"The LORD is my shepherd...He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake." Psalm 23:1, 3 ESV
I can’t remember the first time I heard, "lead, follow, or get out of the way." It may have been in in the military, in a movie, or in conversation. Whenever it was, it stuck. For years I thought that I had to choose one or the other.
There are times when leaders have to follow—or get out of the way. Shepherding and leadership, go hand-in-hand, but shepherds need to trail so they can lead. Following isn’t as easy as it sounds. Many of us don't even want to. Leadership can be very fulfilling and give one a sense of purpose. Particularly in our private lives where we cherish the idea of autonomy. In public life, especially if we’re being paid to get results, there’s a tendency to let the obligations lead us.
In biblical times, owners typically delegated flock tending to their children. The practice assumes trustworthy children, honor, and respect. The task was arduous and dangerous. Imagine realizing the responsibility and accountability for an entire flock. Lives depended on them. Even the wellbeing of the economy depended on them. they would follow the best practices in shepherding. For the novice, intimidating and relying on all that that their owner/father taught them.
God’s servant-leaders, should be especially humbled and good followers. Humbled because God chose us to lead. Humbled because He thinks we are capable and trustworthy. Servant-leaders who follow the Lord for guidance will exemplify good followship for the flock.
Confession is good followship. Maybe we can begin with, I sometimes resist paths of righteousness. Paths of comfort and familiarity are much more my style. In Philip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, he says that sheep will follow the same trails over and over again until ruts form. They will graze the same hills until they turn a pasture into a desert wasteland, and pollute their own ground until they are corrupt with disease and parasites.
What happens when leaders follow the same paths in personal discipleship and spiritual disciplines? What happens when we resist living righteous lives? Imagine what that does to those of follow. Shepherds need to spend time with God not only in exegetical study but devotionally and consistent prayer time; while at the same time spending time with the flock to know what their specific needs are.
When is the last time you saw a book on followship?Spellcheck doesn’t even recognize the word. Ironic when you think about it, we are first called to follow Christ and to serve Him. Jesus, our leader, came to serve rather than be served.
What does it take to be a good follower? Perhaps by looking at what a good shepherd does, we'll see what a good follower does:
- A good shepherd/leader must keep his sheep on the move
- A good shepherd/leader will daily walk over the pasture where the sheep are feeding to observe the balance between the pasture's new growth and the grazing pressure Good sheep/follower will trust his leader
- As soon as the good shepherd/leader sees that the maximum benefit for the sheep and the pasture has been reached, he will move them on for the benefit of allGood sheep/follower will embrace change; even be excited about it
Good sheep/follower will move as directed
"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." Isaiah 53:6 ESV
When shepherds follow…sheep thrive.
Randy E. Williams, MDiv, MA, Gcert Conflict Mediation, is a freelance writer with 25 years of ordained ministry: a chaplain (military and hospital), pastor, and church consultant. https://adifferenttack.wordpress.com/about/