Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In Praise of Followers

I heard a commercial yesterday for a large private university near here, advertising their mission of producing exceptional leaders.  My own college's mission statement is similar, proclaiming that we will produce servant-leaders, a mission I wholeheartedly support, since we are in the business of training ministers and leaders of ministries.  But the commercial did set me to wondering whether or not we really want everyone to be a leader, not to mention that making everyone a leader is contrary to the word’s definition. I think the time has come to get a dose of reality and train people to be educated, discerning followers.

All of us have to be followers.  All people have some authority over them--yes, even President Obama.  All of us have to learn to submit and obey.  Most of us will exercise leadership only within very narrow limits, perhaps only in our own homes, so we will spend considerably more time following instead of leading. Hence, understanding the characteristics of a good follower is important.

So what makes a good follower?  First, understanding that a follower is not the leader.  The follower must submit to the authority of the leader.  This does not mean that the follower is the slave; rather, he is the supporter and helper of the leader. The leader will go nowhere on his own, and opposition will slow or halt progress for all.

The follower, though, has an obligation to make sure the leader is heading in the right direction.  Blind following may lead to an undesirable place.  Therefore, the follower has to use discernment in choosing which leader to follow, and must be ready to speak his mind and advise the leader of obstacles.  Good leaders rely on their helpers and will listen; poor leaders will find themselves leading no one.

So we must learn to choose leaders wisely and to hold them accountable for their leadership.  We must pray for our leaders and do all we can to make the pathway smooth for all of us.  But if our leader is leading us in the wrong direction, we have an obligation to stop following.  We need to remember the saying we heard from our mothers: “If ____ told you to jump off the cliff, would you?”

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