fan or follower?

well here we are, holy week.  on wednesday at the refuge we are having our 2nd annual seder dinner together & friday is a simple good friday gathering.  saturday eve at the refuge will be easter refuge-style with an egg hunt afterward for all the kiddos.  i really do love our beautiful little community.

just to top off a weird last week, i have been layed up on the couch since friday with intense back pain.  no idea where it came from, but it hit hard and i have basically been paralyzed for the past 4 days!  i rallied sunday because karl and i were teaching at a church here in denver–4 services.   kind of wild when i have become so accustomed to simple & unplugged, but we always like to take a bit of the refuge DNA into other places, tell a bit of our story, and model team teaching that is so rarely practiced.    we really do have a lot of fun.  it was different, though, to not have the interaction we are used to in our community, where people interact in the larger group & with each other as part of the experience. we have become so spoiled!  if for some reason you like to listen to stuff online, you can hear it here.   since it was palm sunday and the church’s series for this week & easter was” down but not out, the road to recovery”, we decided to elaborate on the “fan or follower” thought that i shared a couple of weeks ago.

it seems that palm sunday sort of represents the Jesus fan mentality.  the excitement of Jesus arriving, the promised messiah that was going to stick it to the romans.  the rah-rah, the “i want to get on this team” fervor.  then, just a few days later the tides would clearly shift and the fans would fall away, disappointed at the lack of ascent and strength they were hoping for.  and what would remain is a beginning remnant of followers who were crazy enough to follow Jesus’ downward descent & enter a life of humility, gratitude, and hope in the midst of many unknowns.

i think it’s pretty easy to be a Jesus fan.  i think it’s something totally different altogether to be a Jesus follower. when it comes to the road to healing/life change/transformation, both individually & corporately, i think it’s important to consider the differences between a fan and a follower.   here’s are some highlights of what we shared, specifically as it related to healing  & church.  i am sure you can think of many more!

fans watch & followers walk. karl shared how interesting it is that on the weekend thousands of men in desperate need of exercise spend sunday afternoons watching 22 men in desperate need of rest. think about how churches on the whole have become about watching.   it’s so much easier to watch than actually have to participate.   i think pride has a lot to do with the watch mentality.  entering in and participating requires humility. it requires exposing ourselves and sharing our hearts, our gifts, our strengths, our weaknesses.  it’s much easier to sneak in and sneak out, pass out a program here and there and call it a day than actually enter into deep and meaningful relationship with other people. oh and yeah, it requires churches to stop feeding the “watch” monster and becoming willing to lose money, people, and all kinds of other fan-type things with it.

fans try to fit in and followers try to be honest. fans like to congregate with other people who look, think, and act like them.  most of us have a whole life below the surface; a little like an iceberg.  the part that is “seen” is the part that we identify with people. it leads us to believe that people have their sh*t together a lot more than they actually do!  real life is huge and below the surface.  and usually pretty complicated no matter how big or small the story may seem. followers are willing to lower their water line and let more of their real life out on the surface instead of protecting what can be seen.   a lot of people will talk about the refuge being filled with so much pain.  although it might seem more than average, i honestly believe that there is no more pain in the refuge than there is in almost any group of people; it’s just that the water line is very low here, and people are just painfully honest about their struggles, fears, doubts, insecurities, and pain.

fans look for inspiration, followers seek healing. i have said it before here, but i always like to say it again, AA is the largest underground church in the world.  and it’s also the most stripped down, scaled down, raw and unpolished gig in town. usually it’s just a stark room with some metal folding chairs and people’s real stories.  and a great model for us to consider–how truly life-changing equally sharing one another’s experience, strength, and hope really can be.   no fabulously strong leader, no amazing preaching or slick gimmicks, just a place to be honest and loved and challenged on the journey.  i always like this metaphor karl has:  pornography is to intimacy what church inspiration addiction is to community.   like pornography, inspiration addiction fires all the neurons & connections that makes us feel good & somehow connected.  but it is a false intimacy, a false connection, and will keep us safely protected from true community.

fans find congregations, followers find communities. yeah, i really believe this.  true community is the hardest thing i have ever done.  hanging out at church week after week requires nothing of us, really.   but being part of a real community, with all of our strengths, all of our weaknesses, all of our joys, all of our fears, all our dreams, all our doubts, now that is another thing all together.

so much has shifted over the years on my weird journey from rah-rah Jesus fan to learning-more-of-what-it-might-mean-to-actually-be-a-follower-and-it-definitely-hurts-more-than-i-thought.  but while it’s hard, at the same time i believe it’s powerfully freeing, wonderfully healing.  maturing the enthusiasm of the fan into the dedication of the follower and learning that continuing with Jesus after the easy team spirit of palm sunday calls us to get with the real in ways we might have never done before.

