Sunday, October 2, 2011

Following Jesus, not leading him

Last week I attended my final week of the Clergy Leadership Project, a four week program designed to foster excellence in ordained leadership in the Episcopal Church.  It's a good program, and I found what I learned in it provocative and challenging. But my reflections on the final week brought me back again and again to a question I asked the very first week, over 18 months ago:  "Shouldn't we have classes on followership?" It was dismissed--an idea that didn't "gain traction" in the parlance of the adaptive leadership model we were being taught.  "Who wants to say they're a follower?  Where's the future (and money) in classes in how to follow?  How will you get a job if you say you prefer to follow?" 

Well, as Christians, our primary identity is to be followers of Jesus.  We don't lead Jesus, we follow Jesus, and when we stray too far on our own, it is Jesus who seeks us out and draws us gently back into the herd.  Clergy and lay leaders walk that deliberate line where we lead human groups and institutions but have to be 1) conscious that we do so while still maintaining our idenity as a follower of Jesus and 2) able to discern when we are called to lead and when we called to support the leadership of others.

Again and again this week, priests offered up ideas to the whole group:  we were a pretty creative bunch, but most of us are used to being the type of person other people listen to. Again and again, the ideas hung out there for a few minutes, and then faded away as the next person offered their idea.  We all knew what it was to be leaders and to initiate ideas--what we lacked was the ability to support someone else's idea and help bring it to fruition.  Does that sound familiar in the global and ecclesiastical context?

It may be true that no church is going to call a priest who does not claim to be able to "lead" a congregation--and it's also true that there are plenty of institutions that in attempting to turn away from hierarchical leadership models have ended up with a morass where no one is in charge and nothing gets done.  I am not in any way opposed to having strong leaders in the church.  But we don't all have to be leaders all the time, and the skills of how to be a good follower are what we are desperate need of learning today. 

The image of the yoke is one that I find very compelling for leadership; I wrote the following definition of leadership the first week of CLP:

"Leadership is bearing the yoke with others. Leading, pulling, stopping, being bound by those to whom we are yoked, and sometimes being pulled.  Listening to the driver who is directing us, trying to discern their commands for our team and follow.  Hoping to reach the barn with our load intact."

So when someone finally offers the "Clergy Followership Project" I will be first in line to sign up. 

All of this is perfectly summed up in the amusing voiceover to the following video:

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