and sisters in Christ. Nevertheless, the reality was that there was slavery in the city of Colossae so Paul was speaking into this extreme scenario of slavery to make a point about following well in general.
Paul charged the Colossian slaves in verse 22 to obey their masters “in everything.” And their motivation was not to be about pleasing or impressing their masters. Instead, Paul gave them a much higher motivation in verse 23 – “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”
Paul points out that they were ultimately working for the Lord. Their motivation for following their earthly masters well was ultimately to please and glorify Jesus.
As we follow our earthly leaders, our eyes are not on our earthly leaders; our eyes are on Jesus. Our earthly leaders could easily disappoint or even mistreat us, but if we focus our eyes on Jesus as we serve, our work becomes deeply meaningful and fulfilling.
How can we follow well in order to lead well?
1. Keep our focus on serving Jesus and not our earthly leaders.
When it comes to maintaining a heavenly perspective in submitting to an earthly leader, there is one key Bible story that immediately comes to mind – the story of David and Saul. David submitted to Saul literally to the point of almost losing his life. David’s famous line of how he stayed submitted is found in 1 Samuel 24:10 – “I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed.”
David recognized God’s choice of Saul to lead Israel. By staying submitted, David respected God’s choice. David’s eyes weren’t on his earthly leader; he was ultimately looking at his heavenly leader. David submitted to Saul because he understood that by doing so, he was ultimately submitting to God.
I don’t claim to be on the same caliber as David, but allow me to share a bit of my own journey as an example. I have served on staff in my local church for over 20 years under the leadership of our founding pastor, Kenneth Kwan. As a reference point, let me add that the average turnover rate for next generation English-speaking pastors in Asian ethnic churches like ours, working under first-generation senior pastors, is 1.5 years. So we’ve far surpassed that threshold having worked more than 20 years together. I owe a lot of that longevity to Kenneth’s empowerment of me from day one. Let me first clearly recognize his tremendous contribution in fostering a healthy and enjoyable environment for me to serve under.
But on my end, I humbly share that I did my part to submit to his leadership. By no means am I saying that I did it perfectly – or even close to perfectly. But I do want to acknowledge that staying submitted was one key ingredient that helped us to work together and grow our church. I would humbly say that I followed well.
Along the way, the above passage about David recognizing Saul as the Lord’s anointed became deeply embedded in me. It was as if the Lord took a highlighter to that verse and alerted me to mark my ministry with this principle. He was calling me to see Kenneth as the Lord’s anointed. I was to serve Kenneth well because by doing so, I was in fact, serving the Lord.
I think virtually everybody agrees that staying submitted to leadership is a good and godly approach, but sometimes it is downright tough to keep on submitting.
The truth is, it was tough for David, too. You might remember in 1 Samuel 24 when even those closest to David were encouraging him to rebel and supplant Saul’s God-given leadership. David even toed the line at one point by cutting off a corner of Saul’s robe. In the end, David stayed submitted, but there were clearly moments when temptation arose to come out from under submission.
Staying submitted was challenging at times for me, too. This wasn’t because Kenneth was a bad leader, unlike Saul. I already mentioned Kenneth is a great and empowering leader – the best leader I know, in fact. But the temptation was certainly there to want the title or to want the position or to want the attention. I started ministry at 22 and went through my 20’s and most of my 30’s without a senior level title. I remember an old Vineyard Worship song we used to sing about how we’ll “seek no earthly title.” But the human temptation was certainly there.
I’m really grateful that God gave me grace to overcome this human tendency. By God’s grace, I was able to see Kenneth as God’s choice of a leader over me. I was able to see submission to Kenneth as ultimately submission to Christ. My focus was on serving God as I served Kenneth.
We submit to a vast array of leaders – parents, spouses, teachers, government leaders, church leaders, employers, and the list goes on and on. Undoubtedly, our leaders will fail us since we are all fallen human beings. For some of us, our current circumstances might reflect this reality. Especially in this pandemic situation with the issue of racial injustice also swirling about, we might have some leaders who are disappointing us. And aside from them leading us to do things that are unbiblical, we are called to submit to them.
At the same time, temptation will also certainly come our way to selfishly seek higher positions. This temptation could be a current struggle.
The only way that we can follow well hinges on our steadfast focus on the ultimate One we serve, Jesus Christ. May we keep our eyes on Him as we submit to our human leaders.
