What does it take to be the kind of leader that men will follow? This question keeps men awake at nights, some will reviewing their shortcomings and others lamenting the lack of followers. The answer is simpler than we might think.
How did Jesus retain those he recruited while holding them accountable? How could any man attract and retain loyal followers while challenging their behavior and attitudes? Think about it. Yes, it is Jesus we're taking about; therefore, we might not treat the question with the scrutiny it deserves.
Place yourself in the role of a follower - one of the Twelve. Just imagine: You have set aside permanent employment to trudge across the countryside on foot. You've been asked to abandon work which gave you a source of masculine identity. You traded that for a life of being supported by handouts and the donations of several well-healed women. And you are often accused by your leader of being dull, faithless, hard-hearted, and even possessing the qualities of the Evil One. If this were not enough, the message your leader communicates is unpopular and, by association, you are tied to man whose mission is confusing and frequently assailed by those in positions of influence. Last but certainly not a minor issue, there are very few affirming and positive comments offered that demonstrate a real appreciation for what you have given up and how hard you have tried to get it right and do it right.
Again, how did Jesus lead as he did and manage to retain followers?
John 15 provides a revealing answer to that question. The answer is powerful, but it is also hidden in the familiarity of the passage and we might miss the point. Remember the commonality tests we took in school. They were lists of items and we had to identify the item that was not part of the set. For example: SQUARE, CIRCLE, PYRAMID, and OCTAGON. Right! The PYRAMID is three dimensional and does belong in the set. True there is association and relationship to the others, but it is different than the other items. Now, try this list of three: BRANCH, VINE, and GARDENER. Branch and Vine seem to have more in common with each other than gardener. Yet, in this well known text, Jesus - having at his disposal any number of available illustrations, chooses one in which he aligns himself more closely with his followers than with his Father. Do not read more into this than necessary. Just grasp the point. There, as they spend some of their final moments together, Jesus does two powerful things to express the disciples worth, value, and importance. He says that he is a vine to branches. He is wood, just as they are. He is connected to them and they are connected to him. There is no mistaking it. The Gardner isn't an extension of the vine, but something quite different. Then later in the evening Jesus calls them "friends" because he shares with them all that is going on.
Guys, the men you lead will follow you before they will follow what you stand for or believe. This is an inescapable truth. The lesson which Jesus teaches us is that while we must at times be distinctly different from the men we are shepherding and guiding, our men must still see that we are always and forever connected to them and committed to them. The men we lead must sense that we have made the irrevocable commitment to align ourselves with them and be connected to them.
Thank you, Jesus, for such a clear and easily understood illustration which helps us shepherd our men.