Followership: How to be a great team member

“That the leaders led in Israel, and that the people volunteered, O bless the Lord!” (Judges 5:2)

“For the body is not one member, but many….  If they were all one member, where would the body be?” (I Corinthians 14:14,19)

A man wrote to Reader’s Digest telling how his daughter had gone off to a woman’s university and he had received a letter from the dean. “We’re surveying the freshman class,” he said.  “Please tell us about your daughter by completing the enclosed questionnaire.”

One question read: “Would you call your daughter  a leader?”  The dad wrote, “I’m not sure I’d call her a leader.  But she’s a great player, someone you really want on your team.”

A few days later, he received a letter from the dean.  “I thought you’d be interested in knowing,” he wrote, “that our freshman class of 250 young women is composed of 249 leaders and one follower.  Your daughter.”

Everyone likes to think of themselves as leadership material.  To be a follower is not glamorous. No kid announces to the family that when he grows up, he plans to be a team member. Few books–if any!–are written on the subject of how to be a great follower or team member.

My friend Vince Lee wrote the other night.  “Your website has all kinds of articles on leadership.  But no one ever writes anything on how to be a great follower.  How about it?”

Great idea, Vince.  Thank you.

I know about following.

I should be an authority on following.  I’ve been a follower all my life, with a few times-out to take the lead in something or other.

That might take some explaining.  After all, I’ve pastored six churches for 42 years and then served in denominational leadership for five years.  So, how is it I have been a follower for all my life?

–I went to school.  At no point was I the leader of the school.  Not even the class or the Beta Club.  (Okay, I was president of the FFA, but in name only.)

–I worked in secular jobs.  In college, I worked weekends as a clerk-typist at the railroad yards for the Pullman Company.  After college, for two years I worked as the secretary to the production manager of a cast iron pipe company.  During seminary, I worked afternoons in a huge office at the Coca-Cola Bottling Company.  At every level, I had bosses and took orders.  I was a small cog in a large wheel.

–I’ve been a member of the PTA, but never its leader.  A member of the chamber of commerce, but never its leader.  A member of the board of trustees of a Baptist medical center, but never its leader.  A trustee of our SBC International Mission Board, but never its leader.  A member of the board for several state Baptist conventions, but never their leader.

You get the idea.

And, there is one other thing that might qualify me to pen something on followership:  As a pastor of churches and a denominational “director of missions,” my work depended on a large corps of volunteers.  Our teams were often large and sometimes unwieldy.  The stories I could tell on this subject.

So, here are ten things on FOLLOWERSHIP I’ve learned over the decades.  Oh, and don’t miss the final scripture.  It knocks this out of the park…

One. Not everyone is meant to be a leader. So, do not beat yourself up if you find yourself constantly refusing when asked to be chairman of the deacons or to lead a big project.  You know yourself better than anyone.  Find your slot and work it well.

Two.  No leader leads in every area.  When the president of General Motors goes to the PTA, he is put on a committee and takes orders.  When the college president joins the chamber of commerce, they put him/her on the beautification committee and he/she learns to lead by following.  When the President of the United States goes to church, he is not in charge but is following the leadership of the pastor.

Three.  Pay attention. Everyone should learn the lessons of faithful  and effective followership.  Like leadership, it’s a never-ending project and the lessons keep on coming.

Watch the great quarterback or running back for a successful football team.  They will pay tribute to the blockers in front of them.  Ask any fan.  When no one is running interference for Mark Ingram or Jerry Rice (!), he turns in a dismal record at the end of that game.  And yet, few people know the names of their offensive line. They are the grunts.  But nothing much happens without them. A good coach knows this.

Four.  Pray for your leader.  Ask the Lord to lead, to show the way, to protect the leader, to bless him/her with wisdom and discernment.

Five.  Pray for yourself. There will be moments when you are tempted to go rogue, to jump ship and rebel against the leadership.  Ask the Lord to give you wisdom.  Sometimes, His will is for you to learn to submit to the authority over you for the greater good. (See Ephesians 5:21)

Six. Honor your leader and bless the other members.

Seven.  Be supportive.  Do your work well.  And be sparing in your criticism of other workers or the leadership.

Eight.  Keep your ego out of it.  Read Luke 17:7-10 until its lesson becomes part and parcel of your makeup.  When you have served excellently–when you have done all the things the Lord commanded of you!–then instead of expecting appreciation and recognition, say to yourself, “I am only an unworthy servant, just doing my job.”  Doing that from time to time will drive a stake through the heart of a runaway ego and make you a much better servant.

Btw, never tell other people “I’m just an unworthy servant.  I’m just doing my job.”  That smacks of self-righteousness.  Say it to yourself and no one else.  Neither should we say that to others.  “Pastor, I know you’ve been here many years and worked hard.  But pastor, you are an unworthy servant, just doing your job.”  That would be a major league putdown.  Instead, scripture says we are to honor each other and appreciate those who serve well. (See Romans 16, the entire chapter; I Corinthians 16:18; and Philippians 2:19ff.)

Nine. Show yourself faithful.  Never criticize your leader.  Do your work well, and encourage the leader who has been assigned the most difficult task of all: to set the direction, make a lot of hard decisions, and deal with team members each one with his/her own opinions on how this work should be done.

Value the other team members.  Do not compete with them but encourage them.  Be loyal, both to the organization as well as to the leadership and to your fellow team members.

Ten.  Learn well the lesson of I Samuel 30:24 and teach it at every opportunity.

To chase down the Amalekites and take back their families and cattle stolen by these fierce enemies, David and his band had to make a decision.  Weighted down by their supplies and baggage, they assigned some of the group to remain behind with the “stuff.”  This enabled the warriors to travel light and catch the bad guys.  They did, and made short work of them, and recaptured everyone and everything.  “Nothing was missing, whether great or small” (I Samuel 30:19).  And then they returned to the team members left behind.

Some in David’s group–described as “wicked and worthless men”–wanted to give a pittance to the guardians of the baggage.  “After all, they didn’t face the Amalekites and risk their lives.”  David was ready with an answer, giving a principle which verse 25 says became the rule of law in Israel “to this day.”

“As his share who goes down to battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage;  they shall share alike.”  (I Samuel 30:24)

Smart man.  Wise leader.  Grateful people.  A lesson well taught.

For good reason the citizens of the country appreciated King David as no one before or after him.

It’s a smart leader who appreciates the team members–most of whom will go unnamed and unnoticed–who make him look like a champion.



1 thought on “Followership: How to be a great team member

  1. hi, i am not a leader, just the servant in the background. What frustrates me most about todays church is there leadership madness. Tonnes of activeties for leaders: books , articles, classes, conferences, retreates and much more. The church leadership is always looking for new leadership talents. For those in the background? Almost nothing. If they are adressed by the church leadership, it is the more or less smart attempt to get more out of them, no genuine interest in them. Seldom their ideas, as good and valid as ideas from the leaders, get heard. Sad, but my experience after over 30 years volunteering in church.

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