One thing Christian culture has fully embraced from modern Western culture is the development of good leaders. Most churches have some form of leadership hierarchy with steps to get members in all the necessary positions: elders, board of trustees, worship leaders, bible study teachers, small group leaders – you get the idea. Training for leaders, leadership classes, “how to” seminars or retreats, and even conferences promoting speakers who have made a worldwide impact are widely available and popular. Being a leader is a good important thing in our culture and in our churches.

I feel confident in checking the box “well-equipped leader.” I have attended my fair share of training, but also just happen to have a slight personality advantage; endearingly we will call it “taking the bull by horns” or bluntly “a bossy know-it-all with high standards.” I imagine I am not alone in this. Whether through schooling, work, or church, many of us can reasonably proclaim essential leadership qualities and can easily carry on a discussion of what makes a good or bad leader. And many of us are probably actually pretty good at it.

But yesterday I heard a song that said, “So many leaders, you ask for followers.” The lyric stuck with me and the concept is giving me many mini-epiphanies. “Blog worthy!” I said.

In all of this training and focus on leadership, how much of it has actually formed my heart and soul into following Christ? When I heard the line “you ask for followers,” my world view got a little flipped on her head.

In secular settings. leadership is not centered on Jesus. It is all centered on me, my wisdom, my people skills, my vision, my capability (It is actually a lot of pressure). And in Christian circles, unfortunately, I think there is a major overlap. How are we good stewards of the materials and people around us? How well do we teach or guide bible study? How skilled are we at “leading” people to Christ? It so often focuses on me, my potential, my power, my leadership.

It’s got me thinking, what does it even mean to be a follower? Is that something we even understand in our culture?

On Google, there were almost 750 billion results to the search “leadership”. When I googled “follow” and “follower” there were quite a few results, about 1/3 of the previous search, but most referred to getting more followers on Instagram or Twitter, or how NOT to be a follower, or even advice for leader about how to train your followers. In short, followers are not something people are eager to become. Followers are the people I lead, or gather, or accumulate, but heaven forbid that word would describe me.

We are called to follow. It is about as counter-cultural as you can get in post-modern North America. It is the exact opposite of what much of my schooling has taught me, as well as even some of what very well meaning church programs have taught me.

This negative view is further complicated by my culture. I am an American and therefore raised with a bit of a pride in my revolutionary heritage. I always find it annoying that in England it was referred to simply as a rebellion. But attitude towards authority can be found in many Western countries. “Down with the man!” Fist in the air emoji! We highly value independence, autonomy, our rights and freedoms, and our individuality. Be who you want to be; do what you want to do! We also value leadership. But not following. That would be mindless, archaic, belittling, pitiful. I think I am not alone in picturing some sad sap who follows around and idolises a pop star, making someone else their life, their entire world.

It is such a negative view in my mind. The idea of being a follower is so uncool, it actually is kind of repulsive.

And yet, “you ask for followers”.

We are called to follow. It is about as counter-cultural as you can get in post-modern North America. It is the exact opposite of what much of my schooling has taught me, as well as even some of what very well meaning church programs have taught me.

Don’t get me wrong, good leadership should be highly valued in our communities. There is plenty to be said in the Bible about leading well. But I would argue more important than leading people around us, is following the God who leads us all.

We only have to look to Christ to see that following is actually much more important than leading. On more than one occasion, Jesus says things like, “I only do what my Father tells me to do. I only say what he tells me to say. Whoever does the will of my Father is my family. Thy [God’s] will be done. Not my will but your [God’s] will”.

Then, of course, there are his actions. He denies himself. He heals others. He forgives those who have wronged him. He humbles himself repeatedly. He serves. He loses his life. He is following the will of someone higher up. He submits to an authority even greater than his own. He trusts his God, his Father, above his own thoughts and wishes. He is obedient. He is the number one best follower of the Father and his will.

And as he models following he tells us explicitly, following is the only way to lead. Basically, stop leading. Do not do this leading thing – do this following thing. It is the way. Follow me. Follow God.

I hope these thoughts bubbling around in my noggin start to bubble in yours. I hope you feel some of the same discomfort in your spirit as I do. I hope you do some research, write a book or thesis on this topic. How do we follow?

Spirit lead me, lead us. Jesus, you are our Shepherd and the Light of the World. Father God your plans are perfect and true. You are faithful to us. Lead us into becoming your followers.

Thy will be done.

Photo: Roger S. Hart “Shadow People”

Read more articles by Julia Sterne or about Integrated Faith, Joy of Salvation, Under Authority, Worship.

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