thinking about easter this week and wrapping christine sine’s lenten guide a journey into wholeness, i so love how new life comes forth out of the funkiest, wildest crazy downward descent story.  i really enjoyed the time and space on sunday to focus on this upcoming week and what it means for me, for us.  we ended with a reminder of how truly upside down the ways of Jesus really are in light of our human tendency toward fan-ness instead of follower-ness.  here is the guiding text for followers of Jesus and a template for the 12 steps from matthew 5:

blessed are the poor in spirit,  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

what have some of your shifts from Jesus fan to Jesus follower looked like? how has it been good? how has it been hard?  what have you been learning about healing & community & the wild ways of Jesus?

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • “fans find congregations, followers find communities”
    Well said Kathy… we listened to the sermon online. Wonderful job to both of you.

    Communities are costly to what we hold most precious… time, privacy, control and much, much more. But I agree with you in that it is all worth it.

    Thanks for continuing the blog!

  • hey, i google my name every few hours, and look what i found! just kidding, i have felt like a lousy friend, so i will try and on occasion make a cyber appearance.
    so bummed about the leg, but i am sure you will rally. we had dinner with paul and christa tonight, so fun, and i agree with everything you said, it is toooo much fun this way to go back. but i miss the money….

  • another great one Kathy that really hit me hard. So many times I think the default we go to is fan…. because so few of us really get what it looks like to follow Him and not just follow other fans. To follow Him requires us to trust the Spirit and not really know exactly what that looks like all the time…. no specific steps or direction all the time… so maybe times because of ‘training’ & flesh & desire to know where we stand.. how ‘good we’re doing’… we fall back to being a fan since those “to do”s are clearly laid out.. ya know?

    But as far as the questions you’ve asked. As I’ve started on the journey at least to become a passionate follower… I think the biggest and most eye opening things I’ve seen are how few truly are doing it…… sort of tying into what I said up there — people don’t get what it truly looks like and so many just need some sort of standards/rules but true community and following Him just doesn’t have a manual besides the Word & Spirit. There’s a lot of grey and uncomfortable conversations and a lot of ‘failures’ in the world’s eyes as far as hype/ ‘impact’…. etc… and we have to be okay with that. Being judged that we are not being efficient enough…. not being good stewards of our time, etc……. but I truly believe that just as the women who poured out her best at His feet…. God wants us to spend the most time with Him and secondly… with others.. so our time in intimate converation & serving and opening up our hearts with Him or others is never wasteful no matter what the world says.

    I am having a hard time finding others who truly want to BE a community and live in each other’s lives outside of Sunday. We talk about it… but who is doing it? Relationships are hard. They are time consuming… yet God has filled me with this incredible passion to truly be a part of the Body. To be One Body, One Bride for our One Groom who is alive & returning. To not grieve the Spirit in our discord but truly learn how to love each other! But as much as I LOVE Sundays as a time of rejoicing & praising Him & celebrating…. that one day is never enough…. so my husband & I are just determined to meet with at lesat one other couple once a week other than Sunday for the rest of our lives…. if not multiples nights a week with multiple people.. but the goal is one couple once a week. So we’re opening up our tiny home and will invite people in and figure out how to connect to people that way and open up our hearts to show people His.

    I don’t know…. I definitely haer you though…. and I certainly am guilty of being a fan. and I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time… and the devil sure does plant some great seeds in me to doubt myself that “I’m not doing enough” if I’m not doing the things a fan does…….. but then when I listen to the Word & Spirit I know the Truth. but then I get sidetracked again when others put pressure on me for results… but then I spend time with God again and He helps me build that spiritual backbone… what a cycle. I guess that’s just Him helping me build my spiritual muscles.

    *sigh* sorry I ramble so much. You always get me thinking so much. Point is… I’m making steps to being a follower and I thank you for your influence in me as I’ve read your blogs this past year-ish. gotta go read more on the inspiration addiction…. because I really believe inspiration is a great thing…. and I think rejoicing in Him is awesome… and I think celebration is important… all things we do as we gather on Sunday…… BUT I also get what you mean about people needing or getting addicted that “feeling” whereas the Spirit anytime I’ve heard Him is extremely quiet…. and not a feeling whatsoever. But I truly believe there’s some balance needed there. But we just have to be hyped about the right things. About His return….. not our Sunday sermon…. About His love & grace & the hope in Him… not our new presentation piece whether it be a new tv or whatever….

    so anyway.. THANKS for letting me sit here and ramble!!!!!! 🙂

  • P.S. I’d love to talk more with somebody about this inspiration addiction. VERY interesting!!!

    very interesting! I DO get what it means and have seen it…I do think often of how we are faking ourselves out with this Sunday “experience” stuff….because any true experience I’ve had with the Spirit is quiet like a whisper…. BUT at the same time I LOVE rejoicing on Sundays… celebrating Him and praising Him in many forms! BUT I Love doing this every day in many forms… not just Sunday.

