If you search leadership books on Amazon, you will find some 57,000. The market for leadership books is saturated. A friend of mine named Jim Galvin published a book last year on leadership. Why another leadership book when there are 57,000? Jim’s book is a little different. His thesis is this: Good leaders need to be good followers. Every leader is a follower, and every leader has followers.
Jim calls this “followership." Fundamentally, it's nothing new. It captures the essence of Christian discipleship.
Discipleship is an ancient model of instruction where a master imparts knowledge, skill, and heart to a follower, or disciple. Simply put, discipleship can be described by the two words Jesus used to call his disciples, “Follow me” (Matt. 4:19). Discipleship is more than education or classroom learning. It's more than teaching facts and knowledge. It is apprenticeship. It involves the imitation of life through shared experience.
If you want to learn a trade or a craft, you have to follow a master. If you want to be the best mason, you follow the best. Learn how he lays the bricks, mixes the mortar, and handles his business. Not just the science of the trade, but the art. If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, you follow the Master. Jesus called 12 men to follow him for three years. It wasn't three years of class. While it included direct instruction, most of the learning was from shared experience. Watch how he treats the lowly. See how he handles conflict and crisis. Watch him pray, and cry. See him bleed and die, and know what sacrificial love is.
In the pattern of followership there’s always someone ahead of you and someone behind you. You are a follower and you have followers. In Paul’s second letter to the young pastor Timothy, he exhibits the culture of followership. Paul references his ancestors before him (1:3). He then talks about the faith of Timothy’s grandmother Lois, and mother Eunice (1:5). And he speaks of himself, Paul, as one who imparts to Timothy.
In the same way, Paul uses the word “entrust.” The gospel was “entrusted to me” (II Tim. 1:12) he says. So then, “I entrusted it to you (1:14). And you entrust to faithful men (2:2). You are a follower, following those before you. And you have followers, those who come after you. And together, we all follow Christ. The Christian life dare not be lived in isolation or individually.
In my life, I have come to recognize the necessity of following well. There are those who are before me. I follow them. My fathers – my grandfather, father, and father-in-law. Mentors such as my esteemed colleagues. I have a "personal board of directors," wise men in the faith that I look to and learn from.
Just as I follow, I recognize there are those who follow me. In a formal way, there are 9 men who follow me. One of them is a son of our congregation who desires to be a pastor. We have a standing appointment once a week. Sometimes we have lunch. Sometimes we dialogue about a particular issue. Sometimes we pray together. Sometimes he follows me into a meeting or a ministry situation.
Who do you follow? Who's following you?
Maybe you follow a parent, a mentor, a pastor or ministry leader. Maybe you follow a friend or co-worker whose faith and life you admire. And just as you follow them, someone follows you in the faith. Maybe children or grandchildren. Maybe a younger adult, a friend, or a peer. It could be formal, but it might be really informal. A high school freshman looks up to a senior and sees how they live out their faith on the football team. There is no manual on every imaginable situation you will encounter. The Bible is not a "how-to" book for every instance in life. God gives us his word in community, and we follow together.
Followership is challenging. It requires serious investment. But the Master we follow is worth following. If you followed his footprints, his tracks would lead to the poor and lowly. Follow him to the sick and dying. Follow him to a hill and a death by crucifixion. Follow him to the darkness of a grave. Then follow him out of the grave into resurrected life. We follow this Master because he followed us. He chased you when you were fleeing, found you when you were wandering. And when he found you, he spoke the words he said to his first disciples, “Follow me.”