Voices
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Good followership

It's vital that we submit wisely to the authorities God has ordained

Issue: "New breed of homeless," Feb. 28, 2009

Everybody agrees on the need for good leadership in the church. We need strength, vision, inspiration, wisdom, tact, perception-and with all that, humility. Do we know such a stellar individual in our struggling local body? Yes we do: her Head.

Well sure, you might say: The Head is perfect, but who's going to preach on Sunday, minister with patience, set our direction, define our focus for this little corner of the Christian community? Get real!

But I am. Who's more real than Christ? And what's easier to forget than that simple fact? We are all followers of Christ, even our leaders. And while the training, nurturing, and appointing of good leadership is vital, we must also attend to the principles of good followership.

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We are rightly wary of mere following, because nothing is more abused in the world than power. Give a man (or woman) an inch, he'll take a mile. Put a scepter in his hand, it becomes a weapon. One great achievement of American-style democracy is breaking the power of concentrated rule. But America, in casting down a single king, spawned many little kings, and a little-king mentality. Nothing is more despised in our society than "sheeple" who stumble after some Pied Piper's dulcet tones.

That's not what I mean. Mere following occurs in a vacuum of knowledge, strength, or confidence. It's what happens when autonomy is overrun or will is flattened, or when we don't care one way or another. But "followership" is a virtue, built on other virtues. It's positive not negative, active not passive. And it knows, or learns, where to draw the line.

What does followership involve? For one thing, wise submission. Note the adjective-not subjection to someone's whim or crackpot idea, but a humbling of oneself under the mighty hand of God, who ordains authorities and hierarchies. Those authorities will not always be right. Neither will we. But where they do not compel outright disobedience to God's word, we must ask: What would Christ, my ultimate leader, have me do?

For another, gratitude. Last week's sermon may not have been stellar, but there were good things in it. The Sunday school teacher's main point was questionable, but it made me think. Even in a troubled church, we can give thanks for sincere faith and faith-building challenges, and when our unwilling obedience is requested, ask: What would Christ have me do?

Followership is the practical application of service, with the purest example possible: "Have this mind among you, which was also in Christ Jesus." We call ourselves servants of God, but when it comes to serving Elder Jones, well, does God know the elder's tendency to voice half-considered opinions and make stupid jokes? Or his shaky views on the doctrine of Reprobation? Peter obviously held a questionable view of the Atonement when Christ wrapped a towel around His waist and knelt to wash His disciples' feet. The example, and the subsequent command to serve one another, was based on nothing but that they all claimed the same Master-and what would He want us to do?

Finally, good fellowship relies on trust-in the Head, not the man. If we are in Christ, we can trust His grace to cover our honest mistakes. If our leaders take a wrong turn, God can correct them with useful lessons learned. If we throw away some good years following the wrong man, God can restore those years. An infinitely creative Father can even create good from evil. In fact, it's His specialty-if we trust Him, and continually ask, what would He have us do?

Followership is as vital to the nation as to the church, especially a varied, hypercritical, partisan nation such as ours. There is a time to speak up, and a time to shut up. Wisdom can help us discern when to do which, but the best first question remains: What would God have us do?

If you have a question or comment for Janie Cheaney, send it to jcheaney@worldmag.com.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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