Sunday, February 10, 2013

Toxic Followers

Exodus 15:22-27; 17:1-7

At a time when so many leaders, public figures, role models, et cetera are being exposed and taken to task for their indiscretions, immoral actions and corruption, toxic leadership has become seemingly commonplace. But what about toxic followers? That crowd is not often put in the hot seat or held responsible for their actions. In fact, many may think I just made up that term, myself included. But it is a very real population. So, who are toxic followers? Well, I'm glad you asked.

Today's Scripture gives the perfect example of toxic followers, i.e. the children of Israel in the wilderness. What made them toxic? There are a few things. First, they often blamed their leadership for their personal situation. Regardless of whether that situation was purely circumstantial or environmental, they were quick to point their finger at Moses. Next, they obviously did not pay enough attention to their leadership to learn and grow. A good leader will provide guidance and information - and wisdom if you're fortunate - creating an atmosphere for growth and development of their followers. Good followers will utilize that resource to its full potential, gleaning as much as possible and reflecting on how what they learn can be used to improve. This was not the case with the Hebrews. Had they been good followers, they would have recognized that every adverse situation they faced was turned into an opportunity for God to show his power and favor toward them.

Third, and in the same vein as the previous points, they did not take initiative to further their leader's vision. Instead of accepting responsibility and learning good practices from their leadership in order to apply them later for themselves, the Israelites followed blindly with misdirected motivations. Granted, God had spoken directly to Moses and appointed him and his older brother, Aaron, to lead the people to the promised land. However, God chose all the people as his own. That is to say, when things got hard, there was nothing stopping them from praying to God themselves - even if only to ask for guidance for and from their leaders. Moses may have had the direct access to God, but the people had the priests. Instead of grumbling and complaining about their situation, only to make it worse, they could have contributed to the solution by praying. That's what Moses always ended up doing anyway. But the Hebrews weren't paying attention; they had to be told to pray and worship and sacrifice in order to do initiative.

The same is true today. I will admit that I have been guilty of that mindset and am still fully susceptible to it. What it looks like today is Sunday Christians. You know, the ones who go to church on Sunday and that is the beginning and end of their Christian walk. (If I am talking about you, refer back to my introductory note about chastisement.) It is the more dedicated Christian who participates in ministries or services, other than on Sunday, but does not have a consistent personal prayer or Bible study practice. Or, perhaps, the fairly mature Christian who studies and prays regularly and effectively, but only fasts corporately or is slow to submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in tough situations. There are so many other examples of toxic followers today and just not enough time or space to lay them all out. I'm sure there are many that I have not even heard of or witnessed, but are just as evident and detrimental to the spread of the Gospel.

The point, I guess, is that being a good follower is just as important as having a good leader to follow. Otherwise, even with the best leadership in the world, you will find yourself going through the same trials over and over again, looking for someone to blame for your plight and not knowing what to do to make it better when you really have all the tools you need. Toxic leaders are a fact of life, but good followers can counteract their negative effects and become good leaders themselves (spoiler alert: we'll see that later on in this story).

So my prayer today is for our leaders and followers. Help us, Lord, to be all that you have called us to be and nothing less. Help us to not complain about our situations and blame others for them, but help us to look to you for guidance through it. Remind us to keep our leaders lifted up to you so that they operate in your wisdom. Show us our faults and lead us to repentance so we can grow in knowledge of your truth. Stay with us, Lord, and help us to always choose to stay with you. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.

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