Growing up in the southern part of Georgia, you learn certain cultural rituals and ideals. Saturdays in the fall are spent either watching a football game, in a deer stand, or over a dove field. Football, specifically college football, was king. If the Atlanta Falcons went 4-12, oh well. If they went 14-2, great…break out the Dirty Bird and party like it’s 1998. Most of the people I grew up around were fans of the University of Georgia Bulldogs. There was also a strong contingency of Auburn Tigers and, being in South Georgia, many Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles…sorry Tech fans, those were few and far between like sightings of the monster of Lochness. However, what was socially acceptable at a southern Georgia middle or high school was to blend in with the crowd as a Georgia Bulldog.
You would quickly learn the phrase “Hunker down, you hairy dawg” or what radio station would carry the Munson broadcast, if you were serious about your desire to “love” the Bulldogs. If you were fully committed to being a Georgia fan, you knew more than just the names of Eric Zeier or Quincy Carter, both playing quarterback in the 90s in Athens. You would also know who they played on Saturday, along with the time and broadcast station. Even if you were in the throes of a decade that gave you the 5-6, 6-4, 6-6, and 5-6 records of 1993-1996, you donned your red and black and proudly cheered for your silver britches. These are truly dedicated fans that we would call followers of the team.
However, my middle and high schools were riddled with another group of Georgia fans. Please do not get me wrong, EVERY college and professional team has a large portion of their fanbase that fits this descriptor. These were the folks that really cared nothing about football or the team, but would wear the shirt because it was popular. You could ask general knowledge questions like, “Who is the coach?” or “Who is the quarterback?” and receive the deer in the headlights look. On one occasion, I remember asking an Auburn Tigers “fan” of this ilk what time was the football game on Saturday. The response was along the lines of, “I’m not sure, but I probably won’t watch since I don’t really care about football.” It was in March…there were no football games. I am a Florida fan, my wife is a Clemson fan and we readily recognize this caricature suits many across the board. These are people that wear the shirt because it is popular, but do not have any real commitment to the team or to the sport. They are fans.
While that is all fine and good for college football or Major League Baseball, the mindset has crept into the church. The loose affiliation of the Gospel to the lives of many who suit up for Sunday is foreign to what Jesus asked His disciples to do. That is the premise and charge of Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman. He asks church people to consider what it means to say that we are a follower of Christ. Using the language of defining the relationship, he makes this suggestion:
“It may seem that there are many followers of Jesus, but if they were to honestly 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.’…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 of them.”
From this point, Idleman makes some very strong strides in garnering the attention of our heart towards what it truly means to follow Jesus. Most striking to me is the direct but gentle way that he places this concept in our hearts, where the Holy Spirit resides and will, therefore, bring results. Citing confrontations that Jesus had with the religious leaders of His day, Idleman points out that one of the major issues with the religious is that they seem to know what they are talking about. “As a recovering hypocrite, I can tell you that some fans can be almost impossible to identify be cause they deliver Oscar-worthy performances as they play the role of a follower…the problem that Jesus had with these [Pharisees and teachers of the Law] is that what they were teaching wasn’t a reflection of who they really were. These religious types were the fans that Jesus seems to have the most trouble with.” If following Christ isn’t truly in our hearts, then we are just fans.
Ultimately, this is a daily decision that each of us has to make. No, that doesn’t mean that we have to get saved every day. We know that we receive Christ once and for all. However, it does highlight the fact that discipleship is a daily choice to follow Christ. “Every day we make a decision that we will die to ourselves and live for Christ. Dying to ourselves is not a one time decision. It’s a daily decision. That’s the most difficult part of dying…That’s the hardest part of carrying your cross…it’s so daily. Each morning by the grace of Jesus, I am invited to take up a cross and die. That’s the only way I will follow Him daily.” You see the challenge?
When we can have little required of us, it is easy to be a fan. There is no real commitment. But, that isn’t what Jesus asked us to do. Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman has been one of the more challenging books on discipleship that I have read. No, I don’t get it right a lot of the time. However, the grace of Jesus draws each of us to a new day of following Him. Side note: Idleman may be one of the funnier Christian authors I have ever read. Coupling a serious discipleship question with great humor is a difficult task, but he accomplishes both well!
You can catch this book on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/y7bpp98b
 Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 24-25. Italics in original.
 Idleman, 73.
 Idleman, 168, 170.