    BUT at the same time — I *do* get the hearts in these people striving to bring glory to God by putting their best ‘efforts’ out there. Whether I partake in it or not… I *do* get WHY they do what they do…. They believe He deserves our best. The best we can do on presentations and striving as well as our hearts….. to offer Him our best outside & inside.

    SO I’m really in the middle on this issue… BUT I DO get the addiction.

    If these “experiences” are THE way you relate to GOd….. there’s an issue. If YOU *NEED* these ‘things’… there’s a problem… cuz all that isn’t supposed to be about you anyway..… but instead Him.

    ya know?

  • Transitioning from a ‘fan’ to a follower happened to me to a great extent…against my will. I’d say God pretty much blindsided me…and ripped my dynasty out from under me like a flimsy rug.
    I was happy right where I was. Comforatble with my pious weekly service commitment…loved promoting anything where I might get a free church logo T-shirt…water bottle…bumpersticker…visor or key fob. I loved that I had taken all of the ‘right’ parenting/marriage/financial/inductive bible study classes. I loved that I knew more about the ‘worda-God’ than most…I loved being looked up to and valued for my tireless committment to my brandname church. I got so much satisfaction meeting all of the ‘requirements’ for membership/partnership…I loved FAN-aticism!!!
    Then…something weird happened. Somehow…I began to become inflamed about injustice in the community and in the world. I began to question why the heartbeat of my church (most churches) wasn’t towards the messy, marginalized, oppressed, poor or unlovely. I wondered why my church leadership talked more about “leadership, strategic planning and numbers” than serving and loving?
    I realized I saw more of Jesus outside the movement…in the poor, oppressed, abandoned and in the lives of those brave enough to be Jesus to a screwed up world…eventually…kicking and screaming..I FOLLOWED him there.
    It cost me everything I had ever known or connected to living as a Christian. It has radically changed my life in every way…it has been painful and beyond scary at times…but somehow…I think this is where my life is to be found.

  • Hmmm.

    The shift from a fan to a follower has been a difficult one and one that I wrestle with at times.

    There are times that I think, you know, it is a lot easier being the fan and getting the pats on the back and having “measureable” goals to know if you succeede.

    I can also tell you that there are many church-goers liked me much better when I was a fan and not a follower – there are many church staff in town that are “pissed” that I am a follower. Maybe that is too strong .. I am not sure.

    To me, the most powerful difference is making sure that I am there for the community and being an advocate for those without a voice.

  • Hope I’m following. it feels a little lost every now and then. I don’t miss being a fan–never was a very good cheer leader.

  • It’s meant leaving that dried up old brook called a Cherith wandering across the desert to discover some one in need and by the grace of God meeting that need.

  • debbie – always nice to hear from you. yes, communities are far more costly. i like what you said about true community costing “time, privacy, control, and much much more.” look forward to more conversations!

    karl – me, too 🙂 that’s the only downside!

    christine – thanks for reading…

    randi – ramble away 🙂 i love to hear what God is up to you, stirring up change and shifting and moving…i do agree that we need inspiration & encouragement and we can get it in all different forms, but like you said, it is dangerous when that’s all it is–a fix—and actually insulates us from true in-the-trenches-with-each-other kind of living that is a lot of work and usually not all that inspiring 🙂

    glenn – always great to hear from you here!

    joy – thanks for sharing…i love what you said here: “It cost me everything I had ever known or connected to living as a Christian. It has radically changed my life in every way…it has been painful and beyond scary at times…but somehow…I think this is where my life is to be found.” oh so hard, oh so good. see you soon, i hope.

    jeff – i am so with you, a lot of people liked me a lot better when i was a fan! i know many think i’ve sort of gone off the deep end. i think what you said about fan-stuff being very measurable. it really is about butts in seats & bucks in the offering and those things are, indeed, measurable. follower-ness is so untangible & certainly not measurable…and yes, i do believe that is our call, to give voice to the voiceless. keep singing your song and taking the heat, you are making a difference.

    minnow – yeah, it can be lonely and confusing, that’s for sure.

    story formed – thanks for the link! glad you stopped by.

    mark – amen!

  • hi Kathy!
    It was so nice to read your article: fan or follower.
    Thanks! very inspirational!
    My husband is a pastor in a small church that we begun 3 years ago. We are ministering in a city called Manta in Ecuador. Have you heard about my country?
    I would love read more of you!


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