I have been thinking and praying about followership as the right response to spiritual leadership and authority.
The Apostolic ministry of Jesus Christ is a blessing to all who receive it. It is freeing, it is life changing, it is empowering, it is glorious. Specific aspects of His apostolic ministry are realised or experienced in the church today through men and women whom Jesus has gifted to the church as an expression of Himself. As such, to imitate, to follow and to obey Jesus’ gifts to the church is freeing, life changing, empowering and glorious because it is evidence of followership. The life of Christ given to us and for us is embraced through repentance, lived in fellowship, matured in followership and realised in the marriage of the Lamb.
I have concluded that followership is the enablement of a crucified life and a joyous reward in Christ Jesus the Lord.
Luke 9:23–25 (ESV) And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
Rulership is a Divine Institution
Scripture states that rulership is from God (Rom 13:1ff). That does not mean that all rulers are godly or good but that rulership is godly and good. Governing authorities are to be respected, even those we may disagree with.
I noted recently a news article about a political figure in Australia. Throughout the article were photoshopped images of the member of parliament which were extremely disparaging. Our ability to respect governance is constantly being manipulated by such messages. And this disrespect and consequential rejection of leadership is prevalent in the church.
1 Thessalonians 5:12 (ESV) We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,
Resistance to Followership – An uncrucified Life
Romans 12:1 (ESV) I appeal to you… by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [or reasonable] worship.
Resistance to leadership and an unwillingness to follow are usually not because a leader is evil, or has committed gross sins, but because the heart is unsubmissive – read unwilling to be crucified with Christ. Obedience begins with respect: respect that authority is from God and obedience to authority is obedience to God. While it is valid to resist evil, and evil leaders should not be followed, more often than not opposition to a church leader is not because the leader is adulterous, or a murder, or a thief – a resisting of evil – but it is unsubmissiveness due to preference and personality.
Hebrews 13:17 (ESV) Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Leaders are not ‘divine’ nor are they ‘infallible’ they are men and women with preferences and behaviour patterns and personalities (2 Cor 4:5-12). These are the human elements through which Jesus chooses to gift himself to the church (Eph 4:8,11-12).
When people resist authority it begins in a heart that refuses to be led. To justify non-followership they judge the humanity or personality of a leader from a preferential position. Their judgment is that the leader is not a true leader because of human fallibility. The leader is manipulative, controlling, abusive and uses people for personal gain. They conclude that the followers are being manipulated, controlled, abused and used for the leader’s own benefit; the very excuses used to ‘justify’ their own refusal to enter into followership. These people, either objectively or subjectively, manipulate others, initiate gossip, and ferment criticism of their leader and cause a groundswell of opposition. Eventually, like Korah, they confront the gift of Christ to the church as though the leaders is a self-appointed, self-exalting manipulator lording it over the people (Num 16:1-4).
Jude 8 (ESV) Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.
Jude 16 (ESV) These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.
The leader, instead of being the gift of Christ freely embracing the mission of the Kingdom and equipping the saints for works of service, finds himself fighting a rebellion from within.
Resist a Proud Uncrucified Self
James 4:1–7 (ESV) What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
To live under self-rule is to be tyrannised by a despotic insatiable leader. The self is manipulative, controlling, abusive and self-gratifying using everyone and everything for personal gain (Gen 6:5; Jer 17:9; Ecc 9:3; Mk 7:21,22; Rom 1:21). The death of self is the liberating work of the cross (Rom 6:18; 7:11,24,25a; 8:2). Participation in the resurrection life of Christ demands the death of self and the transfer of allegiance from obedience to your tyrannical self to the obedience of faith in the rulership of Jesus Christ The Lord (Jn 11:25; Eph 2:4-10; Rom 10:9,10; ).
Consider for a moment the amazing age in which we live. We can travel to the other side of the world in hours. We are among the few who can see what previous generations never dreamt possible. We have the ability to communicate with multiple people around the world instantly. We have an abundance of labour-saving devices and equipment that caters to our whims and fancies. Many of us live in political freedom and some, like those who are a part of Living Way and other strong foundational Christian communities, have the blessing of godly leaders and peers committed to the life of Christ, willing to provoke and be provoked to do good works in Christ (Heb 10:24). Yet we are still dissatisfied. I am amazed at the constant complaints and childish countenance of people who, despite having such amazing abundance and blessing, lament over what they do not have and complain about their perceived deprivation. No matter how much they have, they want more, require more and expect more. They are dissatisfied with service, obedience and christlikeness. They seek out individual pleasure and self-governance and self-image yet remain dissatisfied (Jude 1 all).
The tyranny of self-rule: never enough! Not enough possessions, not enough recognition, not enough personal fulfilment (1Jn 2:16). Like the pharisaical spirits throughout history, who offer lip service to God yet whose hearts are far from him, we say that having God is enough yet we live unfulfilled lives, lamenting our perceived lack.
Oh to be free from the tyranny of self-rule. To be able to live Christ, to be a follower of Christ through obedience to His ordained leaders, to resist the god of this age evident in the desires of self-rule and to embrace the crucified life in the family of God participating in His Will through Kingdom service. To experience the joyous reward of followership.
Matthew 11:15 (ESV) He who has ears to hear, let him hear.