This morning I’ve been thinking about leadership. Not being a leader so much, but about being led. Which is harder do you think?
Nobody seems to be raising up great followers these days, or equipping people to sit back and let someone else take the lead. This surprises me, because good following is really difficult. Maybe that’s just me. Perhaps people think following is the same as submitting, and nobody wants to submit. Maybe that’s why we’ve made such a cult out of leadership. There are so many books out there devoted to leading your followers, and so few to following our leaders, you’d think following was so easy nobody needed to learn how to do it. God, how I wish that were true.
I’ve always kind of wondered – if everyone is “called” to be a leader, who is actually going to do all the following?
Following is associated with weakness. In our society, nobody follows where they could lead instead. Leadership is for the clever, the strong and the charismatic. Following is for the bovine, the weak and the less-then. Leadership is an aspiration, whereas followership is a relegation.
Jesus. Now there’s a great leader. By that I mean Jesus was a great man, and that his leadership was more than competent as well. I like Jesus’ leadership style. He went around to places where people were, he said what was on his mind, ministered to their sick and tormented, gave them something to eat or drink where he could, and then he went somewhere else and did more of the same. We know he was a leader because people followed him around while he did these things. If being a leader was hard for Jesus, leading as he did without the benefit of a book deal, the media, the internet or an international profile, Jesus knew that following was just as hard, if not harder. After all, Jesus was not just a leader, but a follower also.
Jesus was a leader, not just inadvertently, but also deliberately. He didn’t only lead the rambling gaggles of intrigued listeners seeking a Messiah who always trailed behind him everywhere he went. He also directly invited people to follow him. Great leader indeed. Fisherman. Crooks. A couple of mates who knew his family. C’mon guys – we’re going to start a worldwide spiritual movement. Er, okay then, I’ll just leave my job and my friends and family and come hang out with you and do….what exactly? Excellent.
Once, after Jesus said to a fascinated audience that little kids were a great example of those most likely to inherit God’s kingdom, someone came forward and said, well, that’s all very well, but what was it was he needed to achieve to be successful in Gods eyes? This fellow was no plebian peasant. He was well-respected in his community, and morally upstanding. He had fulfilled all his social responsibilities. He had superannuation, and was president of the local Rotary. Yes, yes, yes – wide-eyed little kiddies, the beauty of innocence and all that…but what must I do?
Jesus looked him fair in the face. All those things you’ve done before are admirable, Jesus said. You can see heaven. All you need do now is sell everything you own and follow me, along with the stinky, inarticulate fisherman and the other rabble, while we eat whatever is put before us in the homes of tax collectors and prostitutes. You will listen attentively while I say cryptic stuff to confused people, and try and unravel my parables. You can help me feed too many mouths with too little bread and fish. You will shake the dust off your feet when people chase you out of town and call you insane.
The man, quite underwhelmed, went away from there. Damn. I guess I won’t see heaven after all. Excuse me won’t you while I go cry in my bags of money.
Familiar with being a “somebody”, and having accomplished much in the eyes of society, for the rich ruler Jesus seemed to have changed the rules of engagement. The rich ruler was used to hard work, and to gaining recognition for it. He was accustomed to earning his due respect and due reward. He was used to the trappings of success and the fruit of his toil. What? Eternal life means becoming a nobody? Resting on someone elses success? Following? Doing nothing?
Thanks, but no thanks.
Maybe he confused followership with submission.
But when you think about it, it really is all very well to be the Chosen One, isn’t it? It’s one thing to be able to stand tall on the courage of your convictions, to face opposition and ridicule and criticism, when you know that you know God Himself has spoken to you and called you and ordained you to be the Lamb of God. It’s quite another when you’re faced with real poverty, cruel abuse and total rejection, and able only to say in your own defence “Er….I’m with him.”
In other words, being a leader is one thing, but being a follower is quite another. There are always far more kudos in it for the boss whenever an enterprise succeeds, or when you’ve simply rowed your own boat. And even if it doesn’t work out, having gone solo and failed, there is far more validation in being a crazy person on your own merit than to be accused of merely trailing behind someones else’s madness.
I think about Jesus not just as a great leader, but as a great follower. Jesus was led by God, led by the Holy Spirit, led by the Tempter and led by men to the cross. Being led was something Jesus had to do and wanted to do, just as much as leading others was. And Jesus knew that for us, following him is not just enough hard work for any man or woman, it will be a life’s work.