[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.
It 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.]