As I’ve been traveling around the diocese speaking at Adult Forums on Parish Visitations, or meeting with clericus and deanery gatherings in preparation for our upcoming Special Convention on October 24 at Christ Church, Mt. Pleasant I have often been asked questions which are worded differently but I believe in each case are trying to get at the same concern. Sometimes the question comes as “Bishop, what do you hope to accomplish through this Special Convention?” Other times it is worded, “What can we (the laity) do to engage this challenge our church is facing?” It is addressing I believe something I was trying to get at in several sections of my Bishop’s Address to the Clergy on August 13. Perhaps it is best termed “The Power of Followership.”
As anyone with even a dabbler’s acquaintance with the literature of Business and Management can attest, much has been written in the last twenty years or so on leadership. Business gurus like Peter Drucker, Warren Bennis, Tom Peters, Max DePree and others have written prolifically on the importance of leaders in both the private and public sectors of society. Clearly many of our institutions in the business, political, educational and ecclesiastical spheres have faltered from a distinct dearth of leadership.
What has received sparse, even parsimonious treatment in this spate of leadership books, however, has been the power of followership. The first person I heard pointing this out was Robert E. Kelley, a professor of Business at Carnegie-Mellon University. Business Week once described him as an “entrepreneur of the mind.” Some years ago I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Kelley lecture on “The Power of Followership.” I thought it was a helpful corrective to our recent leadership-intensive-managerial world. He suggested that many of our institutions did not understand the power of followership””that is, those followers who without star-billing bring enthusiasm, intelligence, self-reliance and innovation to the pursuit of organizational goals.
Only a few of Jesus’ early disciples became profoundly influential leaders and their names we can quickly list. But frankly in most cases the real success of those He called “to follow” him was seen not in the power of their leadership but in the power of their followership. And in most cases that’s what they were””followers. For instance, we do not know the names of those who first preached the gospel in Antioch though the church they founded was arguably the most dynamic Church of the First Century, as least for reaching the Roman world for Christ. The Book of Acts speaks only of those scattered because of the persecution of Stephen who on coming to Antioch spoke (gossiped the gospel) to Hellenists. “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.” (Acts 11:21) I believe it is just as true in the Church today. Whenever a parish and diocese can make enthusiastic, intelligent, innovative, self-reliant and Spirit-led disciples the power of followership will become an immeasurable force for growth and mission, including the power to transform the culture.
This, unfortunately, is often the forgotten key to any Church’s success. As I put it in the recent “Bishop’s Address,” if we in the Diocese of South Carolina are going to engage the challenges facing us in the culture and the church “we need believers who are informed, engaged, missional and faithful.” This is all about the power of followership””equipping and unleashing the laity to engage the culture that is permeating both the church and the world. The conversations we are having in our congregations and deaneries in preparation for the upcoming Special Convention, and the proposed resolutions, (as well as the Convention itself) are not ends in themselves: they are steps along the way toward that greater purpose and goal. While acknowledging the ever present need for leaders and leadership we should not forget the equally crucial power of followership””in fact I write this today in this Diocese of South Carolina in praise of followership!
–(The Rt. Rev.) Mark Lawrence is Bishop of South Carolina