I admit that I really have no idea what I’m doing most days. I may be able to put on a good showing, but most of any success that might be observed in my life is literally by the grace of the One who created me. I’m a follower more than a leader by nature. Leading tends to give me headaches. Following however, if done correctly, can appear brilliant and lead to its own success.
This process is a tough sell in corporate, the one who dies with the most toys wins, America. The same goes for the American church. The traditional view is overwhelmingly in favor of “leaders”. The type “A”, dog eating dog, top rung on the ladder people are the ones who get recognition. I happen to be in a position and a role that, at times, recognizes those very types. I have no doubt that it can be beneficial to the church community to have such people in such places. I have seen these instances first hand. I also have no doubt that it can be a trap from which a community o’ faith will be hard pressed to escape. Unfortunately I have witnessed this as well, along with throngs of media and tabloid subscribers.
I guess it could be argued that I have personal motive to feel the way I do. After all, I am by no means a type “A”. Even the thought of attempting to be one exhausts me. So if I would concede that the popular notion of leadership is the preferred one, then I would invalidate my own method. I cannot do that. I have seen too much evidence to the contrary. So the question becomes “How does one lead by following?”
I think that I have an answer. I didn’t say “the” answer. I said “an” answer. I believe that I learned this through a combination of life experience and faith experience. Before my life as a pastoral artist, I had a life working with sonar. Sonar is a brilliant technology which helps one see without the aid of sight. That concept fits my life most days. In simple terms, when one is underwater in a submarine, despite the images from Jules Verne, there are no picture windows to lounge in front of sipping cognac. You don’t look outside at 20,000 leagues under the sea. You travel by sending out signals and waiting for them to bounce back to you. The bouncing back of signals can determine anything from size and structure to distance of objects around you under the sea. From that information you get to adjust course or speed or torpedo launch.
Over the course of my new life I’ve learned to be a sonar type of leader, minus the torpedoes. Although, most days, a few could come in handy. In order to lead by this method, one needs to send signals. In my life of faith, it’s known as prayer. It’s a relatively simple process really but, like sonar technology, there is a huge element of faith in following what you can’t really see. . I don’t want to sound like I’m the only one who lives this way. Many people do. My experience is not that we need more signals being sent out, we really need more paying attention to the ones being sent back. We tend to filter out the ones that are uncomfortable or inconvenient. The ones that would cause us to alter our course are often sent back for reinterpretation. I know many who are off course, or they’ve already been torpedoed and it’s not because they haven’t gotten any signals back.
The key to leading by following is in interpreting the return signals. I’d be quite arrogant, I guess, if I claimed to be able to read the signals accurately. However, the more I send out, the better my chances are of getting some of the return ones right. So I hold no claim to success in any leadership endeavors. I really prefer to follow. The best I can hope for on any given day is to, by faith, follow the Leader.