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Followership

This past Saturday we had our annual Church Leadership Retreat. About this time each year, the chairs of the various committees of the church gather with members of the Administrative Council and others to reflect on where we are as a church, to pray and worship together and to look ahead. It is a time of fellowship, worship, laughter, sharing and discernment, and I look forward to it every year.

As I reflect on the day that we had together—and as I remember John’s sermon from Sunday morning—I’m wondering if we need to find a new name for the retreat. If you were here on Sunday, you heard the story of Jesus’ calling his first disciples to him. He found Peter, Andrew, James and John working on their fishing boats, and he called out to them: “Follow me.” So, maybe instead of a “leadership” retreat, we should call it a “followership” retreat.

Now, this is not an original idea. I heard Dr. Leonard Sweet speak about “followership” at a clergy gathering not long ago. And Dr. Howard Olds, who was the senior pastor at Brentwood UMC for several years, actually wrote a book with Cal Turner about this very thing entitled Led to Follow.

What these pastors and thinkers are reacting to is the fascination that the church has had with the leadership movement. Leadership is a popular topic in the business world and in other arenas. You can go to seminars and workshops on leadership. You can find any number of books on how to lead an organization, a company, a family. I’ve even read a few of them and found them helpful.

But there’s a difference between leadership as the world understands it and leadership in the church. Usually, when people talk about leadership, they assume that the ability to lead comes from someone’s skills, personality, charisma or vision. A person is a good leader because of who he or she is or what he or she does. A leader has a vision. A leader has charisma. A leader is a good communicator. You get the picture.

When it comes to the church, though, we see things from a different perspective. We are not called to lead. We are called to follow. We do not have a vision, God has a vision. We do not lead from our own power, we follow where God leads through the power of the Holy Spirit. The great “followers” in the Bible (Moses, Esther, David, Jeremiah, Simon Peter, etc.) were all flawed and “in over their heads.” None of them really knew where they were going or understood fully what God was up to. But they listened and followed, one step at a time.

So, what does this mean for us? What does “followership” mean for a member of the Administrative Council or the chair of the Outreach Committee or for any of us? It means that we remain open to the movement of the Spirit. It means that we pray and listen more than we plan and talk. It means that we seek God’s vision for our work, knowing that the vision may not come from the chairperson or the pastor or the elected officer. It could come from anyone who is listening, anywhere, anytime. May all of us be listening, praying, discerning and waiting for God’s vision to unfold before us.  May all of us be the best followers we can be!