Monday, January 15, 2018

Following Jesus

An office manager buys a sign at a novelty store and hangs it on his office door.  It reads, “I am the boss.”  When he comes to work the next day he discovers someone has stuck a post-it note on his sign and written on it this message: “Your wife called and she wants her sign back.”

On the Second Sunday after the Epiphany the appointed Lectionary reading always tells a story about Jesus inviting people to follow him.  I had a professor who defined a leader as being a person who will take a group to a place it cannot get on its own.  I always thought this is a good definition of leadership – the ability to take people to a place they cannot get on their own.  Think about the people in leadership roles in your life and consider how they do or do not fit this definition.  Think about the leadership roles you fill and ponder if it applies.

Here is another question for you to ponder: In what ways are you a follower?  Being labeled a “follower” has a negative feel to it.  When we say, “Oh, he is a follower” we are implying the person does not have leadership potential.  We talk about being a “blind follower”, which is not a good thing either.  Still, good and capable followers are absolutely essential to the success of any enterprise.  Did you happen to see the PBS program this week on Teddy Roosevelt’s journey down an uncharted river in the heart of the Amazon jungle?  Roosevelt was a co-leader on the expedition, but it was supported by dozens of native people.  Without the efforts of these followers the ex-president would never have been successful.  In fact, he would have died.

American businessman Max de Pree contends “the signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers.”  He asks,

Are the followers reaching their potential?  Are they learning?  Serving?  Do they achieve the required results?  Do they change with grace?  Manage conflict?

Following, at its best, is an active and engaged process where we allow a person to shape and develop us in ways we could not grow on our own.

When Jesus invites Philip to follow him he is initiating a relationship where Philip will be molded and shaped into a new person.  He will learn to live as Jesus lives, to love as Jesus loves, to forgive as Jesus forgives, to heal as Jesus heals, to inspire hope as Jesus inspires hope.  Jesus’ leadership is transformational.  He leads Philip and the other disciples to a place where they become new people.  And, as new people, they become leaders themselves, attracting followers who they then mold and shape into the image of Jesus.

This morning we initiate Sadie Grace McNett into the Christian faith and life.  Because she is not old enough to speak for herself her parents and sponsors are making vows on her behalf.  By so doing, they are taking a leadership role in her life.  If no one ever intervened, it is doubtful Sadie would grow up on her own to be the kind of person we aspire to be through our baptismal liturgy.  It will be up to Cory and Chloe and the rest of the family to help her develop in ways she cannot develop on her own. 

Jimmy Collins retired from Chick-fil-A as President and Chief Operations Officer after 32 years of service.  He was there at the beginning when S. Truett Cathy opened the very first store and he helped him build the franchise into a $6 billion business.  In 2013, Collins published a book about his experience titled Creative Followership: In the Shadow of Greatness.  It is chock full of common sense insights about being a follower and it has much to say to those of us who are committed to following Jesus:

· Followers choose to follow a leader with a compelling purpose, vision, cause, or goal, the unifying purpose.  It is the leader’s unifying purpose that attracts the interest and loyalty of followers.  The unifying purpose joins the followers to the leader.

· Who we are is who we attract.   If the leader is highly effective with equally high expectations, the follower must possess similar character traits or the relationship will be short lived.

· When following, our competencies will often be very different from the leader.   This allows our strengths to offset the leader’s weakness.   But when it comes to character, we must always be in alignment.

· A trusted and established follower shares the reputation of the leader, as well as much of the leader’s influence.

· A supportive follower realizes they are there not only to share the leader’s reputation, but also to uphold and strengthen the leader’s reputation.  Followers should always serve as an extension of the leader. 

· With influence comes a great deal of responsibility.

· When we are borrowing influence from a leader, we are responsible for using it with the highest integrity.

· As we demonstrate the ability to use the influence to move the organization forward in a positive and productive way, we will be loaned more and more influence.  The key to gaining more influence is to proactively accept responsibility by doing things better than expected, before they are expected, and by doing more than is expected.

When David Marquet, a decorated Navy officer, was appointed captain of the USS Santa Fe, it was the worst performing nuclear-powered submarine in the fleet.  The ship’s crew was dogged by poor morale and an abysmal retention rate.  About a month into his duties, while leading the crew through a series of drills, Marquet unknowingly gave an order that was impossible to follow, but the crew tried to follow it anyway.  Upon reviewing the results of the exercise, Marquet asked why no one challenged his order.  The response, “Because you told us to do it.”  In an instant Marquet realized he was leading a culture of followers who were not invested in the outcome of the ship’s performance.

He began to push for leadership at every level of the Santa Fe’s crew.  Grounded in his belief “Leadership should mean giving control rather than taking control and creating leaders rather than forging followers”, Marquet molded the crew into a group fully engaged in every decision from clerical tasks to combat actions.  Eventually the ship began to earn fleet awards and have officers promoted to higher positions of command on other submarines.

Think about the things Collins and Marquet believe about followers and translate them into imperatives for Christian discipleship.  We are drawn to Jesus by his compelling vision of life.  His vision binds us together.  Jesus expects much of us.  We bear his reputation and his influence.  As such, we have great opportunities and great responsibility.  People have a right to expect they will meet and see Jesus in us.  Far from being a passive enterprise, following Jesus requires us to be actively engaged in every aspect of life and faith and church.  As St. Teresa says, we now are Christ’s hands and Christ’s feet and Christ’s body on earth.  I don’t know if Philip understood all of this when he accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow him, but in time he (and the other disciples) began to understand.  I don’t know if you understood this at your baptism or even at your confirmation, but I trust you get it now.  Jesus is a leader who takes you to a place you cannot get on your own.