Leading churches

Becoming a Contagious Follower

A review of The Call to Follow: Hearing Jesus in a Culture Obsessed with Leadership by Richard Langer and Joanne J. Jung

With leadership books appearing at every turn, it is refreshing to discover a book on followership. And a good one at that. Without diminishing the importance of good, strong leaders, The Call to Follow invites the reader to consider the value and priority of good, robust followers.

Interestingly, Langer and Jung begin the book with a look at leadership. They affirm the value and giftedness of leadership, as well as the need to equip and encourage people toward being good leaders. At the same time, they push against some commonly held beliefs, such as “everyone is a leader” and “if you are not leading, you are missing out or being irresponsible.” I found this discussion on the dangers of leadership overkill to be quite helpful, as I have watched some struggle under the pressure to lead. Likewise, I have also seen people flourish when allowed to simply serve, following the lead of others.

This book is about followership, though. It seeks (successfully, in my opinion) to raise the reader’s view of what being a good follower is all about. Countering often-held misconceptions, such as “following is passive” and it “exists for the sake of leadership,” the authors show that healthy followership requires strength, wisdom and boldness. Numerous examples, such as Brother Lawrence, the faithful cook and dishwasher, are given, demonstrating just how vital strong followers are to the success of all kinds of endeavors.

[T]hese practices foster a deeper dependence on the Spirit.

Langer and Jung excel at using Scripture to show how essential following is to Christianity. To do this, they first take a close look at Jesus as a follower. Throughout His life, our Lord was consistently “imitating the example, obeying the commands, passing on the teaching, following the timing, submitting to the will, accepting the charge, and receiving the gift of his Father.” In addition, they also highlight Jesus’ call to follow Him in discipleship and discuss various parables which accentuate the role of followers.

The chapter that I found most helpful and practical is the seventh: “Soul Rhythms for Faithful Following.” Here, the focus is on familiar Christian practices such as Bible reading, meditation, silence, prayer, humility and hospitality. (They prefer the phrase “soul rhythms” as it emphasizes the need for repetition “until your soul hears them subconsciously”.) What I found valuable is the emphasis on how these practices foster a deeper dependence on the Spirit. Rather than chores to dutifully keep, they are viewed as ways to find rest for your soul.

As a pastor, my mind frequently thinks in leadership categories. The Call to Follow has provided a biblical counterbalance, inviting me to further reflect on “the hallmark of a disciple,” namely, following Jesus. I’m convinced that many church leaders would benefit from this book. As Gavin Ortlund writes in the forward, “Our leadership will only be effective to the extent we are following Christ.”

Mark Norman

Mark Norman is the senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Free Church in Wahpeton, North Dakota. He and his wife, Helene, have two daughters and one grandson. 

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