Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

May 2003
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Characteristics of Healthy Followers — Part 4

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

Everything does not depend upon the leader. If our churches and Christian ministries are to be healthy, every member must take responsibility for the whole, functioning actively and thoughtfully.

In our last three Letters we studied the first nine out of eleven characteristics of effective followers. We saw that healthy followers obey, encourage, take responsibility, give advice and counsel, and challenge when necessary, seek honest feedback, clarify roles and expectations, and show appreciation. The final three characteristics of healthy followers are:

9. Keep the leader informed. Leaders rely on their followers to keep them informed about many aspects of the life and activity of the organization.

My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. (1 Cor. 1:11)

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you… (1 Cor. 5:1)

You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit. (Col. 1:7-8)

But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. (1 Thess. 3:6)

Without accurate and timely information, a leader cannot make good decisions since he will lack a complete picture of what is happening. Leaders who appear not to know what is going on will feel and look incompetent; it is embarrassing for a leader to hear from others about events or changes taking place within his sphere of authority. Followers must share both positive and negative information with their leaders; those who “protect” the leader by withholding negative information sabotage the entire organization. Exactly how much and how often you should inform the leader about issues are complex matters. A leader cannot, and should not, be aware of all the details in an organization. Finding the right balance is much easier when there is a relationship of mutual trust and respect.

10. Verify accuracy. It is extremely important that the follower verify the accuracy of information he passes along to the leader. Rumors, complaints and reports of problems can have a disproportionate effect if the leader assumes incorrectly that the follower took the time to substantiate them.

Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth. (Prov. 16:13)

Moreover, the good follower will not pretend to know more than he really does when asked about a given situation, preferring instead to defer his answer until he has had a chance to find out.

…What you have seen with your eyes do not bring hastily to court, for what will you do in the end if your neighbor puts you to shame? (Prov. 25:7-8)

Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Prov. 29:20; see also 10:18b; 12:17; 13:3; 14:5, 25; 15:7, 28)

11. Resist inappropriate influence. The healthy follower knows he is not required by God to comply with instructions to do what is abusive, illegal or unethical, or to believe what is theologically aberrant. He will not sacrifice the purpose of the organization or his own integrity just to maintain harmony and minimize conflict.

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. (Dan. 1:8)

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Dan. 3:16-18)

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18-20)

Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:27-29)

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. (Gal. 2:11)

First, in a firm but tactful way, he should remind the leader of his own spiritual and ethical responsibilities, pointing out the negative consequences of the proposed course of action.

Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone. (Prov. 25:15)

Second, he should attempt to hold the leader accountable within the authority structure of the organization. If his attempts at bringing correction fail, he may need to leave the organization. At all times, he must retain the right spirit and not become personally hostile.

These are the eleven characteristics of effective followers.

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