Monday, February 28, 2011

Want Leadership? Develop Followership.

By Lonnie Valentine

I do not see the problem of leadership as one of finding people willing and able to lead.

I see the problem as one of "followership." Those who see themselves or are seen as followers are thought of as less worthy than leaders. So, everyone wants to be a leader and no one wants to follow. If so, thenBrent Bill leading a presentation any talk of leadership needs to talk about followership. How do we be good followers?

Of course, this is not a new problem. Paul talks about these issues, and it is clear he and the congregations he started struggled with this question of who is to lead and who is to follow. However, I did find some of what Paul says to be worth thinking about now:

"There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good...For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ." (1 Corinthians 12: 4-7, 12)

Playing off of Paul's image, I would think that, first, anyone who leads ought not think of themselves as inherently superior to those whoSinging at ESR worship follow, and those who follow ought not think of themselves as inferior in their following. Second, a leader in some situations had better be able to show they can follow in other situations. A leader needs to model following at times. As Paul notes, not all have the same gifts, and so the gifts of others need to be recognized and brought into the lead at certain times. Third, I think there is need for some person or few persons that have a responsibility for paying attention to how the whole body of the group is functioning.

This form of leadership, usually thought of in relation to the role of administrators, is most critical in helping all the other sub-groups and persons of the organization to see what the overall mission and health of the body is. This does not mean they seek to be "the decider" and make all decisions or have all power, but rather they have a gift for holding the various roles and ideas of all those who are members of the body so as to communicate to all what is going on in the body, and seeking toLonnie Valentine delivering a message at ESR worship promote the mission or heal the hurts of the entire group by seeing and calling forth the talents of those in the body.

One final word. Last Spring, John Dominic Crossan lectured at ESR on the vision of the Kingdom of God held by Jesus and Paul. He argued that their vision of such a Kingdom was a direct challenge to the Kingdom of Caesar. Caesar's kingdom was top down, with Caesar as the divine Son of God who ruled as a dictator, using coercion and violence to maintain control. Unfortunately, such a model has many attractions, during the time of Jesus and Paul and in our own time, including within the Church. Such a quest for power led to Empire making which destroyed others and finally was self-destructive.

As Crossan puts it, ancient Greece learned it could have participatory democracy or Empire, but not both; Rome learned is could have a republic or Empire, but not both. Insofar as any body, whether it be Church or State--or educational institution, sees itself as building an Empire, then the health of the body is endangered. The Church or any organization is to be of service to others, not to accrue power and privilege for itself or for some of its "leaders."

Valentine, Lonnie.JPGLonnie Valentine has served as professor of Peace and Justice Studies at Earlham School of Religion since 1989. Originally from California, he lives in Richmond, Indiana.


  1. I have this ongoing vision of communities working together with this same understanding of common purpose, and of knowing how each one fits into the whole. It is primal, egalitarian, and very healthy, and the community encourages creativity, freedom and generosity, while thriving, because each one contributes willingly to the whole.

  2. Thanks for this, Lonnie. And thanks to you and ESR for posting the Crossan videos. I really got alot out of watching them- so much so that I showed them to my New Testament class.