Leadership or Followership?

Come follow me.
— Jesus, Mark 4:19

We live in a country obsessed with leadership. We have leadership apps, leadership books, leadership conferences, leadership retreats, leadership coaches, and all the leadership educational opportunities one could want -- bachelors, masters, and doctoral.

If you want leadership advice you can get it . . . from Peter Drucker to Jack Welch to Bill Hybels to Carly Fiorina to Sheryl Sandberg to John Wooden to John Calapari to Colin Powell and on and on it goes.

We love to talk about leadership. But what about followership? What does it mean to be a great follower? This is something Jesus wants us to know and Luke helps us to see.

In Luke 4:14 - 9:50, Luke recounts Jesus' Galilean ministry to the north. He helps us to see the progressive unveiling of Jesus and his kingdom. But when he gets to 9:51 there is a significant shift in the narrative. Now Luke will let us walk side-by-side with Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem and the cross.

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
— Luke 9:51 ESV

Joel B. Green, a New Testament scholar, says that Luke's intention in sharing this is to point out "the single-minded orientation that Jesus has, and that his followers must come to share, as he begins the divinely ordained journey to Jerusalem."

Interestingly, right on the heels of showing Jesus' single-minded focus, Luke relays three unique encounters Jesus had with prospective followers:

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:57-62 ESV

Look closely and you will see the word "follow" shows up in all three encounters Jesus has with these prospective disciples. He is helping them (and us) to understand what it means to be a "true follower."

1. True followers suffer with Jesus. Luke 9:57-58

Jesus said, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Jesus is not complaining when he draws attention to this harsh reality. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus pursued the cross "for the joy set before him" (Hebrews 12:2). No, these words are for us. It is going to be hard at times. Jesus wants us to follow him with “eyes wide open” to that fact.

Ronaldo Lidorio, a friend from Brazil, has challenged me with these words:

The first mission of the church is to die.
— Ronaldo Lidorio

Jesus suffered so I would not have to suffer the wrath of God. He did not suffer so I would never have to endure suffering (Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12). Every Christian's suffering will look a little different, but following Jesus means I will suffer. True followers know this. They embrace this.

2. True followers readjust their allegiances. Luke 9:59-60

There is an irony in Luke 9:59-60. The man calls Jesus "Lord," that is someone he respects, someone whose word should be taken seriously. If the man really understood Jesus as the Lord, the creator and sustainer of the universe (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-17), he should have followed him immediately. As it was he made an excuse of burying his father -- a very appropriate one according to custom. To this Jesus replied,

Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.
— Luke 9:60

Is Jesus being harsh? I don't think so. Jesus is saying that following him is readjusting ones allegiance.

Your first allegiance is not to your family, not to your alma mater, not to your country club, not to your travel team, not to standard of living, not even to your job.

True followers readjust their allegiances. Their first allegiance is to Jesus.

3. True followers give their full measure of devotion. Luke 9:61-62

Jesus said: “No one who puts his hand to the plow looks back.” Why? Because when we are looking back we are going to plow a crooked row. It is the same way in following Christ. If we allow our gaze to fall on someone or something other than Jesus it is going to take us off track.

Jesus deserves our full measure of devotion. I think the words Abraham Lincoln gave at Gettysburg are fitting as a descriptor of the nature of full devotion.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion.
— Lincoln, Gettysburg Address

Jesus demands our last full measure of devotion. Does he get that? Or does he get half-hearted service and leftovers?

Why do we follow Jesus in the face of suffering? Why do we readjust our allegiances to look to him first? Why do we give him the full measure of devotion? As I reflected on the nature of true followership, the words of the hymn, "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross" came to mind.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
— Isaac Watts

I follow Jesus -- not out of slavish duty -- but because of his amazing love . . . a love so amazing, so divine, it demands "my soul, my life, my all."