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Leadership and Followership

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Artist Name - Leadership-and-Followership


[These are the notes from Redeemer's Quarterly Member's Meeting on April 19th.]

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)

Very few people aspire to be a good follower. I mean, the word leadership is common to us, and it rolls off the tongue. But Followership? I had to do a double take when I wrote that. Is that even a real word? If you go to a bookstore, you will find a whole section with shelf after shelf devoted to leadership. Books about becoming a good leader, 5 laws of leadership, 10 rules for leadership, how to win friends and influence people, how to be a leader. But you would be hard pressed to find even one book on how to be a good follower. 5 laws of effective followership. How to submit to good leadership and follow well. They just aren't there.

The fact is most people don't want to follow. To be a follower sounds icky, cult-like, and weak. We all want to lead – or at least we don't want to be followers.

But why is that? I think at root the issue is sin. Our primal sin is that of shaking off authority. Saying "No" and not submitting to God's leadership and striking out on our own. This is what Adam and Eve did. This is a recurring theme throughout the whole Old Testament. When God gives His people leaders there is often some sort of rebellion to that leadership as well. Under Moses we have a lot of that, and under David as well. Even under good and godly leaders – the people at times kick against that leadership.

Now the New Testament believer should have a better view of followership. We should have accepted that following is a critical part of who we are as Christians. Why? Because we have come to follow Jesus.

What did Jesus say to the people, including fishermen like Peter, James and John? Follow me. Over and over again in the gospels Jesus says those words, follow me. You can't be a Christian without dealing with that reality. In coming to Christ for salvation we have come to follow Him.

But not only are we called to all follow and submit to Jesus as the Good Shepherd. God calls men from out of His flock to serve as under-shepherds, that is, as pastors and elders. And we are also called to follow them. We are to follow godly leaders in the church as they instruct us in the Word, as they disciple us, as they encourage us in the Christian life, as they lead us to do good works, and as they mobilize us for mission.

Here in Hebrews 13:17 it is clear. Obey your leaders and submit to them. Supplementing that is a phrase 10 verses earlier: 7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. So there is this command to follow and imitate, and to submit to and obey.

So what does that look like? There are two words that I think help sum it up and give us clarity on obeying and submitting to pastoral leadership, and those are the words trust and support. To be the kind of person who obeys godly leadership you have to trust that leadership. You can say, I respect these men, I respect this office, and I trust that God will take care of me as I put myself under this authority. It is not an unthinking obedience, nor is it a total and absolute obedience in every area of your life – but it is a real trusting obedience. When you are being exhorted in the word on a Sunday – you listen with a desire to put it into practice. Not with a squinty eye and a critical spirit. When your pastor encourages you to serve, or to participate, or encourages you to make efforts in your home, or warns you about some attitude or behaviour, you really listen. And your default position is to lean in and take it seriously and obey it. That takes trust.

Being suspicious and jaded and cynical will make that really hard. And one of the problems we are having these days, is that so many leaders inside and outside the church have proven untrustworthy. It makes it hard to follow. It makes it hard to be obedient and submissive in the areas where you are still called by God to be submissive. It is so much harder because so much has failed around us.

But failed leadership is not the only bad thing to worry about in the church – failed followership is also devastating; as it also causes division and hurts the health of the church. Bad leadership is dangerous, but so is bad followership. We rightly hold our leaders to a high standard – but the Word of God holds all of us to a high standard. We all have a part to play, roles to fill, texts that apply to us, areas in which we must submit and obey. Even those in leadership must submit to God and to other leaders and do their duties as God prescribes them.

Again, trust is key to obeying your leaders and submitting to them. We must learn to trust, and choose to trust. But the other key word is support. Joyful support is what submission looks like. Instead of kicking against leadership, instead of staying out-of-range from being led, you willingly receive that leadership. You lend your support, your encouragement, you get behind the project, you stand beside your leaders and say "I'm with you pastor", "I'm with you brothers". "Need anything?" "How can I serve?"

Being submissive and obedient in this sense isn't being a yes-man, or a cult-member, or something unbiblical like that. But it is being a joy to shepherd. Your pastors teach you the word and you go about obeying that word. Your pastor tries to rally you for some biblical thing like fellowship, evangelism, prayer, global missions, and you are rally-able. You are ready to follow. That's a beautiful thing. And it gives leaders joy – not because they are personally being followed – but because you are ultimately following Christ.

The heart of the true, godly pastor isn't follow me and give me personal loyalty no matter what – no, it is the heart that Paul shared with the Corinthians, when he said: "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1).

As the church grows in godly followership the whole body is blessed. And the pastors would be especially grateful. "For they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)

A good diagnostic to ask yourself, and to ask those who know you best is – "Am I a good follower?" "Do I make the leaders in my life groan or does my life bring them great joy?"

May we all grow in the callings and stations that God has us in. May those who lead, lead with joy. May those who follow, lend that support and submit with trust and joy. And may we ultimately all follow Christ, advancing His Kingdom together in humility, in unity, and in love. 

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Sunday, 19 May 2024