Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Chapter 1 ("D.T.R.") of Kyle Idleman's's book, Not A Fan (Zondervan, 2011).
Are you a follower of Jesus?
I would say the chances are pretty good that you just skipped over that question. You may have read it, but I doubt it carried much weight or had any real impact. But would you let me ask you this question again? It’s the most important question you will ever answer.
Are you a follower of Jesus?
I know, I know. You’ve been asked this question before. Because it’s so familiar there is a tendency to dismiss it. Not because it makes you uncomfortable. Not because it’s especially convicting. The question is dismissed mostly because it feels redundant and unnecessary.
Many of us are quick to say, “Yes, I’m a follower of Jesus,” but I’m not sure we really understand what we are saying. To quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, “I do not think that means what you think it means.”
So where do you start in determining if you really are a follower of Jesus? How do you decide if this is even something you would want to consider? Let’s begin by having a D.T.r. talk with Jesus. Some of you will recognize what the letters D.T.r. stand for. If you’re not sure, let me give you a hint. For a young man involved in a romantic relationship, these letters are often enough to strike fear into his heart. He likely dreads the D.T.r. talk. In fact, many young men will postpone, run away from, and put off the D.T.r. for as long as possible. I have even known a few guys who have terminated the relationship when they sensed that the D.T.r. talk was imminent (true story: one of my friends faked hyperventilating to get out of the D.T.r. talk. By “one of my friends” I mean me).
Now do you want to guess what DTr stands for?
Define the relationship.
This is the official talk that takes place at some point in a romantic relationship to determine the level of commitment. You want to see where things stand and find out if what you have is real.
In high school I went out on a first date with a girl that I really didn’t know very well. We sat down in a booth at a restaurant and began the awkward first date conversation. During the appetizer I learned a
little bit about her family. While we enjoyed the main course she told me about her favorite movie. And then it happened. While we were eating our dessert she asked me, and I quote: “Where do you see this relationship going?” On the very first date she was trying to have the D.T.r. talk. I got out of there P.D.Q. That was the first and the last date.
I wasn’t ready for that moment, but there comes a time when you need to define the relationship. It can be awkward. It can be uncomfortable. But eventually every healthy relationship reaches a point when the D.T.r. talk is needed. Is it casual or is it committed? Have things moved past infatuation and admiration and towards deeper devotion and dedication? You need to intentionally evaluate the state of the relationship and your level of commitment to the person.
Whether you’ve called yourself a Christian since childhood, or all of this is new to you, Jesus would clearly define what kind of relationship he wants to have with you. He wouldn’t sugarcoat it or dress it up. He would tell you exactly what it means to follow him.
It may seem that there are many followers of Jesus, but if they were honestly to define the relationship they have with him I am not sure it would be accurate to describe them as followers. It seems to me that there is a more suitable word to describe them. They are not followers of Jesus. They are fans of Jesus.
Here is the most basic definition of fan in the dictionary:
“An enthusiastic admirer”
It’s the guy who goes to the football game with no shirt and a painted chest. He sits in the stands and cheers for his team. He’s got a signed jersey hanging on his wall at home and multiple bumper stickers on the back of his car. But he’s never in the game. He never breaks a sweat or takes a hard hit in the open field. He knows all about the players and can rattle off their latest stats, but he doesn’t know the players. He yells and cheers, but nothing is really required of him. There is no sacrifice he has to make. And the truth is, as excited as he seems, if the team he’s cheering for starts to let him down and has a few off seasons, his passion will wane pretty quickly. After several losing seasons you can expect him to jump off the fan wagon and begin cheering for some other team. He is an enthusiastic admirer.
It’s the woman who never misses the celebrity news shows. She always picks up the latest People magazine. She’s a huge fan of some actress who is the latest Hollywood sensation. And this woman not only knows every movie this actress has been in, she knows what high school this actress went to. She knows the birthday of this actress, and she knows the name of her first boyfriend. She even knows what this actress’s real hair color is, something the actress herself is no longer certain of. She knows everything there is to know. But she doesn’t know the actress. She’s a huge fan, but she’s just a fan. She is an enthusiastic admirer.
