Posted On May 4, 2017

The Hidden Gift of Followership

by | May 4, 2017 | Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

What impression does the word follower conjure up? Ordinary? Our elitist culture has developed the notion that leadership is the inevitable goal for talented folks. How many bestsellers celebrate the merits of followership as opposed to leadership? What college enjoys record enrollment with Training Tomorrow’s Followers as its banner?

Fiction has excellent examples of followers who don’t fit the stereotype. J. R. R. Tolkien described his famous follower, Sam Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, this way:

“One tiny Hobbit against all the evil the world could muster. A sane being would have given up, but Samwise burned with a magnificent madness, a glowing obsession to surmount every obstacle, to find Frodo, destroy the Ring, and cleanse Middle Earth of its festering malignancy. He knew he would try again. Fail, perhaps. And try once more. A thousand times if need be, but he would not give up the quest.”

Sound ordinary to you? Sam demonstrates followers don’t necessarily have less vision or zeal than their leaders.

But where would Frodo have been without the tenacious and fiercely loyal Sam? Sam’s love and humility guarded him from the Ring’s temptations and false promises of power that would have sabotaged the entire mission. What would Sam need with a Ring of Power when his goal was its destruction?

The gospel, not the leader, is central.

Followers do not find their ultimate identity in any earthly leader because they have the advancement of the gospel as their primary purpose. This frees both leader and follower to grow in unity not by growing closer in opinion, but by each drawing nigh to Christ.

Am I placing expectations on my church leaders that should rest on Christ alone? If my pastor were to announce a call to a new church thousands of miles away, would I be devastated by such news? While I follow an earthly leader, I need to be mindful my ultimate head is Christ. Remembering this also helps me when I’m tempted to doubt a good leader.

Unity is not uniformity.

Disagreement does not equal rebellion. In fact, the opposite may be true. When laypeople disagree with their leaders and speak honestly and lovingly to them, they are exhibiting the highest form of loyalty. A confident leader actively invites feedback.

How can followers appeal to their leaders without bringing unnecessary discouragement? Both parties need a tenacious hold on the goal of making much of Christ.

A Godly Follower Helps a Leader Succeed  

A few years ago, I led a group at church and found my sharpest critic to be my husband. We ended a tense conversation in a stalemate. Then my son, who had overheard the exchange, quietly spoke up. “Mom? Did it ever occur to you that Dad is trying to help you succeed?”

Several times during their journey, Sam and Frodo didn’t agree. Sam confronted Frodo to keep him on mission. Sam didn’t merely want to be right; he wanted Frodo, and ultimately the mission, to succeed.

Leaders, are there avenues in your church for such honest conversations? Are you willing to trust your followers’ instincts on occasion, over your own? Some of the most affirming words I’ve ever heard from my pastor were, “What do you think?”

A Godly Follower is Humble

In a letter to Mrs. Eileen Elgar, Tolkien sums up Sam’s character. “He did not think of himself as heroic or even brave, or in any way admirable – except in his service and loyalty to his master” (Letters of J.R. R. Tolkien p.329). Likewise, if our goal is devotion to Christ by loving the leaders he has given us, what place would jealousy and envy have in our hearts?

Not assistants, but co-laborers

Although Tolkien made it clear that Frodo was the stronger Hobbit, he also made it clear that even the best Hobbit was weak and needed the assistance of the “lesser” one. Sam literally followed Frodo to hell and back. Who would discount a friend like that? And as they sat together reflecting on their journey, Sam muses what he will tell his children about his beloved leader, Frodo.

“Frodo was really courageous, wasn’t he, Dad?”

“Yes, my boy, the most famousest of hobbits. And that’s saying a lot.”

But Frodo redirects his follower: “You’ve left out one of the chief characters—Samwise the Brave. I want to hear more about Sam. Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam.”

“Samwise the Brave…”

A janitor at my job often speaks with the wisdom of a professional counselor. I’ve watched him encourage a coworker not to lose heart while he worked on a phone, offer marriage advice while he changed a light bulb, and remind a tearful patient of God’s presence while he worked on a furnace. He’s pointed as many to Christ as his pastor. I asked him where he got so much insight.

“The Sunday sermon,” he said. “My pastor shares the Word with me, and I take it to the job.”

There are seminars on how to do such things. I’m grateful my teacher in this instance, is a godly follower. If we practice being courageous in the mundane tasks and interactions with our leaders, then one day we will be prepared if called upon to display extraordinary courage without leaders.

Francis Schaeffer, in No Little People, No Little Places, writes:

“The people who receive praise from the Lord Jesus will not in every case be the people who held leadership in this life. There will be many persons who were sticks of wood that stayed close to God and were quiet before him, and were used in power by him in a place which looks small to men.”

To me, that sounds a lot like, “to do justice . . .  love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 ESV).

Related Posts

Five Attributes of God and Their Meaning in Scripture

Five Attributes of God and Their Meaning in Scripture

The Eternity of God Revelation 1:8 supports God’s sovereignty with three statements, the first of which expresses the eternity of God: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God.” God reigns over all since He is before and after all things. “The Alpha and the...

8 New Testament Passages That Support a Historical Adam and Eve

8 New Testament Passages That Support a Historical Adam and Eve

Luke 3:38 In one of the two New Testament genealogies of Jesus, Luke identifies Jesus as “the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli” (Luke 3:23). Luke proceeds to trace Jesus’s descent back to “Adam, the son of God”: Jesus, when he began his ministry, was...

Men as the Chief Repenters in the Home

Men as the Chief Repenters in the Home

On today’s Warriors of Grace show, Dave considers six ingredients for biblical repentance, men leading in repentance in the home, union with Christ, and biblical manhood. What You'll Hear On This Episode Six ingredients for biblical repentance. Union with Christ and...

Why You and I Need the Local Church

Why You and I Need the Local Church

“I don’t need to go to a building to meet with God.” “I can read my Bible and pray anywhere.” “I love Jesus, but I’m against organized religion.” I often hear these types of statements as a justification to skip out on the weekly gathering of God’s people (church)....

The Dangers of the Message

The Dangers of the Message

On today’s Equipping You in Grace, Dave and Doreen consider how our belief in and understanding of Scripture impacts what we do with the Bible, the difference between dynamic translations and paraphrases, and comparing Scripture to the message. What you'll hear in...

Practice Makes Progress

Practice Makes Progress

God intends for us to grow. Peter reminds us that, “like newborn infants,” we should “desire the pure milk of the word, so that you may grow up into your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). Growing from infancy to maturity is how the Bible portrays God’s work in your life (Eph...

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    What a thoughtful message about an oft-neglected topic! No great Christian leader could minister effectively without a core group of dedicated followers. Thank you for recognizing and exposing the myth that only leaders matter.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share28
Tweet
Email
Reddit
Share