Friday, July 25, 2014

Five Characteristics of Excellent Followers

I woke up ready to write this morning, so I jumped over to Lisa-Jo's to see what her prompt was. You can jump over there too, and in light of her transition, I'd like to choose my own prompt today (woohoo), and we'll link up with Kate soon.

This year, Jesus and I picked a word/theme for me to work on and learn, instead of making an insane number of resolutions back in January and feeling like a failure in February. I've done My One Word now for almost three years and here's my conclusion: focus is the key to lasting change. 

So, this year's word is Follow, and wow, can I just say that God has so much to say to me about this one. I'm learning content I didn't know that I didn't know, and all because my soul is in tune to awareness of this theme. 

I'll briefly share my process of how I do MyOneWord, but it definitely varies, based on your personality, learning style, and personal development. If you've never tried it before, I encourage you to check it out and begin praying about a word for 2015, because sometimes it takes a while to hear what God is telling you. That's a whole other issue, an entirely different prompt and post. For now, here's my approach:

  • I pray about the word God wants for my year and ask Him what He wants to teach me.
  • Once the word is chosen by Him and revealed to me, I make a creative piece to have on visual display, so I see it (pretty) every day.
  • As I read the Bible, I ask God to show me verses that apply to the theme of the year, and I write them down (on pretty paper, of course) as I work on committing them to memory and applying them to my life.
(that is the fat stack of follow verses I've collected so far, on top of my Spurgeon devotional and my Bible, pardon the blue duct tape *blush*)
  • I continue to ask God to change me, making me into the sanctified woman He envisioned the day I was made. Without this surrender prayer, I honestly don't believe change would be possible for me. I'm just that stubborn.
  • I journal about what I'm learning, taking notes as if from the Master Professor. Have I ever told you how much I loved being a student? Well, I absolutely cherish learning, especially from a fabulous teacher. And believe you me, He's a dynamo!
  • I talk to others about what I'm learning and bounce ideas off of them. I especially ask my mentors and those close to me - the ones I trust with my soft places - if they see change in me, if they can tell how the Potter is working on this clay. And I let them say a hard word, even if it stings for a minute. I can't tell you how crucial this part is.
  • I seal it with gratitude. If I learn, apply, or practice any of the change God is bringing to me, I'll take note of it in my gratitude journal, and that not only brings thanks to the Source, but it helps me remember my progress.
So with that laid out, let's explore a bit about what God has to say about followers, shall we? I've learned that we have a chasm right now between our American culture which overemphasizes the value of leadership, and Jesus's counter-cultural approach which emphasizes following and serving well. Nowadays everyone wants to be a leader, everyone wants control, and everyone thinks the leader is the best. If you're not the leader, you're just not as important, right? Which is just a breeding ground for power grabs and control issues. And believe me - I'm the worst when it comes to control issues. The problem is that I want it. Control, that is - all the time and over everyone, especially myself. Unfortunately, I'm no good at being Sovereign.

Control is not God's plan for me. Check out these verses from my stack and you decide:
  • Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy. - Leviticus 20:8
  • Since you are my rock and my fortress,
        for the sake of your name lead and guide me. - Psalm 31:3 
  • May I wholeheartedly follow your decrees,
        that I may not be put to shame. - Psalm 119:80
  • Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” - Isaiah 30:21
  • Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it." -Mark 8:34-35
  • Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”  “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God  will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” -Luke 18:28-30
  •  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. -Acts 20:24
I've noticed that when the breakdown in a company or institution or organization happens, it's often not a lack in good leadership, though that's want we most often assume. It's often the breakdown in good follwership. And yes, I did just make a word up. Work with me here. Followers are extremely valuable, and I've noticed that tons of people are great leaders (or at least they think they are), but not very many people pride themselves in being an excellent servant, a high-quality support, and a great follower. And maybe, just maybe, that's what's wrong with us. With me. Maybe I'm looking to move up in this world when Jesus needs me to simply move forward behind Him.

From my observations, from what I've been learning from the Teacher and attempting to apply to my own heart and actions, though it's tough, here are what I believe are five characteristics of excellent followers:

1. They choose their leaders well. 
If you're going to be able to follow well, you need to believe in your leader and the direction she/he is going. Choosing a leader ought not to be a hasty matter. Before swearing allegiance to anyone, including Jesus (He'll require that you pick up a cross, after all), observe them, listen to their vision, and figure out if where they're going is where you want to end up too.

2. They know their role.
Every time I've observed division (okay, maybe not every time, but just about) I've noticed that it was a matter of the followers being confused about their role as followers. "Oh," I would say to myself, "That's the problem - he doesn't know that he's the follower, not the leader here." As clear as day I saw it, and yet to say it would be to exacerbate the very issue of ignorance. And every time I've observed an organization or business running smoothly, I've also noticed that the people following are secure in their role and identity as a follower. It's almost like they know who they are and they like it. It's beautiful, really.

3. They know how to confront their leader without slandering him or her. 
We can blindly follow Jesus without ever questioning Him or doubting His guidance, but He's really the only One we can do that with. And most people don't even do that - most of us DO question Him and doubt Him sometimes. My hands aren't always open. Sometimes I shake a fist at heaven, too - but I'll tell you this - only when I'm alone with Him. I believe it should be the same with the people who lead us. We should question them to their faces, not behind their backs. We need to confront their short-comings sometimes (and by sometimes I mean very rarely), but only in private, and not in front of others. This is classic Matthew 18 teaching, but we as Americans are not good at this in any way, shape, or form. Excellent followership will include the occasional disagreement with your leader, but it will never include gossip. And here's the definition of gossip, in case you were wondering (Strong's Hebrew and Greek): talebearer, whisperer; prating, talking foolishly, babbling. 

4. They put forth excellent effort without the need to be seen.
This is one of the most difficult for me, because I really do like to be noticed. I covet the attention of people and it gets me in trouble often. God is really dealing with this sin in me, because He doesn't want me to live a life that glorifies myself - He wants me to live my life to glorify Him. So why is that so hard? Well I believe it is a flesh vs. Spirit battle we all face and I believe Satan uses it every chance he gets because of how effective it is to distract us from worshiping God. But here's where following becomes counter-cultural once again. "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." -Colossians 3:17. Excellent followers work hard whether or not people are watching. They have a big picture in mind - a vision and purpose of the big things cooperation can accomplish. They aren't out for attention or accolades, which are fleeting; they're out for the good of the organization, institution, company, or family. If they get noticed, they appreciate the gratitude, but they don't feed off of it. If their hard work doesn't get noticed by others, they take comfort in knowing God sees, and they let that be enough. Yes, I need to get better at this, too.

5. Excellent followers positively influence their leaders.
Playing second fiddle isn't usually a positive phrase, but I like it anyway. Unless we're talking about Jesus, all of our other leaders will need to be led as well. And just because we follow them, doesn't mean we don't have influence in their lives. When a servant earns the trust of his master, the master will eventually learn to listen to the wisdom of the servant also. This doesn't come instantly, and that can be problematic in our microwave culture, but it will happen: and if you are following well, don't be shocked if you gain more "power" than you once expected. Think of Aaron and Hur for Moses. They lifted his arms, and because of their support and encouragement (with God's power) God's people won that battle. Leaders need support and guidance too, and if you are an excellent follower, it will only be a matter of time before you find yourself in a position of far more leadership than your title denotes. 

How about you? What characteristics do you observe in people who are good at followership? Please slip your thoughts in the comments box below. And in the spirit of Friday - Keep Writing! 

Photo credit: Yuri Levchenko via flickr creative commons

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