The reality is that 99% of us do not have the capacity, gifting, character or will to become like the 1% of the truly great leaders among us. Some of us could potentially become satisfactory leaders. The good news is that the sweep of the bible does not emphasize leadership. It emphasizes followership. And that is something every follower of Jesus should aspire to.
Adam and Eve’s most important communication with God was based on following what God said [Gen. 2:16,17]. The Israelites followed God’s Spirit in the wilderness by cloud by day and fire by night [Ex. 13:21]. Their whole journey in the Old Testament could be summed up by a willingness or unwillingness to follow God. Jesus’ call to his disciples was to “follow me” [Matt. 4:19]. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian [1 Cor. 11:1] and Philippian [Philippians 3:17] church to follow him and other believers as they follow Christ.
Followership – learning to become a good follower of others – is the untapped power of the equipped church. Good or bad followers determine whether the body of Christ moves or stagnates. We would probably accomplish more if we were led by one mediocre (not corrupt!) leader surrounded by 10 great followers rather than having one great leader surrounded by 10 mediocre followers. If the church is to go from bad to good or good to great in this uber-independent culture she must view followership as noble, even critical to movement.
There is no such thing as being a good or even a great leader without first being a good follower. Perhaps before we encourage people to be “servant leaders” we should be encouraging them to become good “servant followers”. Christian colleges offer masters degrees in Christian leadership. Church conferences emphasize the power of vision, the drive of the leader and the importance of self-leadership. But sandwiched between the conversation of “leadership of others” and “self-leadership” should be a mega-wide conversation on the importance of learning to be good followers of others. Wouldn’t it be fascinating if these colleges and conferences also had offerings like: “Submitting 101”, “How to be a good follower of your spouse, even when you don’t fully agree”, “How to excel at giving your stuff away to whomever God leads you to”, “The fine art of being last” and “Masters of Christian Followership”. You can just imagine them lining up out the door, hungry to learn (!)
Leadership matters. We never want to have evil or false leaders. But in our idolatry of the great leader perhaps we’ve been overlooking a wider biblical emphasis on the character of a servant follower.