And I think Jesus has a lot of fans these days. Fans who cheer for him when things are going well, but who walk away when it’s a difficult season. Fans who sit safely in the stands cheering, but they know nothing of the sacrifice and pain of the field. Fans of Jesus who know all about him, but they don’t know him.
But Jesus was never interested in having fans. When he defines what kind of relationship he wants, “Enthusiastic Admirer” isn’t an option. My concern is that many of our churches in America have gone from being sanctuaries to becoming stadiums. And every week all the fans come to the stadium where they cheer for Jesus but have no interest in truly following him. The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.
An Accurate Measurement
So Fan or Follower? The problem with asking that question of yourself is this: it’s almost impossible to be objective. After all, if you say, “I’m a follower,” what makes you so sure? What are the measurements that you use to define your relationship with Christ? Most would determine the answer to this question by using a highly subjective method of measurement.
Many fans mistakenly identify themselves as followers by using cultural comparisons
. They look at the commitment level of others around them and feel like their relationship with Jesus is solid. Essentially they grade their relationship with Jesus on the curve, and as long as they are more spiritual than the next guy, they figure everything is fine. That’s why some fans are almost glad when it’s found out that the Christian family everyone admires has a child who rebels or a marriage
that is struggling to stay together and isn’t as perfect as it appeared. The curve just got set a little lower.
Have you noticed that when we compare ourselves to others as a way to measure our relationship with Christ we almost always put ourselves up against those who are spiritually anemic? I have a tendency to take this approach in measuring myself as a husband. I try and convince my wife how good she’s got it by pointing to her friend whose husband never takes her on a date, or by telling her about my buddy who forgot his twenty-year anniversary. I’ve learned that when I start comparing myself to other husbands as a way to measure how I am doing as a husband, I am doing so out of conviction and guilt that I am actually not loving my wife the way I need to. If you find yourself measuring your relationship with Jesus by comparing yourself to others, that is likely a self-indictment.
Another measurement fans use is a religious ruler. They point to their observance of religious rules and rituals as evidence that they are really followers. After all, they reason, would a fan go to church every weekend, and put money in the offering, and volunteer in the nursery, and listen exclusively to Christian radio, and not see r-rated movies, and only drink a wine cooler at the party? Hello? Of course I’m a follower. I’m not doing all that for nothing!
We have other ways to determine if we are followers. Denominational measurements, our family heritage, and biblical knowledge are all ways we try to prove that we really are followers. But here’s the real question: how does Jesus define what it means to follow him? Whatever measurement he gives is the one we should use.
The Gospels record many examples of people having the D.T.r. talk with Jesus. In each encounter the person finds themselves in a position where the question “Fan or Follower?” has to be answered. Some are shown to be true followers; others are revealed to be nothing more than enthusiastic admirers. As we examine a number of these encounters, think of them as case studies that reveal different “symptoms” of being a fan.
The biblical accounts of Jesus requiring people to define the relationship and honestly determine if they were true followers give us some telltale symptoms of being a fan. As we study these D.T.r. encounters with Jesus they will act as a mirror so we can have a more honest assessment of ourselves. Fans often confuse their admiration for devotion. They mistake their knowledge of Jesus for intimacy with Jesus. Fans assume their good intentions make up for their apathetic faith
. Maybe you’ve already decided you’re a follower and Not a Fan; well, I hope you keep reading, because one of the core symptoms of “fandom” is that fans almost always consider themselves to be followers.
So find a seat in the back of a coffee shop and read on. Let’s honestly and biblically define the relationship. Are you a follower of Jesus? Or are you really just a fan?
Kyle Idleman is the teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, the fifth presenter of the award-winning video curriculum series H20: A Journey of Faith and The Easter Experience. Kyle and his wife, DesiRae, have four young children.
Publication date: July 6, 2012