Followership Excellence [Redux]

[Today’s post is an edited version of one shared a few years ago. It is an under-discussed topic, yet an important one, so I am reposting it for you today.]

“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 our culture is about leadership? Browse around Barnes & Noble or peruse your church library, and what we might call “leadership-envy” is inescapable. Great leadership is vital—we know this all too well—yet what seems to me an excessive fixation on leadership is to some degree symptomatic of two unhealthy causes: we have concluded leaders have more value than followers; and we are afraid 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 is 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. This is the stuff of heroes. This is greatness. This commands respect. Surely, the last will be first.

But poor followership? It stymies. It divides. It tears down, and makes for ruin. And it showed up in the Israelites’ rebellion against their leader and in their doubt in their God. So defining was the moment that Moses actually named the place after these faithless 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; this is what “disciple” means. And our response to true leadership defines the environment where we work and serve. So, fellow followers, what will they name the place where we give of ourselves today? Division, or Unity? Rebellion, or Obedience? Cowardice, or Courage? Pettiness, or Maturity? Subversion, or Support? Me, or We?

Lord, lead us in your strength, and inspire us to serve people well. Grace us with humility, so we may bring blessing to others and glory to you. In Jesus’ name and by the power of your Spirit, we pray. Amen.

[Read the story about Israel’s rebellion in Exodus 17:1-7.]

Hearts Ablaze

“Were not our hearts burning within us…?” they asked each other. It is one of my favorite events in the entire Bible, high on the list of “wish-I-was-there” moments. The risen Christ had appeared to the two men as they traveled the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and as the three of them walked the road together, Jesus “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”1 When they finally recognized Him, “he disappeared from their sight,”2 and with hearts ablaze, they immediately trekked all the way back to the city to testify to the disciples about His resurrection.

There is a vision that likewise burns in human hearts—“A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,”3 and the coming time when “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”4 It ignites our passion and calms our fears. It illumines our path and overshadows our past. It summons our trust and outshouts our doubts. It beckons us, “Come!”; it calls us to rest. And it aligns our steps today with what will be forever.

The Bible tells us that we who live by faith are “foreigners and strangers on earth,”5 and we long for “a better country—a heavenly one.”6 “Our citizenship is in heaven,” writes Paul, “and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”7 There, we are “no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.”8 This is who we are, and this is our home; yet we are here. Then how does our current citizenship in a Kingdom yet to come guide us in the here and now? We regard people not by their earthly worldviews that divide, rather we engage them in the truth of Christ who would unite us in Himself. We stake our wellbeing not in flawed leaders of this age—people are people, after all—rather we live in the peace and confidence of Him who remains sovereign above them. Remembering life in darkness, we live as “children of light.”9 As Kingdom citizens in this foreign land, we do here what we can only do here—we point to freedom in a Kingdom yet to come. Yes, Lord, Thy Kingdom come.

Father, we live in your Kingdom, even as we wait for it to come. Grace us to extend the grace we have received and to share the living hope in which we now hope, that people would live freely in your presence. We pray in the name of the King. Amen.

1 Luke 24:27
2 Luke 24:31
3 Revelation 7:9
4 Revelation 11:15
5 Hebrews 11:13
6 Hebrews 11:16
7 Philippians 3:20
8 Ephesians 2:19
9 Ephesians 5:8

The Present Photo of a Future Pose

“Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”—Peter, speaking of the risen Messiah (Acts 3:21)

As Jesus neared Jerusalem, the crowds thought the Kingdom of God was about to “appear at once,”1, so He righted their expectations through the parable of “a man of noble birth [who] went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.”2 Though “his subjects hated him,”3 the man was made king as planned and returned home until a future time when his rule would become complete—his faithful subjects rewarded and all kingdom-resistance purged from his presence. The nobleman had become king, and his complete reign ultimately came.

Martin Luther explained the coming of God’s Kingdom occurs in two ways: here in time and forever as it is unveiled in eternity. Though no human mind can possibly conceive what God has prepared for those who love him,4 what we do know about the coming Kingdom ignites our spirits in hope and unites our hearts in awe. At that time, the kingdom of the world will become the kingdom of God,5 and His rule will be complete. Satan who deceives us and accuses us will be “thrown down.”6 Though the vision exceeds the confines of our imagination, we will see a new heaven and a new earth where God dwells with us, and the way things are in this world will be no longer.7 “Nothing impure will ever enter”8 this Kingdom, neither sin, nor an evil one to tempt us to sin, nor the guilt and shame that follow. Yet perhaps the most stirring picture is that of a people overflowing with joy and unbridled in praise—“a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb … crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”9

This is where we are going; this is what awaits us. It is the perfect present photo of a future family pose. This written promise lives and leaps off its pages, filling us and inspiring us now to align every part of our being with the truth of what most assuredly will be. Then as citizens of the peaceful Kingdom of God living as exiles in the hostile kingdom of this world, there is purpose for us here and opportunity that exists only for the short time we remain. So we pray …

Our Father in heaven, your Kingdom comes; nothing will stop it. Then may it come to us and flow through us, that we may live forever among the countless made righteous in Christ. We look to the day when we gather as one in your presence; let this vision guide us now. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

1 Luke 19:11
2 Luke 19:12
3 Luke 19:14
4 1 Corinthians 2:9
5 Revelation 11:15
6 Revelation 12:9, 10
7 Revelation 21:1-4
8 Revelation 21:27
9 Revelation 7:9, 10 ESV