“To follow” – go or come after (a person or thing proceeding ahead); to accept as a guide or leader; accept the authority of or give allegiance to; to conform to, comply with, or act in accordance with; obey.
“To Join” – to connect, or bring or put together; to come into union with; to bring together in a particular relation or for a specific purpose; unite; to participate with (someone) in some act or activity.
I heard Hall of Fame Quarterback Jim Kelly speak at a Maryland Fellowship of Christian Athletes Annual Celebration Dinner. It was powerful listening to his story especially when he publicly shares the events around his son’s Hunter’s brief life and death. How he can continually share that experience and all its raw emotion is beyond me. During his speech, he said something I found extremely profound and its message reappeared in my life several times soon after. He was talking about his faith and he urged the audience to make the distinction between asking people not ‘to follow’, but ‘to join.’ His point of frustration was from being asked ‘to follow’ when he was already a follower of Christ; but when the message changed to ‘join’ and deepen his love and strengthen his connection to Jesus, it then made sense.
Soon after that dinner I did a character sessions for the high school football team around Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and this lesson was around Habit #1 – Be Proactive. With Jim Kelly’s words fresh in my mind I started seeing where ‘joining’ is proactive and a stronger choice than ‘following.’ A player can show up in the weight room and follow the lifting plan written on the board, check the box that he did what he was suppose to do and not really get much bigger or stronger. However, a player can come to lift and immerse himself in his workout (join it mentally) and get the most out of it and improve significantly.
Seniors are typically the players that underclassmen ‘follow’ and that can be a good thing but it can also be a bad thing with certain players and situations. So instead of asking the Seniors to be leaders that the younger ones ‘follow’, we challenged the Seniors to be teammates that the younger players want to ‘join with’ and that the Seniors embrace them. That concept places more accountability on both players. They are both making choices as opposed to it merely happening due to circumstances or chance.
In business strategy building, it is far more effective to include everyone in the creation of the mission documents and action plans as opposed to posting them for all to abide by. By engaging all employees, you are inviting them to join and not purely follow. When I took over running a certain division for my company, the biggest impact I made was in the team’s mindset. No longer were we deferential to other departments and ‘following’ along their efforts, we were proactive and ‘joining them’ with a seat at the table. When you follow, you allow others to lead and you place your success in their hands. You also forfeit your right to complain or question their actions – you are enabling them to do what they choose. Instead, by joining them you become part of the decision-making process, your voice is part of the debate and you become accountable for your success.
You should follow instructions, rules, directions or something like a hiking trail; you should join an organization, a team, a committee or something like a cause. People are more apt to stick with something they join as opposed to something they simply follow as there is a greater sense of engagement and connection. Consider weight loss programs as opposed to following a diet plan– the success of these programs is based on the connection with other people, joining a community with a common goal.
I find the notion of ‘following’ a celebrity on social media mindboggling. What a waste of time. ‘Following’ to me is a spectator sport and why would someone want to be an onlooker to someone else’s life? Life isn’t meant to sit idly by and watch. You are not here to be entertained, you are here to participate. You are here to give and serve. You are not the audience; you are the player. If you sit in the bleachers, you will give little and get little. “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.” – Jackie Robinson
In a Coaches Bible Study, we read Mark 10:17-22 about the rich young ruler who kept all of God’s commandments (followed) but struggled and grieved when asked to sell his possessions (join). The expression ‘Followers of Christ’ is well used and an original term was ‘Followers of the Way’. As I noted earlier, you can follow principles or better yet, a guiding light. If you Google the term, “followers of Christ’ the top links returned are related to the Twelve Apostles, which in my opinion is a bit of a misnomer. The word “disciple” refers to a student, a learner or follower. The word “apostle” means “one who is sent out”, a messenger. All apostles are disciples, but not all disciples are apostles. While Jesus was on earth, His twelve followers were called disciples because they were followers of His way and teachings. However, after His resurrection and ascension, the twelve began to be referred to as apostles. This notion of taking people’s efforts and convictions beyond ‘following’ is at the heart of Paul’s letter to the Romans. He writes (15:30) – “Now I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus, the Messiah, and by the love that the Spirit produces, to join me in my struggle, earnestly praying to God for me.” Paul saw the need to ask for the connection at the higher level.
I have found that I am not such a good follower and that I need to be a joiner. Don’t get me wrong, I do follow rules, instructions and occasionally directions (no need to confirm that with my wife). But when it comes to being part of a group, organization or even a company; I need to do more than follow what someone else is telling me to do. I have career changes that can be attributed to my not being content when just asked to follow.
When these messages melded and became front and center in my mind, I could see the distinction in my own life. It clarified for me that being a disciple of Jesus Christ isn’t enough. I saw that being an apostle was my calling. I believe the Holy Spirit’s efforts are rooted in joining with Christ. Joining is ‘all in’; following doesn’t carry that full price. I decided I needed to be all in