Last week I wrote about the song of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5. The song begins, “That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the LORD!” (Judges 5:2, ESV) In my last post I discussed the first part of this verse, but what about the second part? I understand “the people offered themselves willingly” to mean that they were willing to follow the lead of the leaders. So today I want to talk about following.
Deborah and Barak could have done all the leading they want, but if the people were not willing to follow them, they would not have achieved victory over Israel’s enemies. To achieve anything important we need not only good leadership, but good “followership.”
Why Don’t People Follow Leaders?
Sometimes the leaders are prepared to lead, but people aren’t willing to follow them. This is a problem, because God has established leaders in the church and commanded us to follow them: ” 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.” (Heb. 13:17 ESV) They “watch over your souls,” so this is talking about spiritual leaders. The words “obey” and “submit,” sound pretty serious. You can add all the disclaimers you want about leaders needing to be held accountable and only God deserving absolute obedience (both true), but it is difficult to escape the conclusion that this verse calls for some serious following.
What are some of the reasons that people won’t follow a leader?
- They don’t respect or trust that particular leader.
There are many possible reasons for this. Sometimes the leader is young or inexperienced, or hasn’t proven himself or herself. Sometimes the leader simply isn’t qualified to lead. At other times it might be that the person has not been able to get to know or connect with the leader.
- They don’t trust any leaders.
Some people have a deep mistrust of anyone in a leadership position. Sometimes that is due to a leader who has hurt or disappointed them in the past. Our society also tends to foster a general distrust of anyone in authority. This is a spiritual problem, because God is the ultimate authority, and He has delegated authority to leaders He has established. So if you have a problem with authority in general, you have a problem with God. Guess who will win that contest.
- They just like doing their own thing and don’t want to answer to anyone.
We live in a very individualistic, self-centered society. We don’t like it when someone else gets to call the shots. But in any organization, there are those in leadership positions who have the authority to make decisions that impact others. What would happen to a football team if the other players in the huddle argued with the quarterback about the next play? He is held accountable for his performance as a quarterback, but that doesn’t happen in the huddle.
How Can We Become Good Followers?
If God has called some people to be leaders, then logically He has called other people to follow them. There are many cynical people today who are not willing to follow anyone, but we can’t expect leaders to do their job if we are not willing to follow them. How can we become good followers?
- Chose the right people to be leaders.
People are a lot more willing to follow if we can chose leaders who are godly people who are gifted to lead. No one is perfect, but leaders need to be able to be an example to those they serve.
- Learn to trust godly leaders.
Many of us have difficulty trusting. Maybe we have been hurt, or know others who have been hurt. But for the church to move forward, we need to chose the right leaders and then trust them. Not blindly or without oversight, but trust nevertheless.
- Trust God more.
Ultimately it comes down to trusting God. After we have prayed for guidance and gone through a process to select a leader, we need to trust that God has guided us and give the leader a chance to lead. Confidence in God can help you trust other people. Ultimately, He is the one who is in control.
- Practice good followership.
For leaders to be effective, they need people who are godly, faithful followers. They can’t succeed without your support. If you were the leader, how would you want followers to treat you?
I’m sure that you can think of other reasons that people don’t follow leaders, and other ways to help them do so. I hope that what I have shared here stimulates your thinking. Please leave a comment to share your own thoughts.
Photo credit: KaCey97007 on flickr.com