“Heavenly father we pray that today’s message will inspire youth to strive to become better followers of Christ by working on Christian followship. Guide them through the Holy Spirit to show them that followship is not only more important to becoming closer to you, but it’s what you’ve taught us to strive for in your Holy Word. We pray this in Jesus’ name… Amen.”
Today I want to talk about the differences between leadership and followship. Many of you have heard of leadership. It is the cornerstone on which our modern society tells us we should all strive for. Google “Leadership” and you will find endless articles describing 10 point leadership plans, or 5 keys to success in leadership, or biographies of famous people who started out with nothing but led themselves to unimaginable success. Our society is obsessed with Leadership, or the lack of, in the media or on the internet and yet many of us feel inadequate as leaders.
In school, some of you may have thought, “if only I was a better leader, I could lead my team/club/class/etc. to certain success and become a hero.” Or at work, some of you may have thought, “if only I had better leadership skills to know what to do next, I could lead my project team to certain success and be a company hero, perhaps even get an upgrade!” Or at home, some of you may have thought, “If only I knew how to lead my family better, we wouldn’t be in this rut that we’re in.” Leadership skills, we’re told by our best friends, t.v. commentators, or great men we look up too, are essential to success at whatever we do. It’s paramount to our sense of independence and self worth, but is that all really true? Are leadership skills the key everything even including success in our faith in Christ as well? The truth may be more surprising than you think.
Deny yourself, Take up your cross, and Follow me!
In the Gospel of Mark, towards the end of chapter 8, Jesus and his disciples were headed towards the villages around Caesarea Philippi when Jesus began to tell them of his deadly fate at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law and that eventually the Son of Man would die (vs. 8:31). One of his disciples, Peter, took Jesus aside and rebuked him for saying such things, but Jesus responded to Peter saying, “Out of my sight, Satan!… You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” This prompted Jesus to tell a gathering crowd this, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Good Discipleship begins with Followship.
What is Jesus telling us to do here? Sometimes I think it’s easier to relate to Peter here then to listen to Jesus. Peter did what most of us probably would do when our leader, our hero, starts telling us some terrible news that we feel uncomfortable listening too. Really, when I read that Peter took Jesus aside to rebuke him I view Peter stepping up as the “PC (Political Correctness) Police” would do today. But Jesus’ message is firm: to go after Jesus means to follow Jesus. He’s asking us to trust Him and the only way to trust him is to deny what you think is important, take up that burden daily, and follow him to the end. This is the core of Jesus’ message a!nd the point of followship.
Blindly following Jesus is not Followship.
Often followship gets confused with the idea of “blind following Jesus without any critical thinking.” Jesus is not asking us to blindly follow him, rather he’s asking us to do something much deeper. At the last supper Jesus again tells his disciples that he is going away. Many of them are distraught at this news because if their leader is going away, then who will lead them? Or more importantly, if Jesus is asking them to follow him, how can they follow somebody who has left them? Jesus answers them in John 16:5 when he says, “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” Then later on Jesus tells us that the Counselor is the ‘Spirit of Truth’, He says, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (Jn. 16:13) Followship is the skill Jesus is teaching to his disciples so that when they receive the Holy Spirit they are fully equipped to lean on the council of the Spirit, rather than the person of Christ, when they go out into the world and preach the Gospel of salvation.
The First steps to Followship
Followship is more than just ‘following Christ’, it is the crucial skill we must develop to hear and understand the wise council from the Counselor that Jesus has sent us. Fully developed, a disciple who excels at Followship doesn’t look like someone who excels at Leadership, but perhaps is more of a leader than any leader we know today. In light of Jesus’ words in Mark 8:34-35, Followship skills are dealing with how we should be constantly acting. For example:
Deny yourself: A first step to denying yourself might be to evaluate how you are making judgements in your daily life. We might have heard it said before, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt. 7) but Jesus gives us some clear examples following that verse on how we should properly judge. Followship is applying Jesus’ advice on judgement, over our own tendencies to make snap judgements. Understand that this careful self-evaluation is hardly ‘following Jesus blindly,’ but thinking about what are ‘right judgements’ verses ‘wrong judgements’, studying carefully what Jesus’ advice is, and then praying for the Holy Spirit’s advice on what is the right way to judge.
Take up your cross: All of us have experienced hardships, or have had to make tough decisions before. We can remember the events leading up to that decision, how we made that decision, and the outcome of that decision. In the face of a hard decision you may be up against now, a good first step towards taking up your cross would be to seek out from your own past, or from the experiences of people older and wiser than you, what decisions you or they have made that were good decisions, and what decisions were bad. Studying the scriptures and praying for Holy Spirit’s advice on what to do in light of past experience, advice from others, and what is generally “the right thing to do” (even if it means more hardship for you) is developing your followship skill of taking up your cross. In the Bible, Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:3-13 is a good example of this.!
Follow me: Following Christ really means relinquishing the need to lead. Ultimately, eternity is at stake and Jesus, from the beginning of time, to his ministry on Earth, to time everlasting is leading us to a better future with him, if we allow Him. When we start to think we know best for ourselves because we’re either educated or successful at what we’re doing, we begin to lose sight of following Jesus and things will eventually fall apart. Therefore, successful Followship is much more tedious and complex a skill then successful leadership, because it requires us to submit to the instructions Christ gave us, especially ones we may not agree with.
In the days and weeks ahead it would be good to mentally jot down what you think “Followship” means for your life. Perhaps you will realise you have been too focused on leadership, and the Holy Spirit, our Counselor, has been trying to teach you Followship instead. For some of you, you have been followers of Christ for a long time, but are unsure where to go in your faith. Now would be a good time to check in with Jesus, through His word, and ask the Holy Spirit what you could be doing better. If you’re not a follower of Jesus, I would encourage you to think back on your past experiences, your successes and failures, and where you’re headed now. If you’re feeling overwhelmed because you think you lack leadership, perhaps it’s because it’s time to follow for awhile. For you I would encourage you just to pick up a bible and start reading through Matthew, ask yourself if following Jesus makes more sense than going it alone. You may discover something about yourself you’ve never thought to ask.
Blessings on your journey through life, let’s pray: “Jesus please help us to learn and excel at followship of you in our lives. Help us to understand that our need for success sometimes blinds us from our duty to follow your precious instructions for a righteous and fulfilling life with you. We pray that in the days and weeks ahead, in our meditation over these scriptures and this message, you would show us in our lives how we may excel at following you over ourselves. We pray this oh Lord in your Holy name… Amen.