The dependent must want to follow the leader

Updated: May 2, 2021

In these past 6 posts I have been sharing a few observations in the form of axioms we would all agree with. To do this, I have been using a developmental paradigm and a little of the associated language.

As a result, we have been given words to describe the foundational assumptions that Jesus made in His time about reality, the way He engaged people and situations. These foundational assumptions are then consistent then with modern neuroscience, the way we are made as human beings. They are observable in the world around us. They make sense to us and can be applied just as easily.

The sixth axiom I am presenting over the next two posts is “The dependent must want to follow the leader”.

We know as much as we try, we can’t just teach or tell someone to grow up. Growing up must be rooted within a safe enough relationship, and to achieve this the follower must accept the invitation to depend.

Let’s explore this axiom a little more.

In the previous post, I was sharing how we need to give an example and permission for others to make mistakes, so as they can learn from these mistakes. This happens via engaging and growing ourselves when we make mistakes.

However, we need more than just an example, more than just permission, we also need to feel satiated in our pursuit of proximity. We need to feel like we are not at risk of losing the relationship. We need to feel at rest in our main relationships.

What does it mean to pursue proximity?

We all pursue proximity when we are not quite sure we absolutely have it. As adults here are a few ways we might try and do this when this pursuit is systemic.

1. Maintaining good enough Moral Perfection

I think for some of us, we essentially grow up a good person. We seem to have figured out how to not find ourselves in too much trouble. There is some sense of a reward in been good, and this keeps us seeking more of that. It is not from a true sense of wanting to be good, we are just pursuing connection by hiding what is really happening.

As the oldest child I remember becoming the expert at hiding what was really happening in my attempts to be good. I was quickly disabused of all my illusions when my children didn’t follow my commands, when they didn’t cooperate with my plans. I was full of frustration trying to move them, using all sorts of coercion to get them to see it my way. I was not a good person at all and I could no longer fake it, not with my family at least.

This was kind of startling for me, because my whole arrangement was “I am going to do the right thing and then others will like me.” Whenever I messed up, I felt like hiding to get my act together before the relationship was okay again.

This even was true for God, I had to go away from God to sort myself out. We don’t do this overtly of cause, but there is this way of relating to God and others where we hind what is really happening inside.

This temptation is to be good, to be morally perfect puts God and others in our debt. We end up believing in some sort of moralistic karma. It’s a game that we play that we can never quite make work, because it is flawed. As long as we have to pursue relationship, we can never be certain we have it.

2. Earning favor in exchange for belonging

Perhaps for some of us when we were growing up, we had our own ideas and really didn’t like all the rules, we certainly didn’t flourish in those environments that rewarded good behavior. There was no desire to be good, to behave well, to meet the expectations of others. The more rules there were, the more we pushed back.

However, deep down we still wanted to be accepted. We were looking for others who were on our side. There was this a striving in us to get others to see it our way. We were always busy proving ourselves.

We then figured out something we did well. Perhaps we were good at sports. When we succeed, we earn the favor of the people around us. Often, we will also seek out some sort of leadership position, not for the sake of others but we are driven by our own needs for belonging. In the same way we also try to earn the favor of God. We lead big churches or do great things in His name.

This is another way of how we get things off kilter, to focus on what we can do so as to receive approval from others. There is always something more we need to achieve, something more to do, and true acceptance is just of our reach.

3. Pursuing cognitive certainty in all of life, to have it all figured out

We can also go the other direction and retreat into our heads. We still seek to control the outcome but we do it with our thoughts, our cognitive certitude becomes our answer.

I love to read, I love to learn, it’s really fun for me. It’s part of why I am doing this blog. But it is really easy to buy into the idea of “the more I know the better I'll become.” Now that I have all this information, I think I have the answer to what was wrong with myself and what is wrong with the world.

Studying is really good, but we don’t need to have it all figured out, we don’t need to line everything up with a watertight theological system.

We are moved to accept the invitation

The truth is we instinctually accept the invitation to exist in the presence of others as they invite and lead us. We increasing grow in our capacity to receive love. And as we mature our capacity to love others also grows.

The only thing that gets in the road of this depending is our stuckness, our defendedness. We have had to defend against a separation too great to bear, we do this to survive. The softening of our hearts is our cure for moving us back into relationship again.

I have just touched on a few ways, there are many more. You will always know because there is an awkwardness in the relational dance.

Walking with God.

When talking about God, our dependence on the one loving us, on the Father, is our instinctual response as we come to trust who He is, and what He thinks of us. This is a walking in the spirit, this is where we find His plans for us.

My definition for salvation is the invitation we have to exist in God’s presence. Salvation it is something we already have and we are growing into it. We don’t earn it; we don’t choose it. Salvation also isn't any of these second-order effects. Maybe I stop being a jerk, or maybe I'll learn to think correctly about who God is, that would be a good thing. But salvation is our primary need, that in which God is inviting us into relationship with Him. The goal of discipleship is to grow into that invitation.

Walking with others.

This salvation is an archetype of all our relationships. We all have the potential for being in these provider and dependent relationships.

In my life, as I am walking more and more in this relational dance, I’m becoming more aware when I feel agitated or anxious, alarmed or frustrated. I’m more aware of the emotions that are moving me.

It’s in this context of the relational dance with my wife, or an intuitive leader’s presence, is where I am finding freedom to explore why am I frustrated, why am I alarmed. I have the luxury to do this when my primary goal is not focused on pursuing or maintaining the relationship. This capacity to reflect is developing in me, a maturation is unfolding as I am engaging the emotions that are moving me.

Maybe there's real problems going on in my life, or in my work, in my community, but I'm now coming to a new place to engage. Not from a place of frustration but from a place of peace, a place of caring how my solutions will impact others.

A leadership application.

As a leader, I think it's so important for us to evaluate what is it were inviting our people into? Are we inviting them into moralism or certitude, or are we inviting them into the relational dance of provider and dependent?

There are moments when I sit in a meeting and become alarmed at the direction we are going. Being alarmed moves me to prove something, to lead into pragmatism or overreach in many ways. But I’m learning to just lean into my inner voice saying “you have nothing to prove, you have nothing to earn right now.” It gives me that non-anxious presence to turn things around, to invite the relationship dance. This is how we can be the leader that is needed in those situations.

This is my sixth axiom, that the goal of our leadership isn't to teach others to be morally perfect or for them to achieve cognitive certitude. It’s that there must be a context of relationship for maturation to unfold.

It’s the dependent who must want to follow the leader’s invitation to exist in their presence.

And we see in the Gospels, that when Jesus brings people to himself, even with their heterodox beliefs, even with their scandalous behaviors, when he draws people to Himself, they are transformed by his love, and they are sent out on mission to invite others to do the same right where they're at.

Let us know what you think, how was this blog has impacted you. You can email us or post a comment below.

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