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Our goal is healthy churches and Christian ministries. This means every member must take responsibility for the whole; every member must function actively and thoughtfully.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph. 4:16)
To this end, the following are eleven primary actions of active, thoughtful followers:
God has established our leaders in their roles so that we can follow them (Heb. 13:17). Obedience is not the grudging, sometimes subversive, obedience of the alienated follower, or the mindless obedience of the conformist. It is not the bare-minimum, unenthusiastic obedience of the passive sheep, or the manipulative, self-serving obedience of the pragmatic survivor. Healthy followers should be thoughtfully and actively obedient (Col. 3:22-24, see also Eph. 6:5-8).
On any normal day, the leader carries the burden of responsibility for the entire organization (2 Cor. 11:28-29). All leaders go through difficult times. During such times, a healthy follower will actively look for ways to express support and encouragement to his leader (e.g. 1 Cor. 16:17-18, 2 Tim. 1:16, Philem. 7, Prov. 27:18) through a variety of ways: notes, cards, children’s drawings, food, gifts, personal visits. Even a simple word spoken at the right time can provide great encouragement (Prov. 15:23, 25:11).
Effective followers take responsibility for the success of the whole organization, not just their own areas. They take the initiative to do what is necessary without being told, and go beyond their normal duties when appropriate. When problems arise, they point out the problems to the leader and suggest solutions. Healthy followers see themselves as participants and not mere spectators in the processes of organizational health and growth. Thus, paradoxically, the key to being an effective follower is the ability to think for oneself (Prov. 6:6-8, 30:27).
In contrast, ineffective followers vacillate between despair over their seeming powerlessness and attempts to manipulate leaders for their own purposes. Either their fear of powerlessness becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy or their resentment leads them to undermine the organization’s effectiveness.
The leader does not have all the answers, especially when he is new or inexperienced. Secure leaders build mutually trusting relationships with capable followers who look for opportunities to provide helpful advice, ask questions, or simply to be good listeners when the situation demands it (Prov. 9:9, 15:22, 24:6). The healthy follower maintains this relationship with confidentiality and refuses to boast to others about his relationship with his leader.
Challenge when necessary
When there are potential drawbacks or problems with a leader’s plans or ideas, a healthy follower brings these issues to light (Prov. 9:8-9, 17:10, 19:25, 27:5-6). Such challenges can be negative (“you’re wrong…”) or positive (“you’re right but we can do this even better…”). Many biblical followers did the very same thing – Jethro (Ex. 18), Ruth (Ruth 1:15-18), and Paul (Gal. 2).
Any challenge should be backed up by a history of submission and cooperation. If this is the case, consider the following:
- Be sure it really matters. Don’t challenge a leader over every little thing!
- Build a consistent history of submission and cooperation.
- Pray first for grace, wisdom and favor.
- Acknowledge the leader’s position and right to make the final decision.
- Communicate a sincere desire to help the leader fulfill the organization’s purpose (Prov. 28:25a).
- Point out specifics rather than vague generalities.
- Refrain from personalizing the critique.
- Avoid threats of non-compliance if the leader does not take heed (unless, of course, it involves legal or ethical compromise on your part).
The leader must never forget that the follower’s loyalty is not to him but to the Lord Jesus and to the purposes of God for the organization. Frequently, leaders misinterpret their followers’ commitment and mistake loyalty to God and His will for loyalty to themselves. The reality is that we are all coworkers in the purposes of God; thus, no one of us is above challenge and accountability.
Seek honest feedback
To build mutual trust and openness, a healthy follower will encourage the leader to be candid and direct and frequently ask for input on improving his performance. Additionally, a healthy follower won’t withdraw when the leader shares corrections or concerns (Prov. 10:17; 12:1, 15). In this way, the healthy follower chooses accountability regarding his own life, the details of his own ministry and how his ministry fits with the whole community.
Clarify roles and expectations
It is the leader’s responsibility to make known to his followers what their exact roles and responsibilities are. Nevertheless, many leaders fail to communicate such things as clear job expectations, scope of authority and responsibility, specific goals that must be attained, and deadlines.
Followers must pursue clarification in these areas, and will diplomatically but firmly resolve role ambiguity and conflict.
Healthy leaders affirm their followers, and healthy followers affirm their leaders. When such affirmation is sincere and not manipulative, it will strengthen the leader-follower relationship and encourage the leader to push ahead toward the fulfillment of the vision (Luke 17:16-18, 2 Cor. 6:11-13).
Keep the leader informed
Leaders rely on their followers to keep them informed about many aspects of the life and activity of the organization (1 Cor. 1:11, 5:1; Col. 1:7-8; 1 Thess. 3:6).
Without accurate and timely information, a leader cannot make good decisions. He will lack a complete picture of what is happening, and will feel and look incompetent. Followers must share both positive and negative information with their leaders; those who “protect” the leader by withholding negative information sabotage the entire organization. Exactly how much and how often you should inform the leader about issues are complex matters, requiring wisdom – a leader cannot, and should not, be aware of all the details in an organization. Of course, finding the right balance is much easier when there is a relationship of mutual trust and respect.
It is extremely important that the follower verify the accuracy of information he passes along to the leader (Prov. 16:13). Rumors, complaints and reports of problems can have a disproportionate effect if the leader assumes incorrectly that the follower took the time to substantiate them. Moreover, the good follower will not pretend to know more than he really does when asked about a given situation, preferring instead to defer his answer until he has had a chance to find out (Prov. 25:7-8, 29:20).
Resist inappropriate influence
The healthy follower knows he is not required by God to comply with instructions to do what is abusive, illegal or unethical, or to believe what is theologically aberrant (Dan. 1:8, 3:16-18; Acts 4:18-20, 5:27-29; Gal. 2:11). He will not sacrifice the purpose of the organization or his own integrity just to maintain harmony and minimize conflict.
First, in a firm but tactful way, he should remind the leader of his own spiritual and ethical responsibilities, pointing out the negative consequences of the proposed course of action (Prov. 25:15). Second, he should attempt to hold the leader accountable within the authority structure of the organization. If his attempts at bringing correction fail, he may need to leave the organization. At all times, he must retain the right spirit and not become personally hostile.
How would you rate yourself as a follower, given these qualities and actions? How would your supervisor or other leader rate you?