Book Review: "I Am A Follower - The Way, Truth and Life of Following Jesus," Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2012. 288 pages.
Leonard Sweet is the E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Drew University (NJ), a Distinguished Visiting Professor at George Fox University (OR), and a weekly contributor to sermons.com and podcast "Napkin Scribbles." He has authored numerous articles, sermons and close to fifty books.
In brackets on the lower corner of the cover of Sweet's book is this line: "It's never been about leading." This sums up the main theme of the book. Leonard Sweet is not a fan of the leadership or church growth movements in the church and writes this book, seemingly, as a counterpoint to those trend. It is a warning to those who would break Christian leadership and church growth down to a series of principles and best practices. He begins by drawing attention to the video below as a modern parable of following Jesus.
As I read this book, I must admit I wrestled with a lot of what he was saying. I have gleaned a lot from the church leadership movement and, as a confession, even have my own leadership blog. In spite of that, I tried to read with an open mind, respecting Sweet's reputation. I'm glad that I did.
While I would have preferred a less polarizing approach - not everything taught in Christian leadership circles is wrong - I thoroughly agree with his presupposition that all of us are called to follow Christ. Each of us are called to simply follow Him, wherever He may lead, and whatever it may cost. As he says, "The longest distance in the universe is the distance from zero to one." (p.9)
As a scholar and, at heart, a poet, Sweet creatively builds his case that the problem in the church is not leadership, but discipleship. It's not about leading, but following; not about learning principles, but laying down rights. He does this in three major sections.
Via: The Way - This speaks of being on the right road; to join with Christ in a life-long journey of His choosing. He writes of how we in the church have often made Christianity about a decision rather than a lifestyle, and compares this with the reality of the early church. Jesus' way is much different than any other before or after: Jesus calls us to leave all and follow Him, anything less is compromise.
Verita: The Truth - This section deals with Jesus' exclusive claims to truth. In a world of tolerance and relativism, Jesus speaks the truth that all other claims to truth must bow to His ultimate truth. Each of us must lay down our claims and our preferences, whatever they may be. "The distance to the cross is the same for each of us. The distance to the tomb and the cost of getting there are different for each one of us." (p. 153)
Vita: The Life - I liked this section the best. It speaks of incarnational living. What does it mean to allow Christ to live in and through us? It also speaks of the challenge in the church to make disciples, not simply attenders. "First followers live a life of risky and sticky faith. As they live their Jesus story, they also dream a Jesus world and help launch it into being." (p. 206)
Each section includes a study guide for use with group discussion.
He concludes with an epilogue which refers to another video, which can be viewed by clicking on this link. His point in sharing this is that a Christian's life ought to reflect the joy that comes from the privilege of living life with Jesus Christ. We get to do this together, and that's a good thing. "The greatest developmental task of life is to discover your song and sing it ravishingly to the glory of God." (p. 258)
I did enjoy this book, although I feel that some of the criticism of the church leadership movement is unwarranted and unnecessary. Any church leadership conference that I've attended has taught that Christian leadership is, first and at its heart, servanthood. Paul said, "Follow me as I follow Christ." I believe that this is the gist of what Leonard Sweet is trying to express. Where church leaders have abandoned this follower-first principle, Sweet is dead on in challenging them. This book is a great reminder to be sure that I'm not doing my own thing in Jesus' name. The agenda is His to set; not ours.
Book Review: The Last Christian On Earth
Book Review: "The Harbinger"
Book Review: "The Me I Want To Be"
The Manhattan Declaration
What Is a Christ-follower?