Talbot School of Theology professors Rick Langer and Joanne J. Jung are authors of the new book The Call to Follow: Hearing Jesus in a Culture Obsessed with Leadership. Join Good Book Blog on a series of four posts written by Langer and Jung on the call to follow. Below is the second post in the series. Read the first post: “A Book on Followership, Really?.”
As we began to study leading and following in the New Testament, we were startled by how much language there is about following, modeling and imitation, and how comparatively rarely leadership terms appear. Even more startling are Jesus' own statements about himself in the Gospel of John. In 5:19, Jesus describes himself as a follower who does nothing of his own accord but only what he sees the Father doing. In 7:16 and 8:26, we discover that his teaching is not his own but comes from the one who sent him. Likewise, his actions are not done on his own authority (8:28) and his comings and goings are appointed by someone else (8:42).
Jesus clearly states that he is not giving commands but rather delivering them on behalf of the Father (12:49), and that he lives as one who obeys commands (14:31). He models love to them because he is following the example he has seen in the Father (15:9). He models obedience because it is the key to abiding in the Father’s love, both for himself and for the disciples (15:10). At every point in this mosaic of images, Jesus is playing the role of a follower rather than a leader. After reading all of this, it is good to stop and ask ourselves whether the Gospel of John was written so that we can lead like Jesus led or so we can follow like Jesus followed? Clearly, it is the latter.
Good following is not easy. It requires training and discipline. It is not passive like osmosis. Following is integrated into our lives at every level, regardless of who you are with, the day of the week, or the time of day. To follow well requires intentional effort. It’s amazing how infrequently we think of this, yet we are always called to reflect him to the world. To have God’s perspective requires us to know him and his ways. It is difficult to follow someone you do not know, and knowing him involves a healthy and nourishing intake of his Word. If you have read God’s Word but have not been inspired to follow him more closely and love him and his people more deeply, then you have not read it well.
God’s Spirit is the direct agent in our becoming faithful followers, so it only makes sense to grow in our sensitivity and obedience to his promptings, nudges and voice. These will always be consistent with God’s Word. He not only delights in illuminating our understanding of God’s Word, but he delights in giving us lab practicums to test whether we live out what we say we believe. These practicums range in difficulty and in length of time, but all require moment-by-moment (or season-to-season) following him, trusting in him and walking in his ways.
If we seek to transform our world in God-pleasing ways, we must begin by letting ourselves be transformed into committed followers. Our daily lives must center on trusting in the Spirit’s presence and power to transform our hearts and yield our lives to God’s kingdom rule. Each day of faithful trusting and following is connected with the next–strung together like pearls on a string.
Such committed daily following is the essence of the Christian life, but it is not easy. Our daily following is lined with challenges, hardships, and disappointment. There is a loneliness that often travels with a committed following. Though others tire, committed followers press on. Though no one watches, committed followers persevere. Though others wander, committed followers stay the course. Though no one praises or encourages, committed followers know the ultimate one who will praise and reward.
When the going gets tough, faithful following remains the call. Our next post addresses following well in times and seasons of challenge.
Listen to Scott Rae and Sean McDowell interview author Rick Langer about The Call to Follow on the Think Biblically podcast.