Mark 12:30: … so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy. (The Message)
A popular Christian cliché that’s been making the rounds lately goes like this: “Jesus wants followers, not fans.” Like lots of Christianese sayings I’ve heard over the years, it may have started out with an important truth—but it has since largely degenerated into a quaint little empty saying to demonstrate the “spirituality” of the person spouting it out. I recently even read it at the end of a diatribe from a “believer” who tagged it to the end of her correspondence—in which, by the way, she used foul language to address my wife and myself.
This got me to thinking that maybe it’s the reverse: Jesus needs fans, not followers. Now why would I think something like THAT? After all, fans are just a bunch of yelling, screaming people sitting in the stands (Jesus wants PARTICIPANTS!!!), who don’t really know what it means to FOLLOW Him, right?
I got to thinking about two important truths:
1 1) Fan is rooted in the word fanatic. Now, that word has taken some hits due to being used to describe, say, Islamic or political fanatics who want to advance an off-the-charts agenda on the rest of us. But the basic dictionary definition of a fan is either “an enthusiastic devotee (as of a sport or a performing art) usually as a spectator” or “an ardent admirer or enthusiast (as of a celebrity or a pursuit).” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) Those pining for others to be followers instead of fans ignore several good qualities of fans here: enthusiasm and devotion. A lot of Jesus’ “followers” can use a good dose of both of those qualities.
2) I’m sure those wistfully proclaiming that “Jesus wants followers not fans” mean “dedicated followers.” The truth is, not all of Jesus’ “followers” in the New Testament stuck with him. For example, Jesus had LOTS of “followers” through the first five chapters of John’s gospel, outside of the 12 apostles. But when He laid down a VERY hard saying in the sixth chapter about total acceptance of Him, John tells us in verse 66: “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” (KJV, emphasis mine) Look, we all DO need to FOLLOW Jesus. But those employing this newest empty Christian cliché miss some important lessons we can learn from fans. And what better place to turn to for these lessons than to America’s real pastime: the NFL.
What can THESE fans teach us about being JESUS’ fans?
Well, for one thing, they stick to their team through thick and thin, win or lose (since I’m a Jets fan, I’m very used to the “lose” part over the years. In baseball, Cub fans could probably relate). Don’t we need LOTS of Christians who stick with their churches the same way, instead of jumping around between churches looking for an elusive “fulfillment” (which can only be found by drawing closer to Jesus anyway)? Don’t we need “fans” who won’t jump ship at the first sign of rough waters to find the “perfect” church (which doesn’t really exist, since it involves human beings)?
And talk about fellowship: you should see these fans with their tailgate parties at the stadiums, or huddled around their TVs each Sunday afternoon—enjoying each other’s company. I wish the land were overflowing with Christians who could do the same—just having time to enjoy each others’ company, sharing about what’s going on with each other. When pro football promotes more camaraderie among followers than the church (which should be the prime example of Psalm 133:1), something’s wrong.
Then there’s the way they dress—and I’m even not talking about the Jets’ Fireman Ed or the barrel guy in Denver. Fans wear their team’s jerseys and hats even in hostile territory—there was even a pretty loud contingent of Cleveland Browns fans in CINCINNATI at a recent game. Fans don’t “adapt” their dress to the opponents’ standards, and they aren’t secretive about their devotion—and isn’t that what CHRISTIANS are supposed to do? (Romans 12:2) These fans, in wearing weird costumes, doing the wave or screaming at the top of their lungs, aren’t afraid to be foolish for their team … while the Apostle Paul says we should never be ashamed of being “fools for Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:10).
Maybe in the end we need followers who are also fans—if by fans, you mean those who are enthusiastic about Jesus and whose devotion continues to burn for Him regardless of what others think or say. The late singer-songwriter Keith Green, after exposing the fallacy that Christians are what they do (e.g., “a Christian is someone who prays” … while lots of religions practice prayer) gave his definition of a Christian: “Someone who is bananas for Jesus!” (see Mark 12:29-31) And if we were even half as bananas for Jesus as NFL fans are for their teams, we would see a revival that would turn this country upside down and inside out!