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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Whom Do I Follow?

There is a lot of talk about following these days. Sure, most of it is related to blogs, Twitter and social media, and not real following of leadership. But so much trendy talk blurs the true concept of what it means to follow.

I have this on my mind for three reasons...

1. I just got back from a consulting project at a local church. I've been working with this church since last August. They invited me to come in and do with them what I have been doing with Free Methodist churches (and some other non-profits) for the last three years: help them assess the gifts and calling of their staff and leadership team, and coach them in a new and focused direction. As this unfolds, I also work with the core leaders on strategic planning and management.

As I worked this morning with this team of lay leaders, I was especially struck by how energized they were by the conversation. I rely heavily on Strengths-Finders assessments to coach and train leaders and to create a common understanding of what we're talking about. I was reminded again that people love to be led by those who seek to bring out the best in them. I led the two-hour training not as much out of charisma (though I always love to engage people and make them laugh!) as out of a desire to leave them aware of their own capacity to contribute. I always pray after these presentations that they are left talking about what's next for them, and not about me or anything I said.

2. This morning I read the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis. I gauge how good a story is by how much I want to turn the page to find out what happens next. I know the story of Joseph. I have read it so many times, and recounted it just as much. Nevertheless, as I read it this morning I was still compelled to keep going and "find out what happens next." What I noticed this time though was the multiple and subtle ways that Joseph brought leadership to every situation. As he interpreted Pharoah's dream, look what happens (Genesis 41:33-40):

Joseph: “Therefore, Pharaoh should find an intelligent and wise man and put him in charge of the entire land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh should appoint supervisors over the land and let them collect one-fifth of all the crops during the seven good years.  Have them gather all the food produced in the good years that are just ahead and bring it to Pharaoh’s storehouses. Store it away, and guard it so there will be food in the cities. That way there will be enough to eat when the seven years of famine come to the land of Egypt. Otherwise this famine will destroy the land.” 
Joseph’s suggestions were well received by Pharaoh and his officials.  So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?”  Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, clearly no one else is as intelligent or wise as you are. You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.”

Given the deep antipathy felt by the Egyptians toward Hebrews, I truly believe that Joseph was not campaigning to be that "intelligent and wise man" put in charge; it could not have been a remote possibility in his mind. Nevertheless, his obvious skills were evident. Leaders should be recognized, not appointed.

If someone comes to me and says, "I think I'm called to be a pastor," (and this happens a lot to me -- I'm a director of recruiting, after all!) the first thing I say to them is "Great. Start a bible study. Let me know how it goes." The fruit will be evident. I firmly believe we do not give people the title and let them grow into it. We set people lose to work out of their calling and talents, and recognize what God is doing in and through them. Those are people I want to follow, and whom I am recruiting to lead the church and in the community.

3. I'm following every minute of this year's election. My friend A. and I are addicted followers of politics, and talk about it frequently. But I do not think my addiction reveals that I think the solutions of the world's problems are going to be found in political systems. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote at year-end,
Here's a paradox: We’re finding authentic leadership these days not from our nominal leaders in Washington but from unelected (and mostly unelectable) figures whom we like to deride as self-indulgent narcissists. Congress is so paralyzed and immature, even sleazy, that we reporters sometimes leave a politician’s press conference feeling the urgent need to shower. But look at university and high school students. Sure, plenty still live for a party, but a growing number have no time for beer because they’re so busy tutoring prisoners, battling sex trafficking or building wells in Africa.
Rather than the President or Congress, I know the solution to the sin and brokenness of this world is found in the gospel, and in how God uses His people to live out his love and transforming power. This is leadership that the world desperately needs, and I am so anxious for the church to be the place that provides those leaders.

In fact, it is what I am giving my life to from here on out... Yes, I use Twitter, and yes, I follow many accounts, and yes, I follow certain blogs. And I hope people "like" the Facebook page I've recently created, and I choose my own "likes" carefully. But ultimately, whom I follow is the One who is irresistible. As the marginalized Samaritan woman burst out with upon her encounter with Jesus,
“Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?”

May we look for true leaders to guide us, and be willing to be such leaders ourselves, should God put that call on us.

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