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Characteristics of Healthy Followers — Part 2Malcolm Webber
For our churches and Christian ministries to be healthy, every member must take responsibility for the whole; every member must function actively and thoughtfully.
Our last Letter began to study eleven characteristics of effective followers. We saw that healthy followers obey, encourage and take responsibility. Here are the next two characteristics:
4. Give advice and counsel. The leader does not have all the answers, especially when he is new or inexperienced. Secure leaders build mutually trusting relationships with capable followers who look for opportunities to provide helpful advice, ask questions, or simply to be good listeners when the situation demands it. Sometimes leaders will be hesitant about asking for such input; it becomes the follower’s responsibility to take the initiative to offer his help. In addition, the healthy follower will maintain this relationship with absolute confidentiality and refuse to boast to others about his special relationship with his leader or the “inside knowledge” he is sometimes privy to. Furthermore, he will not nag his leader even when he is certain he knows better.
Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. (Prov. 9:9)
Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. (Prov. 15:22; see also 24:6)
5. Challenge when necessary. When there are potential drawbacks or problems with a leader’s plans or ideas, a healthy follower will bring these issues to light.
Such challenges can be negative (“you’re wrong…”) or positive (“you’re right but we can do this even better…”).
…rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. (Prov. 9:8-9; see also 17:10; 19:25; 27:5-6)
In Exodus 18, Jethro challenged Moses’ leadership practice and the resulting structural change was good for everyone.
“If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. (Ex. 18:23-24)
Ruth made a passionate appeal to Naomi that won her heart and eventually a spouse.
“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. (Ruth 1:15-18)
In Galatians 2, Paul challenged certain leaders’ treatment of the Gentile believers and the result was the preservation of truth in the church.
We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. (Gal. 2:5)
Naturally, one must challenge a leader in the right way; leaders often get defensive in response to negative feedback. An appropriate manner for raising concerns includes:
- Being sure it really matters. Don’t challenge a leader over every little thing!
- Having a history of submission and cooperation.
- Praying first for grace, wisdom and favor.
- Acknowledging the leader’s position and right to make the final decision.
- Communicating a sincere desire to help the leader fulfill the organization’s purpose. If the leader senses that the follower has a personal agenda, he will be unlikely to listen (Prov. 28:25a).
- Pointing out specifics rather than vague generalities.
- Refraining from personalizing the critique.
- Avoiding threats of non-compliance if the leader does not take heed. Certainly, there may be times when the follower absolutely could not follow a particular path; for example, when clear ethical or legal issues are involved (see point 11 in a future Letter). Most of the time, however, threats of non-compliance are inappropriate and counter-productive.
Our next Letter will examine the next several characteristics of effective followers.