How Many Would Attend a Following Conference?

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I have been to many leadership conferences and seminars and read any number of books on the subject. Leadership is everywhere.  Books, videos, seminars, audios, websites, organizations and ministries are in place to help people in all walks of life lead better.

But I have wondered if there would be as much excitement for a book or seminar that encourages faithful following? We follow Jesus, but others? Topics could be:

  • How to be a good worker
  • How to submit yourself to authority
  • Be a better team player
  • Going the extra mile because it is the right thing to do
  • Servant-following

Back to sports analogies, fans of various sports know there must be a number of leaders on any successful team. But what they usually neglect to mention is that leaders need to have followers, those who respond to the leadership.

There’s an old saying in Texas that, “If you’re riding ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it is still there.” (There is a corollary, “Always drink upstream from the herd”, but I digress)

So, leaders need followers.

To be fair, most Christian leadership conferences or books focus much on the aspect of humble “servant-leadership”, the kind of seemingly contradictory type of leadership that Christ exhibited.

But by the time all that teaching is absorbed, my guess is that our sinful, “I want to run things” nature discards the servant part and we are left with the authoritarian, “I am in charge and you do what I tell you” kind of leadership. I wonder if there are so many books on leadership because readers desperately want to be in charge.

Of course, on the flip side of this discussion are people who would like to be in charge, but desire the role simply because they can get their way and be paid more. Few are aware that they will be held responsible for those who follow them and will be judged not by their performance, but by the performance of those who they are called to lead. It is never easy to lead well. You take the good with the bad.

So why this lesson on leadership today?

Books and other media have an amazing effect on attitudes of readers. As Christian communicators, we view that as an opportunity to creatively portray things that are counter-intuitive to the world and probably to many Christ-followers as well. That’s why most Christian authors are doing what they do…to make a difference.

Honestly, throughout my life, I have personally covered all the bases…exhibiting both good leadership and poor, following people well and not-so-well.  I would guess we are all a mixed bag when it comes to these. (Or, I am the only one so conflicted and you can just ignore all this)

To conclude, let’s focus this for you.

Writing about following is difficult. Especially following a human leader.  Our natural tendency is to want our own way. But Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter ten, verse 24 addresses a core behavior with this, ”No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

Sure, like that will ever work.

You have an opportunity to exhibit examples of both good and bad leadership and good and bad “follower-ship” in what you write.  Even in fictional works that are not intended to cover the topic per se, you have an opportunity to portray examples of it.

In non-fiction, it is one of those topics that probably will never sell. Who wants to be a follower anyway?  We want leadership principles so we can take over!

This is probably a first, an agent suggesting authors write about something that won’t sell.  Well, it should. Maybe someone will write something really good and it will start a movement. After all, like I’ve said before, publishing is an art form, not a science and art will win when the science says it is impossible.

This was one of my periodic cathartic blog posts.  I feel much better now…thanks for asking.

12 Responses to How Many Would Attend a Following Conference?

  1. Pamela J Caldwell June 10, 2014 at 5:38 am #

    This reminds me of the current worship song with the words “Where you go, I’ll go! Where you stay, I’ll stay, When you move, I’ll move, I will follow…

    Thanks for a good reminder.

  2. DIANA HARKNESS June 10, 2014 at 5:48 am #

    There’s already a book espousing followership: I Am a Follower: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus by Leonard Sweet. I read it and it meant more to me than any leadership book. I don’t know how popular it is or how many it sold, but that’s rarely my criteria for reading something.

    • Dan Balow June 10, 2014 at 5:52 am #

      That is a good book and I really like Leonard Sweet. I think being a good follower of PEOPLE is harder for many of us than following a Holy God.

  3. sally June 10, 2014 at 7:19 am #

    I could carry on for hours.

    I will spare you, though. Just let me say I love this post and that I have found, working in the general market children’s world, that it is hard, hard, hard to break past the idea that we should follow our own wills only.

