When our grandchildren are together, and we’re exploring outside, marching up the stairs, or simply attempting to herd them through a door, we often interject: “Follow the Leader!” The purpose behind the quickly given directive is two-fold: It brings speedy order to a large group of us attempting to enter a door or walk on the trail in our amoeba-like huddle. And, more importantly, when they take turns with line positioning, they gain comfort in both roles—follower and leader. Because as much as leadership is elevated in our culture, healthy following is even more critical. Godly following is foundational to godly leadership.
While raising our own “stair-step” children at the cusp of the self-esteem age, a highly heralded mantra for parents was, “Don’t let your child be a follower!” The underbelly of this philosophy had sound reasoning. Parents wouldn’t want their child to follow conniving mischief or to cave under negative peer pressure. Unfortunately, though, the concept was frequently exaggerated at the cost of the life-giving necessity of following. Being a leader was highly admirable. Being a follower was sorely frowned upon. The same side of the same coin has often been overemphasized throughout the years.
The Biblical mandate is clear. As Moses relayed God's laws to the people of Israel, and specifically in the area of honesty and justice, he said, “You must not follow a crowd in wrongdoing…” (Exodus 23:2a, CSB). This Scripture is paramount to righteous living, and it should be a continuous prayer for our children to live rightly and resist evil when it begs them to fold. We pray our children won’t set aside what they know to be right for popularities’ sake. We pray that if the situation calls for it, they’ll stand alone like Joshua and Caleb.
But if we neglect the other side of the coin, let fear override, and leap from, “Don’t follow the wrong crowd,” to “Don’t follow, period,” we may miss out on opportunities in the formative years for teaching how and whom to follow.
Healthy following begins with following trustworthy parents who lead their children to Jesus. Loving parents, who want the very best for their children, set stage-transitioning boundaries with a blend of do’s and don’ts. “We do eat a healthy meal before downing the cookie.” “We do brush our teeth.” “We don’t stick objects into outlets.” “We don’t run away from Mom and Dad in the busy store.” We teach them to follow because obedience is life-enhancing and often even life-sparing.
We ultimately want our children to follow Jesus. They’re more likely to instinctively follow our Lord unswervingly when they know their Shepherd’s voice. Jesus’ beautiful words in John 10:3-4 explain, “The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they know his voice.”
My husband and I have identical twin grandsons. When they stand at certain angles, or when you see one singularly, eyesight alone requires deep scrutiny to correctly identify them. Thus, my special “Grammy Kay” mode of distinction is in their voices—their very personalized, music-to-my-ears voices. We can be in a different room of the house or even on the phone with them and immediately know which twin is talking or needing us. When their voices change in pitch due to excitement or distress, even the inflections can be recognized by knowing what elates or frustrates them individually. The ability to distinguish their voices is simply a result of ongoing interaction with them in the last four years.
Similarly, identifying our Shepherd’s voice comes through a life-long pursuit to know God, immersing ourselves in him through prayer, through his word—the Bible, and through the wise counsel of dedicated Christ-followers. God’s voice will always align with scripture; it will never be contrary to scripture, nor will it ever persuade toward disobedience or a destructive path. By learning to recognize and follow his voice, when counterfeit voices are scheming to gain allegiance, our children will be better able to discern those destructive lures. Jesus speaks to this imperative in Luke 21:8 with “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Don’t follow them…”
This much-needed awareness begins with us. As moms (and grammies) we both follow and lead every day. Unfortunately, we often get it backwards, or due to extensive demands, we forego “following” altogether. In the age-old game, Follow the Leader, “follow” comes first. As moms we can lead our children graciously and confidently when our leadership stems from following Christ. Our leadership at Bible study, in the work-place, and most importantly, in our home, flourishes when it is rooted in the fact that we are first and foremost a Christ-follower. Our children and grandchildren will then witness in us a sound, steady, obedient leadership which flows out of a submissive heart and posture before Jesus.
We can teach our children and grandchildren that wholly following the Lord as Joshua and Caleb did looks different than—or should look different than—being an Instagram or Twitter follower. In fact, wholly following the Lord will guide them toward life-long discernment of who and what advice to follow. Subsequently, when our children grow into leadership positions, the basis and strength of their leadership will be that they’re first a follower of the Shepherd who has laid down his life for them.
At appointed times God may call us or our children to play a leadership role like Joseph, Joshua, Esther, John the Baptist, or many other Biblical or modern-day godly leaders. But, always, in all ways, at all times, God calls us to follow him—the One whose voice we can trust. Those who listened and heeded Jesus’ beckoning, “Follow me,” were the best leaders of their day (Matthew 4:19). The same holds true for today.
Num. 14:5-10 (CSB)
Num. 32:12, Deut. 1:36 (ESV)
John 10:11 (CSB)
Kay is a pastor’s wife, mom to three grown, married children, and “Grammy Kay” to seven grandchildren ages five and under. Kay has her Masters in Ministry Leadership from Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. She loves the Church world-wide and her multi-site church, Prairie Lakes Church, in Iowa, where she currently leads the prayer ministry, writes sermon curriculum, serves on a “first impressions” team, and co-hosts their small group, along with her husband, John. Kay enjoys creating prayer journals for her grandchildren, running, writing, and cooking freezer meals when she’s not helping with her grandchildren, which, in this “blink-of-an-eye” season, trumps all other “extra-curricular” activities.