One of the strongest temptations of the preacher is to develop a fan base, like we were a baseball team or some kind of branded product. Fans cheer you on. They give you affirmation and stroke your ego. They subscribe to podcasts, download sermons, and read blogs. They buy your books and do your small group materials. But they don't know you and you don't know them. There is no relationship.
So rather than trying to build a fan base, we, as ministers, should try to build a group of followers. We should be out in front, leading the pack and calling them forward. We should be casting a vision for people, giving them a compelling story to find themselves in. Followers will help us accomplish our goals. They will do what we do and go where we go, and in the process the kingdom of God will be advanced.
But will it? Is having followers the endgame of ministry? Is that what we should be about? Is the kingdom of God advanced by leading a group of people toward the accomplishment of certain goals or the realization of a specific vision?
When my friend made his insight, I thought it was good, but it didn't come to rest on my soul the way certain truths do. There was more to the story, I thought. But I couldn't articulate it until the words of Jesus shot like lightning through my mind.
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)I think the real distinction is not between fans and followers, but between fans, followers, and friends. Jesus called his disciples his friends twelve hours before they all abandoned, denied, or betrayed him (which he knew would happen). They were more than fans and more than followers. They had become his friends. People he loved. People with faces and families that he wanted the best for.
Jesus didn't call Andrew and Peter, James and John and the rest out of their previous occupations in hopes of building a fan base or a following. No, his hope was that these guys would become his friends. The endgame of ministry is not to have a bunch of fans or followers, but to have a group of friends for whom you would die, and who would die for you. You could have 100,000 podcast subscribers and a vibrant ministry, but if you're alone at the top then you have failed. If you haven't made any friends as a minister, then you haven't ministered.
Stop trying to build a fan base and stop trying to gain a following. Start making friends--real friends who know you on a soul-level. Fans find new favorites and followers get weary of being anonymous. Friends will go with you and be with you because they love you and you love them. They'll stick by your side because you know each other.
Which would you rather have: 40,000 fans, 4,000 followers, or 4 good friends?