Now, even though we submit to our earthly leaders simply out of obedience to God, Scripture also promises us a reward for following well.
Colossians 3:24 calls us to submit “since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” The Greek word for “inheritance” is Κληρονομία (transliterated “Klēronomia”).
To be clear, this “inheritance” refers to a heavenly reward that we will receive in the future Kingdom to come. 1 Peter 1:4 uses this same Greek word to describe “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade.” Peter goes on to clarify that “this inheritance is kept in heaven for you.”
Having clearly pointed out that Colossians says that our reward for submitting to our leaders will come in heaven, God also says in multiple places in Scripture that He desires for heavenly realities to come to earth. After all, Jesus even taught us to pray that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” As we follow God’s command to submit to our leaders, God also releases some of our reward in our earthly realities.
How can we follow well in order to lead well?
2. Look forward to a reward for staying submitted.
David certainly received a reward for his submission. He led one of the most expansive kingdoms on earth, and Jesus came to this world through the line of David. Moreover, the Bible says that David’s kingdom was “established forever.”
I have seen the fruit of submission in my own life and ministry, too. As I transition into the role of solo leader pastor at my church, I have especially been seeing the fruits of my submission through the years. At 42-years-old, I have the great privilege these days to work closely with men and women in their 50’s, 60’s and even 70’s. Many of them have been with Kenneth for many years and have outranked me in leadership in the past. I find that many of them have been gladly submitting to my leadership in the past few years. I would attribute their response to my leadership at least in part because they have observed me submitting to Kenneth’s leadership through the years.
There’s a saying that as we submit to authority, we gain authority. I have experienced that to be true. We see in Scripture that David experienced the same, and Colossians paints a similar picture of reward for submission.
As we submit to parents, spouses, employers, government leaders, and other authorities, it is important to note that God promises reward for us as we follow well in submission. Sometimes, there’s a grit and grind to staying submitted. It is not always easy and not always smooth, but we look forward to a heavenly reward, and often, God even grants earthly blessings for our submitted posture.
In the present circumstances of our world, submitting to leaders may not be a very popular priority. A very strong case could be made that our modern-day leaders have failed our trust. In these times, societal culture teaches us to forge our way ahead at all costs. Submission and following well don’t seem the predominant message in the times that we live, but Kingdom culture certainly compels us differently.
God has sovereignly placed certain leaders in our lives. If they are not leading us in a direction contrary to our Christian values, God calls us to submit. Because ultimately, we seek to honor Christ above all.
This is why Paul makes it so clear that our eyes need to be on Jesus no matter who we follow. As our eyes are fixed on Jesus, we can eagerly await the great reward God has for us as we faithfully serve our earthly leaders.
Let’s follow well in order to lead well!
Pastor Dennis Liu is the co-lead pastor of Vineyard of Harvest Church in Walnut, CA, in transition to become the solo lead pastor. Having grown up in a Christian family in NJ, he feels extremely blessed with a rich Christian heritage. It was during his high school years that he began to sense that the Lord was calling him into full-time ministry. At the time, he ignored the call out of selfishness simply because he wanted to make a lot of money and become successful in the world’s eyes. Subsequently, he enrolled at Cornell University in the fall of 1996 with the intention of going on to medical school upon graduation. The Lord continued to work on his heart through his college years, and the calling of full-time ministry didn’t decrease but grew stronger. After college, the door opened up for him to go out to CA to minister and begin attending Fuller Theological Seminary. So in May 2000, he headed out to CA and began to intern at Vineyard of Harvest Church while pursuing a Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies at Fuller. Over time, the ministry grew, and he joined the staff of the church on a full-time basis as the minister to the English congregation. In June 2005, he graduated from Fuller, and in 2007, he was ordained as a pastor. In 2011, he married Evangeline, who graduated with a Master of Divinity from Talbot Seminary. They have four children – Silas, Levi, Jubilee, and Ezra. Dennis now serves as co-lead pastor of the overall church alongside his father-in-law, Kenneth Kwan, who founded the church. Dennis and Evangeline are excited about the future of this congregation and envision a church that plants many churches!
Vineyard of Harvest Church is a multi-generational, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural church in southeastern Los Angeles County in Southern California. Vineyard of Harvest is an amazing church community on many fronts but in this season of COVID-19 they have faced an additional set of challenges. One of these challenges deals specifically with the anti-Asian racism that has come to the forefront in this time.