Monday, June 14, 2010

Fans, Followers, and Friends

A friend of mine recently made a great comment about ministry and it's temptations. He said, "Do you want fans, or do you want followers?" Fans or followers. Do you want people who like you or who will go where you go and do what you do?

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?


Shane said...

I've been grappling with this concept of fans vs. followers for more than a year now - looking at it as a way to understand the level of commitment I have to Jesus. Am I a true follower, or am I just a fan? This simple question has transformed my faith.

The trick is that most fans don't know they're merely least I didn't. I would have said I was a follower of Jesus. But in reality, while I knew a lot ABOUT Jesus, I didn't really know HIM. My belief in Him didn't cost me anything. I wanted to stay close enough to enjoy all the benefits, but not too close that I would hear Him ask anything of me. But when I was confronted with that reality, I had to make a choice: whether to continue being a Jesus fan, or take the harder, higher road of following him. Its a choice that I have to re-make every day.

This journey was triggered for me by a sermon series preached at my church. I was called NOT A FAN and was preached by Kyle Idleman. We've been working with him to create a film series on the topic, and if you're interested, you can check it out here:

Thanks for your insight and for your hard work on this blog.


Anonymous said...

Truth be told, I say I want friends, but probably my behaviour often betrays that I want fans, people who affirm me and cheer me on. (That makes the thought of people following me kinda scary!) How much better to develop some friendships — in real life — in which you can help an individual or two follow Jesus as they do the same for you! Thank you for your comments.

andy said...

Shane, how have I never heard of this production company before? I'm a video producer and the stuff that City On A Hill is producing looks amazing! As to your point, that's very insightful. Lots of folks like Jesus but don't obey, right? But I think Jesus isn't content to just have followers, he also wants friends. And that, I think, is the next step in the journey of faith.

4thpoint, I struggle with the same temptations. :)

Chad Jackson said...