Following is Leading Backwards (re-post)

Thought some of you might like this little article I wrote awhile back:

“Following is Leading Backwards”

Following is leading backwards. The opposite of leading is not following; the opposite of leading is apathy. Following creates the character and the credibility to lead. When we humble ourselves and set aside our dreams to help others accomplish theirs, we catch a glimpse of God’s character.

Joshua influenced his nation beyond his lifetime. He was chosen to replace Moses and lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land. It was Joshua who led the people of Israel to march around Jericho. How did Joshua gain such influence?

When Joshua is first mentioned in Scriptures, we find him in a situation we would not imagine for the future leader of God’s children. Joshua was Moses’ assistant, his aid. Joshua did not appear to be headed towards greatness. Joshua was an intern; the person Moses would ask to carry his luggage, put up his tent, or pick up some manna on the way to their meetings.

“Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel….”

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction.”

“Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God….’” – Exodus 24:9-14a

By serving Moses faithfully in mundane ways, Joshua walked into God’s presence! Sharing a meal with God is quite a perk for an assistant. Joshua was later chosen to travel with Caleb and ten other spies to check out the new land. When looking to replace Moses, God did not choose Moses’ brother Aaron or sister Miriam. He did not choose Nadab, Abihu, or any of the seventy elders. He chose Moses’ assistant. God chooses to exalt those who are humble.

When we serve others faithfully and effectively, we work toward accomplishing another person’s vision. When we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for others, our leaders recognize we can be trusted. If we can be trusted as a follower, then we can be trusted with followers.

Early in his new role, Joshua had the opportunity to establish his own reputation as a miracle worker. Just as Moses parted the waters as the Israelites escaped from Egypt, God planned another spectacular water trick to exalt Joshua.

“And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses’” (Joshua 3:7).

After the waters stopped flowing and the people had crossed to the other side, Joshua stood ready to seize the moment. We expect he would point out that this miracle confirmed his leadership. Instead, Joshua chose a different message for the people.

“Joshua said to the Israelites… ‘[God] did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God’” (Joshua 4:21a, 24).

Joshua chose to point people to the Lord’s leadership rather than his own. He was more concerned with building God’s reputation than his own. This should come as no surprise; he spent years building up Moses rather than pursuing his own interests.

We can become a better leader by serving as a better follower. In these moments we discover what Christ meant when he promised that “we find our lives when we lose our lives serving him and serving others.”

Take Away Tips for following others:

Humble yourself by committing to serve someone you would like to emulate.

Choose to follow someone whose vision resonates within your own heart.

Be faithful in the small things, and God will give you more.

If accomplishing the vision of your boss goes against your faith or core beliefs, find a new boss.

Earn the right to be heard. When we are effective at executing our responsibilities, we will gain the attention and the ear of our leaders.

Seek to influence down and laterally even if you cannot always influence up.

Showing 7 comments
  • John Williford

    Not to get too philosophical here, but aren’t we all following? Even the most brash, authoritative leaders understood the need to follow, or at least project an air of following. In thinking of Hitler, for example, one may come to the conclusion that there was a leader that took no criticism, pulled no punches, and lead his country with an iron fist. These are probably true, but even Hitler understood that the leader doesn’t push people into situation and action, but rather pulls them into shared ideas. If his speeches had contained what he actually intended to do, the Nazis might not have been successful. Rather, Hitler played on the weakness and vulnerability of the German people, embarrassed and shunned after WWI. He called them to follow the idea that Germany was great, that Germany should be great, and that foreign oppression was a conspiracy and evil. By following an ideal and calling others to do so, this evil man was able to become one of history’s greatest leaders.

    Joshua took quite a different route! Joshua “looks fouler, but smell fairer” as Tolkien would say- meaning that he wasn’t concerned with moving up the ranks, or being recognized. He simply set about doing God’s will, and as he continued to do so God blessed him. I sincerely hope that I and the church at large can follow this style of leadership – “Be” rather than “Do”. It is my belief that the hearts of leaders are eventually laid bare, by their own intent, by accident, or by God’s will. It is our job to cultivate our hearts so that leadership naturally flows, not seek to control our world through force. In just simply believing this tenet of leadership, one has taken the first step!

  • Naomi Grether

    I am in a season of trying to learn to follow. I do not like the whole following thing and am not a very good follower. I read about Rohingya crisis and grieve wanting so badly to have been able to finish my degree in Political Science. I had a recommendation to a Political Science program in 2009 from a sister of a Diplomat from India to the United States who knew Vandana Shiva. I took Political Development my first semester in graduate school and got an A in a presentation of WID and GID. I even briefly thought a PHD in Political and International Affairs was possible. I took World Hunger with the same professor and got an A for the class. I thought my life was beginning. I thought with my relationships with international students and the new found ideas and opportunity with school that I would be able to make a difference in the world, before it seemed to fall apart. Instead of ending up with a PhD I have to learn to follow, and knee replacements and in the next year will literally be learning to walk again. At 44 learning to walk again is all together depressing. I too young for that to be literal and too old to start over in school. Nonetheless this is where I find myself grieving hoping to find significance and wanting to convince people of some of my vision. I have to learn to follow Jonathan Eng because of the network I joined which I struggle with a little bit each time we get together, but not even a little when I am in certain situations where I can challenge the system and injustice because of prejudice I always hated but numbed myself too. It turns out the part of dying to oneself, sometimes means finding the self that you forgot.

  • Naomi Grether

    …..It turns out that following now was progressive arguing against authority 20 years ago:)

  • Naomi Grether

    Also, as things changed or leaders changed, what felt liking caving to injustice, racism, and butting heads , feels like following and being able to challenge injustice, while being a good follower.

  • Matt

    The leader of an organization serves the mission and the people of the organization. When your mission is the Gospel, that is one and the same right? 😉

  • Chrissy

    I love this! I love the concept that apathy is the opposite of leading. It also makes me ponder who am I following & what characteristics do I what to emulate; how am I leading up; and what am I doing that others would want to emulate.

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