We welcome Dwayne Milley today to share some thoughts on followership, as opposed to leadership.

A line of people walking down a hill is shown in silhouette against a purple sky.  There is one person far ahead, leading, while 7 others are following behind.

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

There’s a cool story that John tells at the end of his Gospel – Jesus, after coming back to life from the dead, is on the beach and makes breakfast for his disciples. They were still in a state of shock about him being executed and then coming back to life, and, as John puts it, “None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord” (21:12 NIV).

Then, after they had finished eating, Jesus turned to Peter and asked him, “Do you love me?” Peter replied that he did, and Jesus then said, “Feed my lambs” (21:15).

Jesus does this twice more, Peter responds yes (in so many words). In fact, Peter was sad when Jesus asked the third time and replied, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (21:17).

To this, Jesus replied,

“Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (21:17-19).

We talk a lot these days about leadership – the habits and characteristics of leaders, or how to get others to follow us – but we don’t really hear much about ‘followership’ (that might be a made-up word). Here, among Jesus’ last known words to Peter, Jesus invites him to ‘follow’ again.

If you don’t know, Peter went on to be a significant leader in the early church. He is the main character in the first five chapters of the book we call “Acts”. Here are just a few of his accomplishments:

    • Leads the process to replace Judas as an apostle,

    • Preaches to the crowd after Pentecost and 3,000 people become followers of Christ,

    • Says he doesn’t have any money to a man who is poor and cannot walk, but says he has Jesus and tells the man to walk, and the man gets up and, as can be expected, walks, jumps, and praises God,
      • Preaches to the religious rulers,

      • Calls out a couple for lying (Ananias and Sapphira – it’s its own unique story in Acts 5), and

      • People even thought they’d be healed if his shadow fell on them.

    Peter didn’t have a great track record before this. In Mark 8:33, for example, Jesus rebukes Peter – “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Then, just before he was arrested, Jesus told Peter he’d deny Jesus three times. Peter did and was devastated. I expect he was remembering and regretting this as Jesus was making breakfast for him and the others on the beach.

    When Jesus first called his disciples, he simply said, “Follow me”. He didn’t ask them to present a resume, to complete a test, or to have any specialties. He wanted their followership. Perhaps, that morning over a beach breakfast, Jesus was giving Peter a new chance. His repeated questions to Peter about if he loved him likely were for Peter’s sake, because Jesus already knew. Then Jesus, having Peter in a point of contrition, simply asks him again – “Follow Me”.

    At Christian Horizons, we believe that everyone has the right and responsibility to direct or determine their own lives. “Everyone” includes the people with developmental disabilities who use the services of Christian Horizons. Our overall posture is one of paying close attention and following the lead of people to understand what they want from us as they direct their own lives.

    My life as a follower of Christ helps me in my work at Christian Horizons. My work at Christian Horizons helps me in my life as a follower of Christ. I think the confidence and miracles that Peter demonstrate in the first bit of Acts is because he knew who he was following; he knew from whom his confidence came. And I think we focus a lot on leadership and not enough on followership.

    As Christians, our first call is to follow Jesus. We don’t spend enough time thinking about what that means and how to cultivate it in our lives. I’m grateful for the people in my life who help me in my followership. I pray that I become someone who follows well and who can help others be better followers.


    Dwayne is a white man who is bald and has a goatee. He wears a dark suit, and glasses and he is smiling at the camera.
    Dwayne Milley serves as Vice President of Operations at Christian Horizons and is a regular contributor to the Forum. He lives with Karen and Deepika, his wife and daughter, in Toronto, Ontario.