It's easy to complain about leaders. Rarely does a day go by that I don't hear or read some kind of rant about a decision, either in my community, across The Salvation Army or in higher leadership. Implicit in any rant and rave is a distrust of leaders. We are quick to assume they've completely compromised all morals and no longer love Jesus in order to make such a decision (whatever it may be). When people make different choices than we would, we assume (1) they're wrong and I'm right, and (2) it must be because they're not in step with the Spirit, as I am.

We may rarely express our opinions, yet they are implicit in the way we act and complain. It's normal to have a gut reaction when our leaders make decisions that affect us, seemingly without regard for our opinion on the matter. This attitude could be toward government leaders, church leaders, work leaders or anyone else that holds influence over us.

It seems easier to accept decisions from those who aren't Christ-followers, such as leaders at our workplace or in government. Since they aren't claiming to make decisions in line with the Holy Spirit, we throw up our hands and accept what we can't control.

This is more difficult when it comes to disagreements with other Christians. If we are all listening to the same Spirit, it seems as though disagreement shouldn't be so pervasive. Yet experience shows that disagreements in the church from true, Christ-following disciples are as old as the church itself. One cannot read New Testament letters without becoming aware of the constant disagreements in the earliest churches by those who all claim to be Christ-followers (see all of Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 2 and 3 John, James, do I need to go on?).

The call to leadership is far from easy. Leaders have to make tough decisions that we as followers know little about (we might think we know a lot, but we rarely have all the information). God has given me some gifts of leadership and I exercise those where I can and need to, but God has also tasked me with the call to be a good follower. I am first and foremost a follower of Jesus Christ. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I have to look to my earthly leaders for guidance and direction. How can I expect to be able to follow one who is unseen if I can't even follow one who is right in front of me and speaking to me clearly?

1 Peter 2:13-14 reminds us to “Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” Peter can tell us this because Paul reminds us in Romans 13:1 that “there is no authority except that which God has established.” If this is true for secular authorities who do not claim Christ as their leader as these texts suggest, how much more true is this of leaders in the church, who seek God's guidance in all things and who diligently want to obey him in all things (see Hebrews 13:17)? I wonder if there is a direct correlation between those who submit to earthly leaders and those who are able to submit to God.

So how can I be a good follower to my earthly leaders? I am not suggesting we should salute and turn a blind eye when something is really wrong; however, we have to first ask ourselves, “Am I doing my job as a follower?” As followers we should pray for our leaders. If we are consistently praying for wisdom for our leaders, how can we react when they make a decision that we don't agree with? I have to trust that the Lord answers prayer and perhaps my view of the situation is much smaller than that of my leaders. Before the first word of complaint comes out of our lips (or fingertips) we need to ask ourselves, are we really praying for our leader? Perhaps they need our prayers more than ever and my neglect of good “followership” isn't helping the situation. My personal experience is that after consistent, long-term prayer for my leaders, I am much more likely to accept their leadership than complain about it. Prayer might change them but it will certainly change me. I have to trust that the Lord has put the right people in the right places. If that place for me is being a good follower, then I need to follow with all my heart and not set the pace for mediocrity.

As good followers we must also learn how to voice concerns respectfully. At times we might need to learn how to support decisions that aren't what we would have chosen but are final. The list of lessons in following could go on….

It's not easy being a good follower; it's a hard pill to swallow at times. But I believe that God has important lessons for us in submission, first to him, and second to our earthly leaders. There will be times that the Lord may call us to help a leader or redirect a bad decision, but if we aren't praying and supporting our leaders along the way, we likely won't be in a place to do that effectively when the time comes. I am not suggesting that we should follow our leaders as brainless drones or automatons, but I am suggesting that following is a significant spiritual discipline that we rarely take seriously. It's easy to complain about leaders. Praying for them and accepting their leadership as divinely appointed is hard. Which will you choose?

Captain Catherine Fitzgerald is an officer on staff at the College for Officer Training in Chicago. She teaches New Testament and preaching classes and directs the family care centre. Besides spending time with her husband and raising her two children, she also loves to run and sew.

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