|For ducks, and people, being a fan is different from being a follower.|
A few years ago Kyle Idleman wrote Not a Fan. In this book he explains the difference between being a fan of something and being a follower. The distinction, as Idleman points out, is critical.
Most of us consider ourselves fans of someone or something. We might have a favorite author whose books we avidly read, or a singer or musical group whose recordings we buy as soon as they’re released. We might be a fan of a comic strip that makes us chuckle each day. We can be fans of specific media celebrities, fashion designers, politicians, TV shows, even restaurants.
Of course, many of us are ardent, even diehard, fans of one or more sports teams. People that know me have no doubt I’m a fan – bordering on “fanatic” – of the Ohio State Buckeyes, especially during football and basketball seasons. I’ve also been a fan of various pro sports teams through the years, although my devotion toward those hasn’t been nearly as constant.
And that’s the point: A fan might be an enthusiastic admirer, but that can change over time. Rooting for a certain NFL team, for example, doesn’t require a lifetime commitment. You might like the team because of a particular player, but when that player leaves the team, you abandon it to cheer for another. Or if the team fails to meet your expectations, you can easily jump off the bandwagon and root for another.
To be a follower, on the other hand, involves more than being passionate, since passion can fade. It requires being fully devoted, completely committed to what the one you’re following stands for, whether it be an individual, institution or ideology, even willing to submit to a higher authority.
This is why Idleman posed the question to people professing to be Christians: Are you a follower of Jesus, or just a fan?
We live in a society where many people express admiration for Jesus Christ, the model He provided through His life, along with the principles and values He taught. Mahatma Gandhi was a great fan of Christ, but not one of His followers. Gandhi famously commented, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Frankly, Gandhi had a good point. In his day, as well as today, many that have claimed to be Christians demonstrate by their lives they are fans, but not followers. Because Jesus calls His followers to radical devotion and commitment, not merely cheering from the sidelines.
Jesus often said outrageous, even perplexing things, once telling a self-assured, rich young ruler that if he wanted to be His follower, first he had to sell all of his worldly possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. “Then you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). This young man, whom the passage describes as having “great possessions,” didn’t like this idea, so he left Jesus and went away sorrowful.
After another series of challenging statements, Jesus found a number of curious hangers-on reconsidering the value of following Him. “From that time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66). (Isn’t it interesting that the numbers of this verse are 6-6-6?)
But Jesus never wavered in the demands He made of those desiring to be with Him. He wasn’t recruiting Facebook “friends” or trying to see how many “likes” He could collect. Jesus was straight-forward, insisting that His followers die to themselves, their desires and aspirations, and go as He led them: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).