By Robert Neely
My first job was as a sportswriter. I covered many different sports for newspapers (remember them?) and magazines, but pretty early in my career I focused in on the National Football League.
I still love to watch NFL games and read stories about the league, and one of my hobbies is to write about the NFL for a couple of websites, including my own.
(At this point, I need to apologize to European readers. I’ll do my best to make this story accessible; feel free to share a comparable example from the Premier League or La Liga in the comments if you wish.)
One of the biggest stories surrounding the NFL since the 2011 season ended was just how much dissension and conflict there was in the New York Jets locker room. Players have anonymously thrown each other under the bus, and several veterans have talked about just how divided the locker room became by the end of the season.
In all of the tabloid hubbub about these issues between players, one quote resonated with me. One of the team’s leading veterans, LaDainian Tomlinson (likely a future Hall of Fame running back), said that he wasn’t surprised about the blunt conflict that emerged among Jets players.
That’s because it followed the example of the Jets’ leaders – head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
“Think about this,” Tomlinson said in a radio interview. “They created this. This is the type of football team that they wanted. Mike Tannenbaum, Rex Ryan are both brash, in-your-face type of style, say whatever you want, just get it done on the field. And then it leads to other things, as guys are calling each other out and saying, ‘I’m not getting the ball,’ or whatever it may be.”
Tomlinson wasn’t talking about discipleship, but what he said highlights an important principle that we need to consider as we lead others:
You reproduce who you are.
Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum are brash leaders who say whatever they want. So it’s no surprise that the players they lead developed into brash loudmouths too. These leaders reproduced who they are.
This is what Jesus sought to do with the disciples, and it’s what Paul sought to do as well. See what Paul said to the Corinthians:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1)
As a leader, Paul was not trying to tell the Corinthians what they should do; he was trying to show them what they should do. Because he was seeking the good of many over his own good, he could challenge the Corinthians to do the same.
This is a huge bar to clear for us as leaders and disciplers. We have to be willing to say with Paul, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
Let’s take this one step further. Since we reproduce who we are, one of the things we as leaders should do is to check our followers to see what they are saying about us.
We’re not talking about the words they say to us or about us (even behind our backs). We’re talking about what their lives say about our examples.
So how can we do this? Here are a few diagnostic questions you can ask:
- What traits do they people I disciple/lead have in common?
- Do I see these traits in myself? If not, why not – are they not there, or do I not want to see them?
- What do the traits of my disciples/followers show me that I need to change?
We reproduce who we are. So let’s think about what our followers say about us so that we can be the kinds of leaders and disciplers who can say, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”