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Follow the leader

May 26, 2012

Just out of curiosity I did a search of “Books in print” on the subject of leadership and came out with 77,871 books.  It certainly seems as if there are more than enough people willing to aid us in being good leaders.  Out of curiosity I did another search on followership and came up with 111 references.  Frankly, I was surprised it was that many.  But it still seems that 778 to 1 ratio is about right in terms of the advice given to leaders as opposed to followers.

Odd, isn’t it?   I wonder why that is so.  Perhaps there is an attitude that leading is hard while following is pretty easy.  I mean, all you need to do it get in line and do what the guy ahead is doing, right? 

Or maybe it is an ego thing.  Maybe admitting that we are, more often than not, following and not leading is a bit humiliating.  This theory can be somewhat substantiated by the fact that, when you look into the books on followership a great many of them hit the theme of “leading by following.”  I haven’t actually read any of them in full but their promos imply that you can lead your leaders by being a good follower, which sound sort of like a covert leadership book.  It is almost as if they are teaching a way to get the benefit of being a leader without the burdens.

Two undeniable facts make this dearth of followership books difficult though.  One is real life.  When it comes to being a follower there are so many more of us and almost all of us spend a significant portion of our life and time following somebody or something.  To do this without instruction and aid is a shame.

Secondly, in both the Bible and Christian history, there is a clear assumption that we are going to do a whole lot of following.  Jesus calls us to follow Him.  Paul wants us to imitate him as he imitates Christ.  We are told to obey those in authority.  We are even warned about not all being leaders and the extra burdens given to those who lead.  We respond by writing songs like “I have decided to follow Jesus” and “Where He leads me I will follow” and declare our status as happy followers.  But are we? 

Maybe there are not a whole lot of instructions on followership because we just don’t want any.  I can make lots of excuses that sound really, really good when my pride doesn’t want me to be a follower.  I can warn against authoritative leaders.  I can call myself a Berean and say that I am exercising discernment.  I can say I am following Jesus and not the person in leadership.  I might even say I am being led by the Holy Spirit, which makes my claim unassailable.  Of course, on that last point, it is amazing how often following the Holy Spirit ends up with me doing exactly what I wanted to do in the first place.

And it is true that human leaders, as much as we followers, are frail and subject to human weaknesses.  Every time a leader stumbles, or even makes a wrong choice, it gives us more ammunition in our resistance to following.  While we have no call to be blind followers of whatever the person in authority says, that we will follow is often assumed in Scripture.  So what are the rules of followership?

I frankly don’t know and I am still looking for the definitive book on the subject.  But for me it starts with this – I have to admit that, more often than not, I really need some help in figuring out how to live.  I don’t have all the answers; I don’t always know what to do; I have a pretty good track record of being wrong.  I know I want to follow Jesus but don’t often know exactly how that translates to the circumstances I face day to day.  I need grace if I am to be a good follower and that probably means I need to show grace to leaders.  In the meantime, if you’ve got this followership thing down pat, drop me a line to tell me how it is done.

 

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From → Christianity, Grace

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