what it means to follow

blog provoketive follow me* i’ve been battling a nasty, annoying summer head cold these past few days that has knocked me off my block so just now getting around to posting some things i’ve written for other blogs over the past few months.  i’ll start with this, up at provoketive magazine, for this august’s synchroblog.   the subject was “follow” and what that means for us.   all month long posts will be up there related to this topic.

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“Follow me” – Jesus, over and over in the Gospels

When I heard the topic for this month’s synchroblog–“Follow”, I immediately thought of something Richard Rohr said in his book Breathing Underwater, centered on the spirituality of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.  He said “Jesus never said ‘worship me.’  Rather,  when he was calling his disciples he repeatedly said ‘follow me.'”

I have a theory that we’d much rather worship Jesus than follow Jesus.  And for most of us, worship means singing, praying, reading the Bible, gaining insight and information, and “going to church.”  These things, while valuable, are far easier than actually following Jesus. 

I know this well in my own life.  For years I was the consummate good christian woman and knew how to do, say, and believe all the right things that supposedly-dedicated-followers-of-Jesus-should.   It wasn’t that hard to do, really.  You show up, mimic what other people are saying and doing, and go with the flow.

That flow tends to lead us toward gaining a lot of beliefs about God but very little experience in living out God’s ways.

When Jesus said “Follow me”, I really don’t think he meant “go to church, sing some songs, listen to an awesome sermon by a charismatic preacher, and hang around a lot of people who believe the same things.”

I think he meant be like him and do what he did. 

And here’s what he did:

Freely restored dignity where it had been lost 

Happily dined with sinners

Sharply called out injustice

Publicly advocated for the oppressed

Humbly washed others’ feet

Compassionately offered healing to the sick

Privately rested when he was tired

Bravely challenged the religious system

Calmly broke through social norms to promote equality

Openly stood alongside the persecuted

Willingly sacrificed his comfort for others

Repeatedly pointed people toward what was most important–love. 

When I look at this list, I have to laugh a little (before I cry), especially in light of the whole crazy Chick-Fil-A bruhaha.  Christians aren’t known for these things.  We’re known publicly for all kinds of things that aren’t reflective of the life of Jesus.  We’re known for standing against the marginalized instead of for them.  For pointing the finger at others’ specks instead of looking at the logs in our own eye.  For excluding instead of including.  For stripping dignity instead of restoring it. For ugliness and hate instead of beauty and love.

One of the things I love about Jesus is he didn’t expect his followers to believe a whole lot of things before following him.

His call was to action, not only belief. 

And he showed us what actions mattered.  These actions are not going to get us in trouble in a world-desperate-for-hope-and-healing, but they are going to get us in trouble with the religious leaders who’d rather we focused on something a little easier (and in their control)–like who believes what. 

My hope for the future of Christ-following in the years to come is that we wouldn’t continually be known as the “judgmental, rude, cliquey, self-centered stone-throwers.”  Instead, we’d be known as “the “weirdest, craziest risk takers and lovers of people in town.” 

Yeah, it’s time to redeem what it means to follow Jesus.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

19 Comments

  • I love the post, the list and the idea of redeeming what it means to follow Jesus! Yeah!

    Reply
  • It is crazy, isn’t it, that the concept of following Jesus has to be redeemed? But I am more and more convinced that nearly everything related to Jesus and Christianity must be going through a constant cycle of redemption and change. When we get stuck in our traditions, the redemption of the past can quickly become death and decay.

    Reply
    • thanks, jeremy, yeah it makes me think of what it means to be “born again”. that word has a lot of baggage to it related to one-time salvation but i really do think we need to use it in a lot of other contexts, too. like this one.

      Reply
  • Thank you for these convicting and encouraging words, Kathy. It’s just so much more comfortable worshiping at a distance versus walking side-by-side just as Christ did. But we’re called to grow comfortable with being uncomfortable, and uncomfortable with being comfortable.

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    • thanks so much. i love that line of growing comfortable with being uncomfortable and being uncomfortable with being comfortable 🙂

      Reply
  • A couple of years ago I accidentally ran across a “Christian” cruise that was billed as a “great worship experience”. Someone took the typical “worship service” idea to its pinnacle!

    For us, following Jesus to the places he goes is worship. We’re ascribing worth to him by believing what he said and trying to do as he did. Yeah, in one sense there’s nothing wrong with singing the same Jesus song forty times on Sunday morning and attending your tenth Bible study on the book of James, but if that’s as far as it goes, if that’s the grand total of our “worship”, then there’s a whole lot missing.

    Following Jesus takes us to all kinds of places, some of them o.k., and others dark and dangerous. Following Jesus takes us to where the people are. Sometimes it means siding with them rather than with the “religious authorities”. The keepers of the temple and the tradition quite often don’t like us “Jesus types”. They’d much prefer we sign up for their “worship cruise”.

    Reply
  • Post after post, you write what is in my heart which can’t yet find words …

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  • This last month or so I’ve kept coming back to 1 John, reading and rereading and connecting the dots of all the abidings… and keep revisiting that one verse, that anybody who claims to abide in Christ has to walk His walk.
    …I read this the day it was posted, and a week later I still haven’t found anything to add beyond “YES. THIS THIS THIS.” Thank you.

    Reply

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