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Followship Is Real Leadership, Part 1: Intro

September 10, 2011


Leadership. Leadership schmeadership.  To lead or not to lead, that is the question.  What is leadership? Who are leaders? What makes a good leader? How can existing leaders become better leaders? Leadership is what it’s all about, right?

Leader-ship. It seems that everyone’s getting on board these days.  From the secular world to the religious community to the Christian community, leadership is a new buzz word.  Everyone wants to be a leader, because afteral everyone is a leader in some way, right?  Radio, t.v., internet, podcasts, books, conferences, webinars, business seminars and more are all focusing on leadership.  You would think by now that we’d all have mastered leadership.  So then, why the constant barrage and surge of leadership venues and themed products?

Why Leadership?

“Ooh, ooh pick me teacher pick me! I know I know I know!”

Isn’t it obvious?  Apparently not.  Like most of life’s real answers, they’re always staring us right in the face.

Alright I think we don’t know how to lead because we don’t know how to FOLLOW!

Following is Out, Leadership is In

Seems too simple huh? That’s kind of the point. It’s always the simple answers that aren’t good enough for us so we have to find the complex answers and pour our time, money and resources into them.

Plus, who wants to buy a book, attend a conference, get certified in the art of ‘following’? Leadership brings certain connotations like following does. Leadership is manly, tough, strong, proud, skilled, trustworthy, independent, at the top, hard-working, responsible, etc. Leading brings the notion of power, force, action and productivity. A leader is someone who has people following him so it brings the idea of authority, respect, command and importance.

Following on the other hand, well let’s just say if Leadership is the dark and handsome older brother, following is the red-headed step, half-brother who ain’t too bright. Following is weak, gullible, lacking self-confidence, not trustworthy, dependent, at the bottom, lazy, stupid, irresponsible, etc. Following brings the notion of powerless, soft, passive and unproductive apart from a leader. A follower is someone who has to be behind a leader, not in front.  They bring up the rear, the caboose. A follower is someone who commands little respect, authority or significance in decision making or life determination. Everything they do or say is all in step with their leader.

The problem is, these views aren’t fair and accurate to leadership and follower positions. They don’t accurately encompass reality about these positions. Every leader is not be definition strong and commanding great authority. And every follower is not weak and overly dependent.

Leaders + Followers = Solution

But here’s the interesting thing.  Without a leader to be followed, a follower is without direction.  Yet without followers to follow, a leader is without purpose or influence. So they both need each other. Which to me sounds like both are equally as important.  Then why all the obsession in our culture about leadership and not following?

I think at the heart of this is a deeper issue.  I think deep down, people avoid learning how to follow and instead learn how to lead because leading plays more to our self-confidence and self-authority. If I can learn how to better lead, then I can gain more control of whatever. But following means I have to give up some control and trust another leader who is not myself. And I know that I am the best and most trustworthy leader I know. So it’s best if I’m gonna follow at all, I only follow myself; my own leadership. I am my own leader!

Wow! Now we’ve crossed in to the territory of our foundational human deficiency: our sinful nature. Which is a Christianese way of saying our innermost desire for self-reign for self-pleasure. I am in charge of me because that makes me happy.

Don’t confuse my tone here either. I am just as guilty as anyone. I’ll be the first to confess, I don’t get real excited when it comes to following leadership. The very sound of that phrase “following leadership” brings negative connotations. Why is that?

Following Sucks

First because sin has tainted our hearts and made them desire to rebel against authority (or leadership).

Second because sin has tainted our world (animals, culture, nations, religions, etc.) and made them desire self-reign.

Both our individual desire to rebel against authority (leadership) and our collective desire to self-autonomy have corrupted the original design of Father God.

Father God desired one thing at Creation from His created ones: worship And what did we give? Self-worship. We chose to do what we wanted to do instead of what God wanted us to do. We chose to trust and follow our own leadership, not God’s.

So today as a result, people not only don’t want to follow leadership but also to distrust it, mock it, rebel against it, undermine it, replace it and destroy it. From churches to schools, from politics to religion, from wall street to main street, from homes to communities all over our culture is this idea of self-leadership. That noone knows best but ME. And with ME at the center of everything, its a world where every ME is trying to lead itself towards success, power and happiness only to find failure, weakness and discontentment.

Enter Jesus, Leader & Follower

What does Jesus have to do with any of this? Afterall, isn’t he the ultimate leader? Ooh, you’re good, touche!

Well actually, he’s not only the ultimate leader (with a band of 3 or 4 billion worldwide) but the ultimate follower too. Jesus is both 100% man and 100% God. As man he displayed leadership and follower qualities. As the son of God he submitted to the Father and as God he led with authority. As leader he taught with authority, turned over money changer tables in the temple, and commanded demons and disease to be cast out. As follower, he said and did everything his Father told him to. He knew both how to obey and how to command obedience.

In Mark 10 he even taught that he did not come to be served but to serve. Jesus’ level of humility and acceptance of his servant-like nature was overwhelming and radical. He alone had every right to lead and demand worship and service at anytime from anyone. But instead he chose to humble himself like a lowly servant follower, washing people’s feet, walking among the outcast and diseased, and hanging out with the worst of sinners. He could have had money thrown at him, used his superpowers for gain and political ground and gotten way more followers in his group by keeping his mouth shut more often with all that “eat me, drink me” talk.

But here’s the king of the universe, the righteous heir to the throne of God his Father, placing himself in a position of humility like a mere follower, not a leader. (Philippians 2)

Final Thoughts

THE Leader, being a follower of God, exhibiting followship to his followers. In so doing, Jesus taught his followers how to follow AND lead. You don’t exhibit leadership in order to teach how to follow. You follow leadership in order to teach how to follow. And that’s what Jesus did best, by following His leader, God the Father.

Next time I’ll discuss more on how leading well depends on following well.


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