Over the years, much emphasis has been given to what it takes to be a “great leader.”  Scores of books are published each year with yet another “expert” opinion on what makes for a great leader.  Dozens of seminars and workshops are offered every year with promises of making attendees better leaders.

            Of course, there’s nothing wrong with such books or seminars.  I have purchased and read those books, attended those seminars and have learned a great deal!  I appreciate the insights of others and the opportunity to learn how I can improve myself. 

However, one trap to this focus on leadership is that those of us in the Church tend to forget that our calling is not so much to be leaders as followers.  We lead only as followers; we lead only that others may become followers not of ourselves, but of the One who calls us to follow Him.


            So what about being a great follower?  Until recently, we haven’t heard much at all about being followers, just leaders.  But, thanks to Leonard Sweet, discussion is finally taking place on followership.  And the Church is the perfect place to begin that discussion.

 So, at the risk of repeating some of Sweet’s ideas, I share with you what has been my experience, both as a participant in followership and an observer of it.

 To begin, great followers are humble.  They know their place.  They are neither weak-kneed nor stiff-necked. 

Great followers know that just because they are not the Leader does not mean they are worthless or should kowtow to anyone (other than the Leader).  On the contrary, they know their real value is found in following the Leader and finding fulfillment in the act of following.  Great followers understand that it is only by falling on their knees in allegiance to the Leader that they are able to stand on their feet.

Nor are they stubborn.  They are willing to sacrifice their own agendas for the sake of the Leader’s mission, and to be a part of that mission rather than garner glory for themselves.

Related to their humility, great followers gladly point others to the Leader.  Followers are eager to point out that they are not the Leader but are more than happy to show the way to the Leader.  Great followers are signs that point others to something – or Someone – greater and more important than themselves. 

Great followers make no claim to fame for themselves. They would rather point the way.

Great followers are comfortable with being uncomfortable.  They are risk-takers.  They know that following the Leader will mean they will be lead into some discomfort; they will be risking their own ease and pleasure for the sake of being a faithful follower.

Followers know that it is far better to take the uncomfortable risk than it is to risk the comfortable…and they are comfortable with that!  In fact, great followers welcome risk and discomfort, knowing that it is only by risking and being uncomfortable that they grow in their faith and level of followership. 

You will hear great followers say, “Bring it on!” in the face of risk when following the Leader.

 Great followers are a “Barnabas force.”  That is, they are the encouragers and up-lifters of those around them.  When the going gets tough, they are the first to lift the faltering spirits of those around them. 

Great followers are not “pie-in-the-sky” thinkers, denying things can get rough.  But neither are they pessimists, denying that things will ever change.      

But they are realists.  They know that, yes, things are tough, but they will get better.  They don’t give up, give in or give out.  And their encouraging ways are often the push that is needed for others to remain faithful to their following the Leader.

 Finally, great followers do not want to be the Leader.  Great followers know they are not the Leader…and they are just fine with that, thank you.  You will never find a great followers committing mutiny, but you will find them being obedient to the Leader.

 It is a struggle for many of us to be followers and not leaders.  We tend to think that all the glory is in the leading.  But that is not the way of the One we follow, our Leader, Jesus.  We follow not only to receive our glory for being faithful followers, but also that others may become greater, more faithful followers themselves.  We are leaders only as followers.