Today’s reflection comes from John Mitchell who is on staff with Youth With A Mission. He and his wife have just spent 2 years in Nicaragua and are heading to New Zealand to join the YWAM team there.
Today we live in a culture that is obsessed with leadership. From the bestseller list to politics to parishes “leadership” has become the buzzword of our generation. Spiritual leadership, servant leadership, courageous leadership, leadership laws; we even have a magazine solely devoted to leadership! The problem is, in our self-absorbed quest for leadership, we’ve forgotten what it means to follow. We read from the scriptures that Paul identifies himself and other early saints as “followers of the Way”. The term “Christian” was seldom used in the New Testament and was bestowed by others, not by the church. Meaning adherent or slave of Christ, “Christian” was an accurate title but the early church looked upon themselves as willful followers. They used terms like “brethren”, “believers”, “the saints” and “servants of God” to reflect the communal gathering and following of Jesus.
Why was all this emphasis placed on following Jesus and not on a status of “being a Christian”? We find that some of the most audacious words in the Bible are spoken when Jesus commands people, “follow me”.
To Peter and Andrew in the boat, “Come, follow me”,
To Matthew sitting by the tax booth, “follow me”
To the rich young ruler, “sell your possessions and give to the poor… then come, follow me.”
To the man with the dying father, “follow me and let the dead bury their own dead”
To the disciples and crowds gathered to listen, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Implicit in these invitations was a profound promise: that Jesus believed these people could live up to His name. Wrapped in the whole Rabbinic culture of first century Israel was an idea that the followers of the rabbi could be like their rabbi and in extending the command to follow Him, Jesus says, “You can be like me.” But there are no qualifiers in these statements. Jesus doesn’t beg, He doesn’t explain, He doesn’t wait, He doesn’t ask permission. He demands a reaction, right now, choose today: Obedience or disobedience. He is the God of the universe and you are either with Him or not.
What has following Jesus meant to me? It has meant reorienting my life to reflect the fact that I am not in control, I am not in the lead and I am not the center of this story. I am supposed to listen and obey. I’m supposed to go where I’m sent and do what I see Him doing. If I suffer or perish then I have entered into the same fate as my Lord, who boldly faced the cross for the joy set before him. Following Jesus means the same thing that it has meant for two millennia: determined, persistent, willful obedience with the promise of the only reward that ever mattered: fellowship with Him.
A friend of mine, during university, found little reaction to a proposal for a Christian gathering on campus, people hardly noticed, but when they placed signs for a gathering of followers of Jesus, people reacted adversely. Those worldly students understood the latent power just as well as the Roman Empire did. Those who lead are often misguided but those who follow Jesus will change the world.