What’s New: The Leader and the Followers
By: David New
I have written for The Southern Spirit for more than half a year now. Throughout these last few months, I’ve learned something significant about myself. When I look over my previous columns, critiquing myself and trying to grow as a writer, I noticed a painful trend. No matter what story I tell from my personal life, or any portion of Scripture that I reference, I always seem to reach a similar conclusion. My brain paints me the illusion of new roads of discovery and nuanced thought-provoking ideas, and yet I inevitably end up on the same dirt road. I felt self-conscious. Am I not creative enough? Perhaps my ability to think critically is more finite than I imagined. Few things are as humbling as the moment you realize something lacking about yourself. I was immensely disappointed.
Fast forward to this summer when I was fortunate enough to attend Territorial Music Institute (TMI) as a faculty member, a time for musicians and artists alike to learn, teach, and grow as Christians and artistic members of The Salvation Army. It’s a week I look forward to every year.
In previous years, the morning ritual of TMI was consistent. After breakfast, we all gathered for a time of devotion and worship called Morning Manna. The brass band opened with some tasteful preludes, the praise band ushered us into a worshipful mood, and various faculty members led prayers, songs, and performances all in the context of what a typical Sunday service looks like. It’s a wonderful time and the perfect way to start each day.
This year was different. Instead of gathering for congregational worship each morning, the focus was on small group discussion. Delegates and staff split into preassigned groups. I was tasked to colead a group of teenage guys. My job was to guide and encourage discussion.
It’s not very easy getting teenage boys to talk about complex issues in the early morning, especially if they learned they didn’t make it into the band or group they wanted. But after multiple, painful, awkward silences while avoiding any eye contact, they began to speak.
The discussions varied greatly, ranging from very specific Scripture to daily life and corps programing. One subject that always popped up was leadership in The Salvation Army, or more correctly, the lack thereof. To these young men that there is a crisis in leadership, especially at the corps level.
Attempting to prevent the session from turning into a time to list grievances, we navigated our way, investigating why this issue exists and pitching possible solutions. To my surprise, the solutions were given quickly and effortlessly. It was inspiring to hear young men share how much they cared about their corps and the visions they had for it.
Although I loved hearing their wants and ideas for the future of the Army, I kept trying to push them into talking about why these issues exist. Why is there a lack of leadership? Why are so many leaders failing or even leaving?
I wish I had the answer. In reality, I don’t believe there is an “answer.” There is only self-evaluation.
What are YOU doing about this?
We are often fed ideas about leaders and followers. Leaders are sought after. They take charge. They care not about how they are perceived and, ironically, garner a following because of it. They make decisions and see to it that change follows. Followers, on the other hand, are weaker-minded. They cling to authority and wait to be told what to do. They lack conviction. It’s no wonder those young men answered questions through the lens of how they thought an experienced leader would. Life has told them why they shouldn’t want to be followers.
It’s time we reevaluate our definitions. According to the world, being a follower Christ makes us feeble, weak-minded, useless pawns of a cult. We know that’s not true. We cling to His authority and also take charge of the responsibilities He’s given us.
I explained earlier that no matter what path I take when writing, I always seem to return to the same themes. I thought this was a sign of close-mindedness or even weakness. Instead, I’ve learned that it’s part of what makes me who I am. Through reading my own writing, I see the person who God has and is continuously making me to be. In following Christ, we each inherit our own experiences, our own stories, our own themes. But we know those themes aren’t truly ours—they were given to us. Our job now is to share, to witness, to lead those around us. Not with our own wisdom, but through the leadership of the One we all follow. The greatest leaders in the Church are those that so follow Christ.
I was blessed meeting with those young men each morning. The vision they had of what the Army is and could still be invigorated a passion for ministry I didn’t know still existed. If there was one conclusion I hope and pray we all came to in our small group discussions, it’s that there can be no true leadership, no effective ministry, if we don’t agree on what and who we follow. Otherwise, we are only furthering our own earthly agendas. Agendas built on something fleeting will always fail.