At beginning of every school year my elementary school teachers would assign class jobs. There were the usual jobs inducing paper passer outer, calendar duty, feeding the class fish, etc, but my favorite job by far was when it was my turn to be the class line leader.
I don’t know why I liked being the class line leader so much? Maybe it was the appeal of leading the class and being the first one to the cafeteria or the first one to recess or maybe it was just my way of being a selfish seven year old who wanted to be in front. Sometimes I think I haven’t changed too much. I am embarrassed to admit that sometimes I still like being the “line leader.” On my defense, it’s not like I am consciously thinking, “ooh, I want to be in front”- but it just happens. Sometimes I end up walking two feet in front of the group, until a good friend points out how annoying it is to everyone else. And every so often when I find myself to be the first car at a stoplight I get this childish glee because I realize that I am the “car line leader” and that means I’ll be the first one down the street. I know it sounds odd, maybe even worrisome, but heck, I’m just being honest. I am sure I can blame part of this on the combination of being the first born in my family and being someone who likes to “be in charge”, but there is also some truth to be told about growing up in a culture that trains and values leaders. I look back on my junior high and high school days and vividly remember teachers, mentors and speakers who instructed us to be leaders at school and in our community. There was this implicit message that good, responsible, successful citizens grow up to be leaders. Even in youth group we were encouraged to be student leaders, and once I got to college there were entire classes on leadership and how to make a difference in our world.
Leaderships is a buzzword now days. You can find books, curriculum, conferences, etc., all promising how to make you a better leader. It seems that we empower and teach our youth that they can and should be leaders. (This is certainly the message I heard growing up). We encourage students to plan and organize and bring about change and to essentially, become LEADERS. Which on one hand is not inherently a bad thing, but what happens when we live in a culture that emphasizes leading and not following?
These past few months I have been wrestling with what it looks like to follow. You don’t hear a lot of talk about following. For one, the idea of following doesn’t sound as glamorous and courageous as the word leadership. The notion of “following” doesn’t sell books and curriculum and get people excited and passionate. There are plenty of community awards for having great leadership skills, but when is the last time you heard of someone getting a “dedicated follower” award? Umm, never.
I find it ironic that the Jesus I read about in the New Testament says, “Follow me” almost twenty times. He does not say, “Become great leaders” or “Lead on”… No, instead he says, follow me. What would this world look like if men and women really, truly followed Jesus? How would my life look different if I sincerely started to follow Him?
Following implies listening, waiting, and sacrificing. It requires a letting go and giving-up. This past year I have spent a large chunk of time leading-leading meetings, planning events, organizing projects, and teaching students, but very little time following. This summer I want to learn how to be a better follower.