Here’s an opening thought I gleaned from Monday morning coffee.
“On any school playground, on any day, you can see examples of children playing ‘follow the leader’. One child hops, hops or skips, and all the others follow. As adults, however, many of these children play a variation of this game called “follow the follower.”
“At work, they look around, see how someone else is doing their job, and duplicate the effort. They don’t realize that their colleague is also watching someone else. A circular “follow the follower” game develops, which results in poor manpower. The same can be true in marriages, education, hobbies, sports, religion, politics or culture.
Consider the story of a telephone operator in a small town. Every day, she received a call from a gentleman asking for the exact time. Finally, one day, she asked the mysterious caller who he was and why he called every day. His answer? “It’s me who whistles the factory every day at noon. I like to be on time!” The operator laughed and then replied, “Here at the telephone company, we set our watches and clocks to the noon whistle at the factory!
Today’s world and culture seems filled with followers after followers. Look at those horrible political ads. Each ad follows the strategy of the other ad. The same intense music; the same outraged voice, barely able to control his anger; the same half-truths and lies; the same pretexts taken out of context; magnifying the “demonic” in the follower candidate they demonize. There is no leader here because there is no leader to follow. Leave only followers, follow other followers, create other followers.
You can follow the leader if you know who he is and where he is going. However, I suggest that it is not acceptable to follow mysterious, self-reliant, anonymous, beyond-the-rich followers hiding behind fanciful organizations with nice names, creating confusion via their chaotic emotion-driven advertisements.
Jesus found himself with the problem of the follower at the beginning of his ministry. Its audience had become too large, too “attractive”, and too consumer-oriented and conditional. The crowd used Jesus as a means to an end, making him their image. They were not going to embrace the mission given to Jesus by God to build quality people who build quality nations.
Because Jesus was safe, he risked the survey expert’s numbers and data for a higher purpose, fulfilling God’s desire to make disciples who would create cultures of wisdom and upliftment. Jesus wanted people to know where he was going and how to get there. So he said, “Follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men.”
To enlighten the crowd of disciples, he began to speak of such matters as, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my will, but the will of him that sent me.” “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” He was talking about the elements of the communion table, not spiritual cannibalism. But I can see the political ads on statements like these. Titles: Jesus is a cannibal creating cannibals, and I am appalled.
What happened when he taught these things? “Many of his disciples withdrew and no longer spoke with him.” They became followers after followers. But the 12 disciples hung around saying, “…to whom shall we go? You (Jesus) have the words of eternal life. This is what the disciples who make history do. They recognize a true leader worth following when they see one.
Jesus used “pull” strategies as a starting point to build his church and movement, but not at the expense of God’s mission to “disciple nations”. Jesus presented a new model of church and society. Jesus envisioned a nation changed from the inside out, not the outside in.
Jesus touched on four appealing but completely false reasons to follow him in John 6. Unfortunately, in most cases, these four reasons are the same reasons people follow political parties or candidates.
1. Wonders. Verse 2, “a great multitude followed Jesus because they saw signs…”. Jesus was charismatic and gifted. Jesus did amazing things, and He could attract people. But you don’t follow Jesus because he makes life better. You follow Jesus because he is better than life. Signs and miracles are attractive, even sensational, but don’t necessarily create leaders who can transform underperforming societies.
2. Food Stamps, Gifts and Entitlements. Verse 26, “…you seek me, not because you have seen signs, but because you have eaten of the loaves and have been satisfied. He fed the poor with compassion, but not forever. Jesus knew that trading votes and popularity for constant giving created co-dependency, producing followers after followers. Jesus lived by the voice of God and a higher call to uplift all levels of society.
3. They wanted a political party or candidate to get rid of an oppressive government. Verse 15, “…they intended to come and take him by force, to make him king.” Many followers wanted to make Jesus the king, president or senator of their political party. They thought politics was the answer to their problems. But Jesus was not about legislation. Legislation is outside work. Jesus was talking about transformation. Transformation is an inside job.
4. The branding of Jesus as a great leader/personality/winner that people can relate to. Verse 14, “When the people saw the sign…they said, ‘Verily the Prophet is to come into the world.’ Everyone loves a winner. There will always be another newer, bigger, bigger, better movement or personality that people want to identify with. But deifying a figure, a fashion or a movement has rarely transformed a society on the run.
Jesus’ mission is to engage, influence and empower underperforming cultures and nations, not just sit bodies down or scare people enough to vote. Being attractive can produce larger church meetings or political rallies, but while that happens, societal problems get worse. Gaining attendance or winning an election at the expense of culture is not a beneficial societal contribution.
Ask yourself this question. Am I following a real leader with real solutions or am I following followers who tell their followers, “Where I lead you, you will follow me; what I give you to eat, you will swallow it because your head is very hollow”? I don’t believe for a moment that your head is hollow.
Undoubtedly, the Lord has more for us than that.