Our new series at church, “not a fan,” is exciting to me. I’m reading the book, and I’m leading both my upperclassman and my adult small groups through the accompanying studies.
“not a fan” puts a title to a phenomenon that I’ve experienced and watched others experience. I used to talk about “getting it,” but I think “not a fan” communicates more clearly.
In short, many of us who think we are Christians or Christ followers or whatever title you want to use, are actually just fans of Jesus. I could extrapolate that analogy for you, but there’s a whole book about it.
That was my story. I got to share a tiny piece of that this morning, but seriously, how much can you say in under 3 minutes?! And if you’re like me, meaning you quite enjoy talking about yourself, then 3 minutes just doesn’t cut it. So, I’m hoping to post more words this week as I reflect back on my journey with this new vocabulary of fans and followers.
The first couple years of my college experience absolutely changed my life, in just about every way. (That’s why I’m such a proponent of students’ going away to college if at all possible!) For starters, I joined my first small group.
We called them family groups, and I was part of the Freshman Family Group. It was one of those “small” groups that ends up not being “small” at all. About 30 of us gathered weekly to discuss faith and the Bible. We were led by a sophomore and senior.
There was no set curriculum. There were no bona fide adults. It was peer discipleship, peer community, peer accountability. No one was there to tell us the answers, to entertain us, feed us, host us, or encourage us. We were it. If there were snacks, we were bringing them. Games? We were planning them. Bible study? We were writing it, leading it, and discussing it.
It was hard. But I couldn’t seem to get out of its grasp.
It was hard, because I’d never experienced true community before—where people actually tell the truth, even the hard truths, where they hold each other accountable about how they’re living their lives, where they discuss, even debate, what the Bible means.
Until then, my idea of church was a place that felt good, comfortable, where I was loved, where everyone put on their smiles and was “nice” to each other (at least publicly).
It was also hard, because it felt like everyone else knew more than I did. There were various faith backgrounds present. It felt like everybody else came from larger churches where they did more and knew more, even if that wasn’t exactly reality.
They could cite Scripture verses to make points; I didn’t have a clue. One week I even pouted; I stayed in my dorm and skipped group, because I’d gotten embarrassed the week before when I’d been out-argued handedly. My small group leader hunted me down, encouraged me to come back, and I did what I often do when confronted with an obstacle—pouted for a short while, and then dug my heels in and got to work.
I began reading my Bible. I soaked it up like a sponge, found favorite verses, posted them around my room, and got to memorizing. The combination of community and the Bible (and community that pointed me toward the Bible, that was centered on the Bible) changed my life.
And I realized that until then, I’d just been a fan.
I had Christian CD’s (I’ll date myself here—Steven Curtis Chapman, Rebecca St. James, Audio Adrenaline.); I read popular Christian fiction series (Left Behind, anyone?); I went to church; I volunteered in kids’ ministry; I went to conferences and concerts. I had all the gear, and I could check off the boxes of “right” actions. But I didn’t KNOW Jesus. I didn’t FOLLOW Jesus. I didn’t let Jesus decide what my life was going to look like; I did that.
Now I lead small groups for both teenagers and adults. I don’t do it, because I have to. In fact, I don’t HAVE to lead either of the groups I currently have as part of my job at church. I do small group, because small group is where I learned how to be a follower, not a fan.