Digging in the Dirt with Leaders & Churches Part III – Followship in a Consumer Culture

by Grady King

People want leadership.
People don’t want leadership. 

As long as leaders are doing what I think they ought to do, I will follow. If not, I will be present to some degree, but not necessarily support or follow.[1] It’s certainly not God’s idea of leading or following. Churches are in need of leaders and dare I say, followers. God calls leaders and followers.

Enter consumerism.

The fact that we live in a consumer culture is well attested. Consumerism, in its basic sense is “The obsession with acquisition that has become an organizing principle of American life. The normative values of a culture matters.”[2] As believers in Christ, one of our normative values is selfless, life giving community, not merely consumption. We are participants in God’s life filled with the Holy Spirit and sharing in community. The notion of being a consumer should cause us great pause, if not, resistance. For many believers church has become a spectator sport. Leaders are challenged to respond to church “members” whose attitudes and behaviors reflect a consumeristic approach to church. Leaders are not immune to a posture of consumerism as well. All this begs the question, what does it mean to lead and follow in  a consumer culture? We are quick to blame leaders, and many leaders are experts in blaming themselves wallowing in guilt and shame. It’s a crisis.

Churches are in need of leaders and dare I say, followers. God calls leaders and followers.

Tim Woodroof in his short, but provocative work, FOLLOWSHIP describes the leadership and followship crisis.[3]

Open your Bible and show me when God’s people ever flourished in the absence of good and godly leaders. Point out an instance where “everyone doing what was right in his own eyes” resulted in positive kingdom accomplishments. Give me an example of any occasion when murmuring, resistance, and revolt against God’s anointed leaders led to a healthier and more effective future.

Yet the whole concept of church leadership is under attack in  congregations today. There are voices being raised against every species of leadership, certainly any bold or prophetic leadership. Congregations are structuring themselves to avoid leadership roles or dilute what roles exist to the point of impotence.

I can understand why. Our culture has taught us that leaders (in any arena) are not to be trusted. Many politicians lie and steal and put their own interests first. Business leaders have been known to line their personal pockets at the expense and to the detriment of their employees and customers. The alphas among us prey on the weak. Causes to which we have given  money, and enthusiastic support have wound up being led by people who—repeatedly—disappoint and take advantage.

We don’t trust easily these days. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice …”    Leaders must lead well and followers must follow well—not blindly, or distantly but actively involved in mutual respectful dialog with leaders. Woodroof notes that the“followship” crisis has less to do with unqualified leaders than with unwilling to followers.   

Paul Ford reframes what it means to follow and lead relationally as God working powerfully through us when we choose to behave as:

Leaders must lead well and followers must follow well—not blindly, or distantly but actively involved in mutual respectful dialog with leaders.
  • One submitted: learning to follow is NOT optional (Hebrews 13:17)
  • One among: understanding my rightful place as a Christian (Romans 12:4-5)
  • One who is a servant: with Jesus as our role model (Philippians 2:1-11)

Things Leaders Can Do Beyond Consumerism

  1. Pray for wisdom to engage people in spiritual dialog and listen.
    What’s going on in your life spiritually?
  2. Lead from a compelling vision with a collaborative spirit.
    What does God want us to be and do in our context?
  3. Call people to the biblical values of community.
    In what ways does Jesus call us to be community more fully?
  4. Initiate ministsry burden and passion conversations with people.
    When are you most alive spiritually?
  5. Communicate clear expectations of what it means to be a “member.”
    When are you most alive spiritually?
  6. Practice accountability within the leader group.
    How are you contributing to the problem that concerns you?

Above all, don’t cave in to consumeristic, anxious, got to have it my way, passive aggressive people. Jesus is the standard of what it means to lead, follow and submit.

[1] Many times, being consistently present in a busy, distracted, mobile culture is optional as well. My own experience in an urban and suburban congregation is that on any given Sunday, 25-30 percent of the church “members” are absent.  The implications for community, mission, and continuity are legion.

[2] The Crisis of American Consumerism. Amitai Etzioni. Huffington Post Online. 9.4.2012

[3] Available at Amazon books as “FOLLOWSHIP” in Kindle and paperback—23 pages

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