This coming Saturday, I have been asked to speak at a worship conference. There are so many ideas I would like my listener’s to interact with. On mulling over what would be the best topic, followership comes to mind. So much research has been carried out on what it means to be an effective leader, and a quick go on any search engine will bring up thousands of articles. Only recently has research focused on a critical component of the leadership process: The follower.
There is a great misconception- that the success of a team is dependent and credited solely on a leader. This misconception has led many leaders to neglect engaging with and building their teams. It sometimes feels like a transactional event- a leader leads, individuals do what the leader expects of them and the positive outcome of this transaction is then attributed to the leader.
However, followers play a vital role in the growth and sustainability of any organization or team. Today, I want to focus on the different types of followers as proposed by Kelley, who theorized that there are five types: Alienated, passive, conformist, pragmatic, and exemplary. This post builds on his work as I draw parallels to biblical characters.
- The Absalom Type
This type of follower is also known as an alienated follower. The alienated follower may have started off as an exemplary follower, with great ideas and talent. However, along the way, probably because of discouragement, unappreciation or having their ideas ignored, this follower became cynical towards the leader and those followers who seem to have bought-in to the vision of the team.
Absalom was a man of promise, the son of a king, and a great leader based on how he rallied the troupes towards a cause (2nd Samuel 15:13). However, what may have been an epic, quickly disintegrated into rebellion. Absalom’s sister Tamar was raped, David took no action and we find a discouraged and enraged Absalom murdering the perpetrator and later taking the kingdom of Israel away from David (2nd Samuel:13-15). David’s unwillingness to address the situation may have embittered Absalom and caused the division in his house.
Follower– unfortunately, the ministry of song leading or any ministry for that matter, may appear more often than not, to be a thankless job. In fact, there may be more criticism than praise, from your leaders and congregation, concerning what you put out every Sunday. Continue to engage your leaders in areas of concern, and do not let your heart be embittered.
Leader– determine before God that you will begin to truly listen to, and encourage your followers, especially when they are not their best. Even while correcting, or giving feedback, always begin with the areas they are excelling in. Enable your followers to feel that their ideas are valued and their work appreciated.
- The Moses Type
The Moses type is a passive follower. They are highly dependent on their leader for direction and thus require a great deal of supervision.
I perceive Moses to be a passive follower when God called him. Maybe due to the hardships he faced after certain life choices (Exodus 2:12), or familial upbringing. Whatever it was, Moses always seemed to be uncertain of himself and God’s providence, leading him to shy away from his calling (Exodus 4). God finally gave him an aide who acted as a mouthpiece.
Follower– begin to take an active role in your team. Start small with ideas that are likely to give you a win.
Leader– allow your followers to dream, innovate and implement, despite your own fears of failure. Innovation comes at a cost- meaning that there is a great likelihood that the idea may fail. However, would you prefer a team that is constantly advancing its processes, or one that is retrogressive?
- The Joab Type
Also known as a “yes man”, the conformist follower is a highly submissive individual who does not question their leaders’ ideas or actions. This type of follower excels in a team because they do what they are told to do and at whatever cost. An extreme scenario in a worship team would be where this type of follower is asked to compromise on their personal moral or ethical values to cover a leader. This type of follower may find it difficult to say no.
In 2nd Samuel 11:14, David instructs Joab to have Uriah killed. Joab did not question this instruction, but obeyed fully. In fact, he later on gave a detailed report of the murder. Despite the repercussions, Joab was in a position to say no to the king and uphold his integrity- instead, he chose not to.
Follower– there is a difference between critical thinking and insubordination.
Leader– it is not insubordination for your followers to ask for clarity or even disagree with your ideas.
- The Peter Type
This type is called the pragmatic follower. These followers are driven by fear and a survivalist mentality. Consequently, they become opportunists, depending on what kind of situation they find themselves in. For example, in order to keep their position in a team, a pragmatic follower may conform to a leader, or become a highly engaged individual.
Peter was vocal about his allegiance to Christ, declaring that he would even die with the Lord if it came to that (Matthew 26:35). However, later out of fear, we see Peter changing his confession (John 18:17).
Leader– take the example of Jesus in leading this type of follower. He restores Peter by affirming him and giving him a vision to live for.
- The Paul Type
These followers are also known as exemplary/courageous followers. They are an asset to their organization because they question their leader’s actions and ideas, something that other types of followers may be afraid to do, ultimately leading to the organization’s growth. These followers employ critical thinking and are active in the team, therefore ideally the kind of followers to have.
Paul in Galatians 2:11-14 calls Peter out concerning a fundamental issue in the Gospel. I perceive Paul to be an exemplary follower because he was willing to have a very uncomfortable conversation with his leader that eventually led to the inclusion of the Gentiles.
In your worship team, this follower may constantly ask questions concerning issues. However, don’t be insecure. In fact, encourage them.
Follower– as earlier noted, there is a difference between critical thinking and insubordination. Therefore, learn how to approach your leader in respect and love.
Leader– allow your team members the opportunity to examine an idea, especially one that directly affects them. Asking questions also clarifies vision and goals.
It may be that you find yourself leaning towards a followership style that is detrimental to your team. You don’t have to stay there. You can be the kind of follower God created you to be- one that will bring much joy to your team.
On the other hand, you may be struggling to lead your followers. Could it be that you need to evaluate how you are leading and if this leadership style is serving the team? How can you challenge your followers to become exemplary?