Share the joy
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There’s an article at changingminds.org that makes a great case for Followership. What’s that? Its the reasoning in the minds of individuals within a group that cause them to invest in another person’s leadership.

One particular set of ideas caught my eye. On the subject of Followership, the author writes, “there are five reasons to follow: Fear of retribution, blind hope, faith in leader, intellectual agreement, and buying the vision.” [see this section of the article here]

You might have noticed that the best of reasons is the last, and the worst is the first. By my estimate, very few of these “reasons to follow” have been embraced by the churches of the Memphis Annual Conference. And the clergy who lead in the local churches are some of the worst offenders in this dearth of followership.

The idea of leadership has been discussed fervently since the day I entered the ministry, and for several years prior. Many of my colleagues have noted that they perceived a dearth of leadership in the Memphis Annual Conference. At one point, I would have agreed.

Individualism has its doubting moment...

But this notion of followership has been in my mind for a while now. And I’m beginning to think that we may just have too many leaders, which means that there aren’t enough followers–maybe none at all, on some issues.

Len Sweet, at a seminar I attended in South Carolina a few years ago, said that “a leader without any followers is just somebody out for a stroll.”

While most of the clergy would like to think of ourselves as competent leaders, we should admit that there are people who are simply more qualified to lead the greater body. Rather than pressing for our own way, it may be time for us to submit to the authority that we have vowed to obey. I’ll be thinking of that as we begin the Ordination service tonight.

Looking at this article, I consider our Conference and wonder if we’ve spent enough time dealing with the followers in this “leadership vacuum” conundrum.

Lets break it down.

Buying the vision is the best reason to become a follower. The trouble with most Methodists is deciding which vision to buy into. We are encouraged by our founder to “think and let think.” For most local congregations, this means having their own vision–buying the Conference vision isn’t something that we see often. Churches tend to run in their own circle, rarely lifting their eyes to the horizon to inquire as to the fate of other churches.

As for intellectual agreement, recent findings from the Judicial Council and the subsequent response from the Council of Bishops demonstrates the intellectual stratification in our Church. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s sure evidence of a lack of intellectual agreement. We’re far too concerned with issues, important as they may be, to embrace the greater vision of God’s kingdom. Since the recent events on the national scale are symptomatic of issues at the local congregational level, I think intellectual agreement is right out the door until we find a “do or die” issue upon which to agree.

One of the strongest areas of hope for the Memphis Conference is faith in leadership. Again, from the article, this definition of faith in leadership.

“What a great person. If anyone knows the answer, they do!”

In this situation, the follower is blind to the solution but is following because they have such faith in the leader, they believe that they will, by some magic or genius, provide the answer to the follower’s needs.

One of the old church patriarchs I know was remarking on the leadership style of our pastor at the time. He likened the church to a train, saying, “I don’t care if he [the pastor] is a freight car, a dining car, or even the caboose–if he’s hooked to the Engine of Christ, I don’t mind getting behind him.”

While our bishop would be quick to say that he has no magic, I do know that Dick Wills believes in the power of the Holy Spirit. And, from what I’ve seen, he’s following the leadership of the Holy Spirit. But how many people know this about our Bishop? How many people even know that Dick Wills IS our bishop–or that we even have a bishop, for that matter.

That leaves blind hope and fear of retribution as reasons to follow. These are the two worst reasons in the list. First of all, most churches and many pastors are self-reliant. They hope in a solo relationship with God at best and at worst, rely on their own skills to see them through. Very few of us hope blindly that something will come along. Most of the clergy (including myself more often than I’d care to admit) are too busy playing “the Lone Ranger meets MacGyver” to follow someone else’s lead for a while.

And as for fear of retribution, there are pastors who are simply not interested in the connectional system that weaves us together and holds us in accountable discipleship. The disciplinary measures available to our leaders are either ineffective or too heavy handed. Its an all or nothing prospect, it would seem. Add to that a simple fact: Too many would just as soon cut the ties and strike out on their own. Some would make it for a while. Many would not.

How’s that for cheery thoughts?

In less than 12 hours as of this writing, the Memphis Annual Conference will convene in Paducah, Kentucky. Our best hope is to get realistic about who we are and who we are called to be. I’m praying that the vision that was cast last year will take root in the hearts of delegates this year. I ask that you join me in prayer for this gathering. Pray for shared vision. Pray for intellectual agreement. Pray for faith in our leaders.

Pray for Followership.

Author: Joey Reed

Joey is married to his best friend. Together, they have two children and live in Jackson, Tennessee. Joey serves Grace United Methodist Church, the Jackson District, the Memphis Annual Conference, and the world is his parish.