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Are You a Fan or Follower of Jesus?

By Chris Carpenter Program Director - Are you a follower of Jesus?

Before you rush to judgment and declare an immediate, “Yes!” just sit for a moment and really think about it.  Are you a true blue, unashamed, unabashed follower of Christ or do you do you sometimes conveniently leave your faith at the door depending on the circumstance?  Fan vs. follower … that is the question.

In his bestselling book, Not a Fan (Zondervan), first-time author Kyle Idleman calls you to consider the demands and rewards of being a true disciple.  Do you live the way Jesus lived?  Do you love the way He loved?  Do you pray the way He prayed? Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Idleman to discuss the difference between being a fan vs. a follower, how to convert fans of Jesus into committed followers, and whether being a fan of Christ is enough to get you to heaven.

The title of your book, Not a Fan, is really quite an eye catcher. How can someone not be a fan of Jesus?

The journey that led to my realization of this probably helps. I went to start a new church in Los Angeles when I was about 22. Didn't really have any idea what I was doing, so I thought I’ll read some business books, some marketing books, and I started to treat a church plan as if it were a business, which led to some kind of dangerous results.  You start to equate success with how many people come.  You become numbers driven, and if you're not careful, then the Gospel becomes more of a product, and Jesus becomes something that you sell. I kind of slipped into that mentality unintentionally, and what I discovered in this journey, the “Not a Fan,” journey, is that when that happens it creates fans. It creates people who are admirers of Jesus, and they'll put the Jesus fish on their bumper, and they'll make their phone’s ring tone a worship song. They're happy to do that. And they'll come to church on the weekends.

There's nothing wrong with any of that, but what we can do is use those as measurements for what it really means to follow Jesus.  I think in our celebrity-driven, sports-driven culture, we can start to treat Jesus as if we were a fan.  So I just wanted to compare our culture and what it says about following Jesus to what the Gospel says about following Christ.

What's the difference between being a fan of Jesus and a committed follower of Jesus? Obviously, there is a polarity there.

One of the things I try to use in the book is show Biblical examples to make that distinction. An example would be, John 6 where Jesus feeds the 5,000. He has this huge group of people and then, the next day they come looking for more food and Jesus says, “Look, no more free food. I am the bread of life, and if I'm enough and let's go.” And the Bible says in John 6:66, “From that point on many who had been traveling with Him, no longer followed Him.” They turned and went home. So there's this distinction between those who were traveling with Jesus and those who were following Jesus. In other words, those who were in it for the free bread and the inspirational teaching, and those who were saying Jesus is enough. There are really quite a number of examples where there's this distinction made. I use Nicodemus and the rich young ruler, in the book. Also, Simon the Pharisee where people who knew all about Jesus. They knew all the messianic prophecies, but they didn't necessarily know Him. Those examples make that distinction clear as you study the Gospel accounts. In a sentence, I would say, fans want to be close enough to Jesus to be associated with Him. You want to be close enough to get the benefits, but not so close; they don't want to follow so close that it requires sacrifice. That requires commitment.

A recent survey plays a large role in your book. That survey says more Americans see themselves as fans of Jesus rather than followers – 75 percent. Obviously, that's quite disturbing.  Conversely, only 48 percent of Buddhists, 50 percent of Hindu, said the same.  In your estimation, does that make it clear that being a fan of Jesus is not enough?

I think what it demonstrates is that there is an acceptance of that it’s fine with Jesus if I’m a fan, and I don't really have to be committed to what the Bible says. In other words, it’s fine for me to just be, in name only, a follower of Christ.  And then when you ask the same people that say yes, I'm a fan of Jesus,” and you begin to question them about their commitment level, what you find is they’ve said, “Yes, I follow Jesus, but not in this area of my life. My money is my money.” They compartmentalize their faith.

We hear so much about what inspired an author to write a book but what I would like to know is what is your purpose for writing this?

I met with a young man in our church, probably about 30 years old, who had really become a completely committed Christian, and his life had become changed radically. He was doing some really neat things, so he wanted me to meet with his mom. I knew his mom went to a different church in town. I thought, she just wants to meet with myself and her son and just kind of express thanks for what God's doing in her son's life. So we sit down for coffee, and she's upset, and in her words, she said, “My son has taken all of this too far.” So here's a lady who's been in church for years, and wanted her son to come to church but she didn’t like the fact that he was not working on the weekends so that he could come to church, and how he was serving and using his free time to plan a mission trip. And she said to me, “Will you please tell him that the Bible teaches everything in moderation.” She was completely convinced that that's the message of the Bible, everything in moderation.  And I thought, you know, I wonder how many people have without even realizing it, adopted that mentality of just don't take it too far. Just keep it in moderation. Its fine if this is what you want to believe, but don't get carried away. And that was kind of the first time that I thought maybe this message really needs to be broader. And so I began praying on how God might use that.

In your estimation do you believe it's easy to convert the fans of Jesus into committed followers?

The challenge is that most fans consider themselves to be followers.  They don't know. But once they recognize what they are being called to in Scripture, there's a hunger there that they've responded to really well. I thought it would be a lot more difficult than it is, but once they diagnose this, and once they're honest enough to say, “You know what, I think that's me. I think I've been more of a fan than a follower.” I've found that they are hungry to take us to a deeper level.

Is it not enough to just be a fan of Jesus? Will that get you through?

I hope so. One of the most sobering passages of Scripture is probably Matthew 7 where, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells of a day where we stand before Him, and Jesus will say to many, “I never knew you.” And He says on that day many will say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not work miracles?” They come up with a pretty impressive list of things. And Jesus said, “Depart from me; I didn't know you.” So, you have this picture of people who assumed everything was fine and could point to their spiritual acts as evidence, even some fruit. But, Jesus brings it down to this intimacy, this knowing and being known by Him.

As a first time author what's the one thing that you want your readers to take away and apply to their lives? What your greatest hope for this book?

I think that the easiest way to say it would be from 1st John 2:6 that those who follow Jesus must live as Jesus lived. If you're going to call yourself a Christian, and that necessarily means that you're going to do your best to follow Christ with your whole heart. It seems like an obvious connection, but saying, “I believe in Jesus,” that that is more than just a mental assent or a verbal acknowledgment; but it's a life commitment.

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