Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

March 2003
« Feb   Apr »


Characteristics of Healthy Followers — Part 1

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

In our last Letter we looked at five kinds of followers: the alienated follower, the conformist, the passive follower, the pragmatic survivor and the effective follower. This Letter will begin to study eleven characteristics of effective followers.

Our goal is healthy churches and Christian ministries. This means every member must take responsibility for the whole; every member must function actively and thoughtfully:

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph. 4:16)

In the next several Letters we will examine eleven characteristics of active, thoughtful followers (of course, these are also characteristics of healthy leaders in their relationships with other leaders). Here are the first three:

  1. Obey. God has established our leaders in their roles so that we can follow them.

    Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Heb. 13:17)

    This should not be:

    • the grudging, sometimes subversive, obedience of the alienated follower,
    • the mindless obedience of the conformist,
    • the bare-minimum, unenthusiastic obedience of the passive sheep, or
    • the manipulative, self-serving obedience of the pragmatic survivor.

    …obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Col. 3:22-24)

    …obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. (Eph. 6:5-8)

    It should be an obedience that is both thoughtful and active.

  2. Encourage. During normal times, the leader carries the burden of responsibility for the entire organization:
  3. I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition. (1 Cor. 16:17-18)

    May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. (2 Tim. 1:16)

    Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints. (Philem. 7)

    He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who looks after his master will be honored. (Prov. 27:18)

    …how good is a timely word! (Prov. 15:23)

    A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. (Prov. 25:11)

    Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Cor. 11:28-29)

    In addition, all leaders go through difficult times. Perhaps the leader is trying to bring needed change to the organization and is encountering resistance. During such times, a healthy follower will actively look for ways to express support and encouragement to his leader.

    There are many ways such encouragement can be given: through notes, cards, children’s pictures, food, gifts, personal visits. Just a word spoken at the right time can be of great encouragement to a leader:

  4. Take responsibility. Effective followers take responsibility for the success of the whole organization, not just their own areas. Consequently, they will take the initiative to do what is necessary without being told. In addition, they will go beyond their normal duties when appropriate. They actively look for ways to make a positive impact. When serious problems arise, they will point out the problems to the leader and suggest solutions. Healthy followers will see themselves as participants and not mere spectators in the processes of organizational health and growth. Thus, paradoxically, the key to being an effective follower is the ability to think for oneself – to exercise control and independence and to work without close supervision.

    Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. (Prov. 6:6-8)

    locusts have no king, yet they advance together in ranks; (Prov. 30:27)

  5. Ineffective followers, on the other hand, allow themselves to be dominated by the hierarchy and, seeing themselves as subservient, vacillate between despair over their seeming powerlessness and attempts to manipulate leaders for their own purposes. Either their fear of powerlessness becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy or their resentment leads them to undermine the organization’s effectiveness.

    Our next Letter will examine the next several characteristics of effective followers.

Comments 0
There are currently no comments.