“Leaders can inspire, teach, entertain, and in many other ways shape the framework upon which an adventure can unfold. Within that framework, however, group members must bear much of the responsibility for the quality of their own experience.” – Robert Birkby (author of the Boy Scout Handbook, 10th ed.)
Last week we equated the Christian life with the continual process of being formed in the image of Christ, and Christian leadership with the intentional use of our influence to spur others on towards that same goal of spiritual formation. Since this is exactly what our ministry is about through the fulltime program, we came to the realization that our current ministry is therefore an exercise in Christian leadership, regardless of whether or not we currently have the positional title of “leader.”
None of our discussions or definitions about leadership thus far have involved position… so what prohibits us from exhibiting good leadership in our various roles as followers? After all, if leadership is a measure of our impact on others, then we’re more than just capable of leading as followers… the reality of our leadership is inescapable!
- As followers, we have the ability to shape our culture.
- As followers, we can choose to be intentional with our influence.
- As followers, we’re free to cultivate an others-focused value in ourselves and serve those around us.
- As followers, we are capable of spurring others on towards being formed in the image of Christ.
- And, as followers, we can do all of these things without undermining the positional leader above us.
- In fact, we’re often more liberated to do these things than the positional leader is!
We expect our positional leaders to be liberators. Their team members are the ones who have been liberated. It follows, then, that team members must choose what to do with the opportunities that they’ve been liberated towards in the same way that the servants in Matthew 25 had to choose what to do with the property entrusted to them by their master.
If we wait for the “position” of leadership to be ascribed to us before we start thinking of ourselves as shapers of our culture, we’ll be wasting much more than just the influence already entrusted to us - we’ll also be wasting some of the best opportunities we might ever be given to use it. I say this because of a reality that may surprise you: as the official responsibilities of leadership increase, so does the difficulty of liberating yourself to do the very things you’re trying to liberate others to do.
You have much more influence as a follower than you think you do. You also have much more freedom to use it than you might if you were the positional leader instead of the follower. So what practical things can you do to exhibit good leadership as a follower? As is often the case, some of the best lessons can be learned through examples where the desired outcome was not achieved.
While visiting teams in the middle of their winter tours, I’ve often picked up on a singular pervasive trend that I refer to as consumerism. Team leaders are frazzled, buried in minutia and unable to catch their own spiritual and literal breath, because their team members have fallen into the pattern of consuming the leader’s services instead of collaborating with their leader to help the entire team succeed at what it has been set apart to do. The leader has effectively become a “soccer mom” to the team, seen to exist mostly for the purpose of handling the administrative details of team life.
We could offer a long list of specific examples, but it should be sufficient to highlight some general tendencies that exist when this consumeristic mindset has taken hold:
- Team members generally still consider themselves available for ministry, but they’re not inclined to seek it out. Instead, they’ll take the more reactionary approach of waiting for ministry opportunities to come to them.
- Team members will generally overlook their own ability to stay informed about upcoming ministry opportunities through the resources available to them, preferring instead to wait for the leader to inform them of their schedule and the surrounding details.
- Team members tend to not take ownership of their potential opportunities for impact, and team leaders end up getting taxed for information that team members can acquire on their own (such as “where are we going this Friday, and how long will it take to drive there?”) This drains the leader of their ability to offer more relevant direction that might be stimulated by questions such as “Do we have any history with this venue that could help us know what to expect?” or “How can we best prepare for our ministry among these people?” Answers to these questions would present opportunities for team members themselves to choose how they would invest in such opportunities. If the leader is not able to provide this information, their ability to liberate team members into opportunities to develop and use their giftings is greatly reduced.
- Team members will avoid taking the social risk of initiating conversations with outsiders, preferring instead to wait until they are formally introduced and “set up” for ministry interaction.
- Team members aren’t actively looking for ways they can serve their leader so that the leader can be freed up to do the things that only the leader can do.
- Teams are not in the habit of actively preparing their hearts and minds for ministry before they reach a venue or while waiting in the van for the leader to make initial contact.
- Team members have begun to see their musical ability as the ultimate expression of their ministry and may develop resentment or bitterness about situations where they don’t feel like their gift is being adequately supported by the ministry structure around them (i.e. poor attendance at concerts, seemingly irrelevant bookings or holes in the schedule.)
The more you understand about leadership, the more capable you are of contributing to the common goal, regardless of whether or not you are the positional leader specifically assigned to the moment. In some ways, you’re uniquely equipped to contribute more towards that goal now than you would be if you were the positional leader.
Don’t wait for the “position” of leadership to be ascribed to you before engaging in opportunities to shape your culture, use your influence with intentionality, serve those around you or spur others on towards being formed in the image of Christ. Lead as a follower while you have the opportunity and freedom to do so. And understand that learning to lead as a follower is essential preparation for the even less glamorous job of leading as a positional leader (Matthew 25:21).
Week 6 reflection questions:
- What do you make of the notion that you have more opportunity to lead (as we’ve defined leadership) as a follower than you might as a positional leader?
- Are there ways in which you are currently more a consumer of your team leader and the ministry experience instead of a collaborator? (team leaders, be bold to offer your perspective on this one for the sake of everyone’s growth!)
- What are some collaborative counterpoints to the consumeristic examples given above?
- Do you feel like your gifts are being adequately supported? Who bears the ultimate responsibility to see that they are?
CONSUMERISM (taking advantage of the services of a person or an experience without contributing towards the shared goal in return) vs. COLLABORATION (using your influence to help others in reaching a shared goal.)
This week’s quote:
“Leaders can inspire, teach, entertain, and in many other ways shape the framework upon which an adventure can unfold. Within that framework, however, group members must bear much of the responsibility for the quality of their own experience.” – Robert Birkby
This week’s assignment:
Examine yourself this week to discover where you a consumer instead of a collaborator. Ask God to reveal to you the opportunities you are missing out on, and to give you the boldness and courage to take advantage of them for His glory.