In our previous post, “It’s Lonely at the Top,” we addressed the external and internal challenges of leadership: anxiety and imposter syndrome. The language of a yoked leader was introduced to describe the shared yoke of service. As you take up Jesus’ yoke, he doesn’t abandon the yoke to your care, you just join him in his work. In any and all circumstances, he remains yoked to you, and you to him; you're a yokemate.

As a wooden frame that joined two animals, usually oxen, for pulling heavy loads, a yoke is often used as a picture of oppression. Yet, Jesus redeems this image to describe followership and with it, he promises rest--external and internal. In biblical following, Jesus invites us to be his “yokemates” (Matthew 11:28-30). To follow him is to bear his yoke. And in that sense, yokes capture a bit of the daunting side of following Jesus. But on the other hand, Jesus also says that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Those who take his yoke upon themselves find rest for their souls. Once we wear the yoke, we discover that we were born for it — or perhaps we should say born again for it. As counterintuitive as it might sound, it is exactly in taking Jesus's yoke upon us that we find peace and rest from our fears of being found out as an imposter.

In the New Testament, there is a lot of language about following, modeling and imitation, and comparatively rarely terms related to leadership. Even more startling are Jesus' own statements about himself throughout the Gospel of John.

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 his listeners 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 following his Father. His leading of the disciples is grounded in his being a dependent, faithful follower of the Father, not an autonomous 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. One of the best ways for us to imagine leading as a follower is to imagine ourselves as yokemates of Jesus.

Let’s take a look at following, and how to do it well.

We should be clear that the yoke is not easy because Jesus takes us along easy paths. Far from it. In fact, the paths trod by those who bear the yoke of Jesus are often excruciatingly difficult — they are the paths of cross-bearers. The yoke is not easy because our path will be easy; the yoke is easy because it keeps us attached to Jesus no matter the path we walk. It shouts, “You are not alone.” That in and of itself is good therapy for lonely decision makers and sufferers of Imposter Syndrome.

Faithful following may suddenly sound both daunting and difficult. Biblically, it appears to be both. When the going gets tough, faithful following remains the call. When the path demands great strength, we find ourselves yoked to the one to whom all power and authority has been given. When our path includes hunger, we find ourselves yoked to the Bread of Life. When we find ourselves thirsty, we are yoked to the Living Water. When we find ourselves lost in the darkness, we discover we are yoked to the Light of the World. When we find ourselves assaulted by wolves, we discover we are yoked to the Good Shepherd and we find comfort in the protection of his rod and staff. In short, the miracle of successful following is not found in the ease of the yoke but in the nearness of our yokemate. It is in abiding in Jesus that we find rest, and the yoke helps assure that we abide. We are attached to his vine. We draw daily nourishment through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

In our leading, as in our following, he demands of us only what he has modeled for us; we share only what he has given us.