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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.]