Followership Excellence

[Dear Readers: Today’s post is a slightly revised version of a favorite from 2014. Enjoy!]

“And [Moses] called the place Massah [Testing] and Meribah [Quarreling] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’”  (Exodus 17:7)

Have you ever noticed how obsessed we are about leadership? Browse around Barnes & Noble, skim this week’s LinkedIn articles, or peruse your church library, and you’ll find that leadership-envy is inescapable.

followershipIt seems to me our fixation on leadership is to some degree symptomatic of two unhealthy causes: we have concluded that leaders have more value than followers; and we are scared that, if we are not leaders, we’re somehow unsuccessful. Which is a shame. Because I believe that more good is accomplished through great followers than through great leaders and that great followers are at least as worthy of our esteem, if not more so.

Great followers toil just as hard, sacrifice just as much, and apply an equally capable—albeit different—skill set as those who chart their course. Great followers are strong enough to temper their own control and respect that of others. They have the character to offer precious insights during the decision-making process and then submit themselves to the conclusions of those in charge. Their candor takes more courage, for they speak to those who hold power over them. And how brave the one who does not violate his or her values and principles, even when pressured to do so by those in authority! All of this for a fraction of the recognition. That is the stuff of heroes. That is greatness. That commands respect. Surely, the last will be first.

But poor followership? It stymies. It divides. It tears down. Makes for ruin. And it shows up in today’s Scripture, the Israelites rebelling against their leader and doubting their God. So defining was the moment that Moses actually named the place after these followers. He called it Testing and Quarreling. Wouldn’t it have been great had Moses been able to name the place, Loyalty and Affirmation? Or Diligence and Unity! It would have been a lasting reminder of great followership. But it could not be, for although Moses is considered among the greatest leaders of all time, it was the poor followers who defined the place.

We are followers. That’s what “disciple” means: “follower.” And our response to true leadership defines where we work and serve. So what will they name the place where we give of ourselves? Division, or Unity? Rebellion, or Obedience? Cowardice, or Courage? Pettiness, or Maturity? Subversion, or Support? Me, or We?

Lord, lead me in your strength, and inspire me to serve people well. Grace me with humility, so I may bring blessing to others and glory to you. Amen.

[Read today’s text, Exodus 17:1-7.]

Unifying against Division

To prepare for a Kairos prison ministry weekend, the “outside” team meets for a total of 35 hours over a two-month period. It is absolutely critical that we unite with each other before going inside the walls. In one particular formation meeting, I paired off with another volunteer for one-on-one discussion. He was of African descent; I of Scandinavian. He was from Cleveland, and I was from Columbus (by way of Cheboygan). He had served time behind bars; I had racked up a couple speeding tickets, the tough-guy equivalent of two deuces. But do you know what difference stumped us momentarily? He was a lifelong Democrat and I, a registered Republican. He looked at me—speechless for several seconds—and then sincerely inquired, “You’re a Republican and a Christian? I didn’t know that was possible!” I smiled for, years prior, I had experienced the same epiphany moment in reverse, surprised to discover a left-leaning believer. I laugh now about both moments of discovery, having since then seen the entire political spectrum among Christ’s followers.

crewThe night before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed fervently for His disciples and all who would ultimately believe through their message. What was on His mind in these, His final hours on earth? Unity—our union with God and with each other. “That they may be one as we are one,” Jesus petitioned of His Father that evening, “I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22, 23).

My Kairos friend? I’m glad we connected in Christ before we discovered our differences. Had our conversation begun at politics that divide, I’m not sure how easily we would have navigated to the One who unifies. As it were, we went forward and served together in commonality of heart and singularity of purpose. For both of us had experienced Christ in our lives and wanted only to share His love and grace with those wanting to know it for themselves. All else was petty by comparison.

We all have our social, economic, and military views, and many on both sides of each issue are rooted in Biblical conviction or at least our understanding of it. Yet we cannot let our honest differences at the political level weaken us and dissuade us from living and sharing the love of God. The world needs a unified us. Our unity in Christ must be upheld. And division be no more.

Father, open our eyes to look higher than the things that divide us, and focus each one of us on Christ and what He has for us to do today. May you be blessed through your work in and through each one of us who trust you. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

[Read today’s Scripture in John 17:20-26.]

One More Miracle

People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed. (Matthew 14:35, 36)

What do you think, does God heal people today? When it comes to miracles, people’s views run the gamut. Some believe “signs and wonders” served a special purpose for a specific time—to validate Jesus as the long-promised Messiah—and are now a magnificent memory of a long-ago age. Others demand Divine deliverance from the seemingly smallest of sniffles. Still others pshaw any notion outside of the natural. Then we all settle into our comfy positions until . . .

Reality strikes suddenly sometimes, doesn’t it? While we view life academically at times, real life is fragile and raw. And when our health falters, we run to God—vulnerable and pleading, praying for His sovereignty to overcome our circumstance. Many who have long-denied God suddenly cry out to Him for help, and those who relegated miracles to a bygone era desperately seek one now!

Personally, I have seen both sides of healing. As a young boy, I prayed for my father to survive a heart attack, only to lose him that sad Summer morning. Yet 20-plus years later, I listened amazed as my brother shared a miracle in his own life, a truly remarkable story from a highly credible man. [Click here to read Eric’s story.] In one case, God healed; in the other, He did not.

healingReflecting back, I now realize God was in control in both instances; nothing happened outside of His power and love. For the Bible tells us there awaits everyone—even those who experience a miracle on this side of eternity—a certain but unknowable day when we breathe our last. This is the natural order of things.

But ours is a supernatural God, and as Christ has been raised to life, so, too, will those in whom He lives by faith. For there awaits us a new heavenly body, “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4). Yes, even when it looks as though sickness and death have had the final say, God has one more everlasting miracle for us—His life will overcome our death. Count on it.

God, grace me to trust your goodness more than my understanding, to rejoice in your faithfulness despite my faithlessness, and to rest in your sovereignty over my circumstances. Keep me safe in Christ, forever. Amen.