    Unless we are boys, in which case we should bow to our girlfriend’s wills because girls should all be leaders. And God forbid that anyone suggest that a wife should ever submit to her husband!

  4. Joanne Reese June 10, 2014 at 8:11 am #

    This reminds me of John Maxwell’s material. He is known for being an expert on leadership, and rightly so. He mirrors the same ideas listed above, all of which are so contrary to what our flesh wants to hear. Maxwell’s tag line speaks of the kind of leadership Jesus himself modeled. I’ve never forgotten it. “Leadership is Influence”

  5. Sandy M. June 10, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    Ah but we are sheep! Created to follow. Yes, there are the rams who lead but they ALL follow the Shepherd! Subject to Him.

  6. Jeanne Takenaka June 10, 2014 at 9:11 am #

    What a great post, and topic, Dan. Yeah, I think it’s human nature to want to lead. But sometimes, we lead best by being a great follower. Setting a good example to those watching (and someone always is) may be its own form of leadership. Of course, maybe that’s just the mom in me speaking. :) but I believe there can be quiet honor in being a good follower. When we get behind a leader, our efforts toward following may help them lead better.

    No, I’m not always a good follower, and I haven’t always been a good leader. I’m learning whichever role I find myself in I need to evaluate my motives—am I doing it for me, or for God?
    Your post got me thinking today. Thank you.

  7. Jan Cline June 10, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    I agree with Sally. It’s hard to find people who understand the Christlike example of following when the world teaches entitlement without commitment. It’s a challenge to Christian writers to weave it into our writing. I like this post…something to chew on.

  8. Ian June 10, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

    Hi Dan

    Great post, Dan, and yes we need for emphasis on all those areas you mention. But I wonder if what you’ve described all comes under the banner of “discipleship”. I think part of the reason we don’t naturally seek to follow is we haven’t been discipled. Many of us believe we’re discipling but are we really? Especially if we haven’t been discipled ourselves, we may be adopting some peculiar practices. That is not to say if one hasn’t been discipled you can’t be a disciple and then disciple others but we need to be taught and be accountable to another(s) to ensure we’re doing it right.

    I read a great quote the other day from John Ortberg: “We ask the question ‘Have I accepted Jesus as my Saviour?’ but we rarely ask the question ‘Have I accepted Jesus as my teacher?'”

    Great discussion. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Dan Balow June 10, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

      Excellent points. Just as our relationship with God can be a struggle between our will and His, I think we have a particular problem submitting to or following human authority. We might be able to get it straight that we are followers of Christ, but a large number of us want to be “in charge” when it comes to interaction with each other (humans).

      Love the thoughts today.

  9. Lynn Hare June 10, 2014 at 10:02 pm #

    Dan, brilliant post! I think it’s so much easier to lead out with an idea or plan than it is to listen to others and follow theirs. But as a disciple of Christ, I want to follow Him wholeheartedly, and that means surrendering things into His hands under the authority of leadership He chooses. Jeanne, I agree with you – I find that I need to evaluate my motives, too, and be honest when I pray about an intended course of action and its “why.”

  10. lisa evola June 12, 2014 at 5:25 am #

    This was very thought provoking; at times even a bit uncomfortable. As leaders we do not want to admit that we are control junkies, but I think that in order to be an effective leader you almost need to have a bit of that in your personality. That is what makes us want to do it. Because honestly, leading others is a difficult, and sometimes thankless job – and who wants to do that? I believe the growth comes in after some time, as you discover that it really isn’t all about you and that when you get down on your knees or wallow in the trenches alongside those you lead, greater joy fills those spaces once occupied by a need to control. I am presently leading 9 other writers on a contributor blog and honestly there are days when I just want to say “Do it my way!” But I often realize that when I am there simply to serve them and help them to grow as writers, the greatest progress is made. It doesn’t always look like I think it should, but many times it is even better than I could have imagined! Thank you for this reminder for my day! :)

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