Playing 'Follow the Follower'
By Ed Delph
October 3, 2022
Here's an opening thought I gleaned from Monday Morning Coffee.
"On the playground of any school, and on any day, you can witness children playing ‘follow the leader.’ One child hops, skips, or jumps, and all the others follow. As adults, however, many of those children play a variation of that game - called 'follow the follower.'
"On the job, they look around, see how someone else is doing their work, and duplicate the effort. They don't realize that their fellow employee is also watching someone else. A circular 'follow the follower' game evolves, resulting in a mediocre workforce. The same can be true in marriages, education, hobbies, and sports."
Might I add politics and culture to the list?
Consider the story of a telephone operator in a small town. Every day she received a call from a gentleman asking for the correct time. Finally, one day, she asked the mystery caller who he was and why he called every day. His answer? "I'm the one who blows the factory whistle daily at noon. I like to be right on time!" The operator laughed and then responded, "Here at the telephone company, we set our watches and clocks by the noon whistle at the factory!"
Today's world and world culture seem filled with followers following followers. Look at those horrific political ads. Each ad follows the other ad's strategy. The same intense music; the same outraged, barely able to control their anger voice; the same half-truths and lies; the same pretexts taken out of context; the same beyond ridiculous magnifying the 'demonic' in the candidate they demonize. There's no leader because there is no leader to follow. Only lemmings, following and creating followers based on another's opinion or agenda.
It's OK to follow the leader if you know who they are and where they are going. However, I suggest it's not OK to follow mysterious, autonomous, anonymous, dark-money followers, hiding behind fancy organizations with flowery names, and creating confusion via their emotions-driven chaos commercials. The problem is lies, half-truths, and misinformation gain momentum as they go along. The unsuspecting misinformed, uninformed, and naive become conformed to the optic. The local and national outcome is subtraction, not addition and division, not multiplication.
Jesus found himself with the follower problem early on in His ministry. His following had become too big, too 'attractional,' and too consumer-driven. The crowd saw Jesus to their end, making Him into their image. They weren't going to embrace the mission given to Jesus by God of building quality people who build quality nations.
Because Jesus was secure, he risked numbers and the polling expert's data for a higher purpose, fulfilling God's desire to make disciples that 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 will make you fishers of men."
To thin the crowd of followers following followers, He started talking about issues like, "For I come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me." "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life." He was talking about the partaking of Him via the elements of the communion table, not spiritual cannibalism. But I can hear and see the political ads about statements like these. The headlines read: "Jesus is a cannibal creating cannibals … I'm appalled."
What happened when he taught those things?
"Many of His disciples withdrew and were not talking with Him anymore."
They became followers following followers. But the twelve disciples hung around, saying, "to whom shall we go? You (Jesus) have the words of eternal life." That's what history-making followers do. They recognize a true leader worth following, speaking life and truth when they see one.
Jesus used 'attractional' strategies as a starting point for building His church and movement but not at the expense of God's mission to disciple nations with truth and wisdom. Jesus presented a new model of church and society. Jesus was designing a nation changed from the inside out, not the outside in. Jesus didn't hide behind dark money or shadowy characters who are intellectual humility challenged.
Investor and businessman Charlie Munger said this about intellectual humility. "A lot of 'smart' people think they're way smarter than they are, and therefore they do worse than 'dumb' people. And it's very common to be utterly brilliant and think you're way smarter than you are." Intellectual humility recognizes the older I get, the more I realize, the less I know.
Jesus addressed four attractional but completely wrong reasons for following Him in John 6. Unfortunately, in most cases, these four reasons are the same reasons people follow political parties or candidates.
1. Sensational Optics and Entertainment.
Verse 2. "a great multitude was following Jesus because they were seeing signs…." Jesus was charismatic and gifted. Jesus did extraordinary things. He could attract people through miracles and the unexpected. But you don't follow Jesus because He makes life better. You follow Jesus because He's better than life. Signs and miracles are attractive, even sensational, but don't necessarily create leaders who can transform underachieving societies.
2. Food Stamps, Give-a-Ways, and Entitlements.
Verse 26. "…you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled." He compassionately fed the poor, but not forever. Jesus pulled people out, then pulled them up. Jesus knew trading votes and popularity for constant handouts created codependence, producing followers following followers. Jesus lived by God's voice and a higher calling to uplift all levels of society.
3. They Wanted a Political Party or Candidate to Rid Themselves of an Oppressive Government.
Verse 15. "…they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king." Many followers wanted to make Jesus the king, the president, or the senator of their political party. They thought politics and government were the answer to their problems. But Jesus wasn't about legislation. Legislation is an outside job. Jesus was about transformation. Transformation is an inside job.
4. Jesus' Branding as an Excellent Leader/Personality/Winner for People to Identify With.
Verse 14. "When people saw the sign…they said, 'This is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into the world.'" Everyone loves a winner. There will always be another latest, greatest, biggest, and best movement or personality people want to identify with. But deifying a figure, a fad, or a movement has seldom transformed a runaway society.
Jesus' mission is to engage, influence, and empower underachieving cultures and nations, not just get bodies in chairs or scare/anger people enough to vote. Being attractional might produce larger church meetings or political rallies, but while this is happening, societal problems worsen. Gaining attendance or winning an election at the expense of losing truth is not a beneficial societal contribution. Opinion is a poor substitute for truth.
Ask yourself this question. I am following a true leader with real solutions, or am I following followers who say to their followers, "Where I lead you, you will follow; what I feed you, you will swallow because your head is mighty hollow?"
Jesus (and I) don't believe for one moment that your head is hollow. He had the intellectual humility and intellectual integrity to tell people the truth, even when it cost him. Why? Because the only thing that can set people free to be who they are meant to be is the truth.
Truth is the way to a better life.
Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
Visit Ed Delph's website at www.nationstrategy.com