Are You a Follower or Fan of Jesus?

Do you have a fish bumper sticker on the back of your car? A worship song set as your cell phone’s ringtone? Perhaps posters of Christian artists plastered on your room walls? Then maybe, just maybe you are a fan and not a follower of Jesus Christ.

“One of the symptoms [of a fan] is that you think you are a follower,” Pastor Kyle Idleman shared with The Christian Post.

His new book, Not a Fan, explains the difference between being a fan of Jesus and being a devoted follower to him and his gospel. The book offers a diagnostic to see whether or not a person is a fan – something most fans deny being, Idleman noticed.

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“We have all kinds of funny ways to measure our relationship with God and have things that we point to as evidence, like the fact that there is a fish on our bumper or people will talk about the fact that their grandparents went to church or that they have four Bibles in their house.”

Idleman, a preacher’s son himself, shared that when he was young he fit the description of a fan. He wore the t-shirt saying “this blood is for you,” and next to a poster of Michael Jordan he had a picture of Jesus. “I wanted to be like Jesus but I wanted to be like Mike,” he said in a video.

While working on a message to preach to 30,000 attendees at Southern Christian Church, he realized the celebrity-driven fan culture is permeating Christianity. But “Jesus doesn’t want fans, he wants completely committed followers.” Since then, what began as a sermon evolved into a movement that got people evaluating their relationship with Jesus.

“Fans don’t mind Jesus making some minor change in their lives but Jesus wants to turn our lives upside down,” he has stressed. “Fans don’t mind him doing a little touch up work, but Jesus wants a complete renovation.”

To him, it’s not surprising to watch Christians, or people who call themselves Christians, walk away from their faith. When he talked to a concerned father about his daughter’s decision to walk away from her faith, the father said something that struck the pastor and yet sounded all too familiar. The father said, “We raised her in church but we didn’t raise her in Christ."

People debase faith and highlight religion, Idleman emphasized. Pondering over whether the church’s rules and rituals are completed sometimes seem more important to Christians than simply having a relationship with Christ.

“Rules and religious rituals are measureable; you can point at them and say 'see what I did, see what I have accomplished.' It allows us to feel prideful and superior because we can see what we are doing and what others are not.”

Following rules is important, he clarified. However, they are not the priority. It’s as if people see marriage as a list of rules they are supposed to follow. Anyone thinking that way will probably not be happy, he joked.

The same logic follows Jesus’ calling. “I certainly don’t want to say that rules don’t matter but it is relationship that comes from and from the relationship comes the desire to live a holy life that honors God.”

But how do we truly know if we are “not a fan?”

Simply, he said, “tell me story that make people say ‘that’s crazy.’”

“I think that faith should always have a story with it. When you talk about your relationship with Jesus don't just say that you love Jesus but tell me a story, don't just say that you have faith, tell me a story of following Christ.”

Remember falling in love with someone and doing all kinds of crazy things for that person? How can Christians not have similar stories about loving Jesus, the Louisville, Ky., pastor wonders.

“If you ask me if I love my wife, I say yes I love her and I could tell you three or four stories of things that I have done and sacrifices I have made because I love her and they would be easy to remember. But if you asked an average person, if you love Jesus, they say yes, then the question is, what stories can you tell me?”

Storytelling is not only a great way to check if Christians are fans or followers but it is also a way to communicate many things about God’s love.

Currently, along with the book, Idleman also has a series of DVD Bible studies composed of short films that provide a visual to his movement. He shared that choosing film as one of the key mediums to illustrate commitment to Christ came out of realizing that “our culture as a whole is largely through story, specifically through media and film.”

“It's really just our desire to teach God's word in a way that people would receive it in a way that is their native language,” he said.

As part of the “Not a Fan” campaign, Idleman is also teaming up with Lee Strobel and Mark Hall from Casting Crowns to host a live webcast on May 22.

Idleman hopes that through Strobel’s uncanny job of addressing questions people will remove the obstacles that often causes stumbling when following Christ.

A fan of Casting Crowns, the megachurch pastor recognized Hall’s music for often emphasizing how important it is to “challenge the church about following Christ wholeheartedly on a personal level.”

“Many people today, they want to call themselves Christians, they want it to be their identity,” Idleman said. “But when you call yourself Christian then you are saying you are a follower of Christ and a lot of us who follow Christ close enough only want to get the benefits of the relationship but not be so close that it requires a commitment or sacrifice.”

Not a Fan releases on May 31.

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