I just finished teaching Andy Stanley’s Follow Series in our adult Sunday school at church. The eight-week course was mind blowing, because Andy completely changes the way we should think about asking people to follow Jesus.
As Andy explains, the traditional church model is “Change and then join us.” But that’s not how Jesus did it. Brilliantly, Andy explains that what Jesus did was ask people to follow Him and then they would change.
Now think about that for a second. No prerequisites to follow Jesus. You don’t have to believe anything, or say any special prayer, or even agree on who Jesus is. All you have to do is follow Him and you will be transformed.
Andy takes the eight weeks and powerfully shows why Jesus’ way of inviting followers is much better than how the church currently seems to do it. I don’t want to give away too much, because I am hoping you will go to www.followseries.org and watch the segments for yourself. But let me give you a couple of examples from what Andy teaches.
First, the disciples didn’t believe anything about Jesus when they first joined him. You’ll recall the stories in the Bible about Jesus telling the fisherman Peter that Jesus would make him a “Fisher of men” if he followed. James and John came with Peter as well. In that scene you did not see Jesus say, “Okay, now that you want to join me let’s say this prayer of confession and agree to these terms so you can continue.” Nope – Jesus said follow Me, and that was the only condition.
Let’s fast forward to the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth. He is arrested, tried, condemned, crucified and buried. Where were the disciples? Scripture says all the disciples ran away when Jesus was arrested. Both John and Peter snuck back into the city to see what they were doing to Jesus, but when confronted Peter denies he even knows Jesus three times. After Jesus is crucified, all the disciples are hiding in the upper room, despondent because Jesus is gone, clearly not understanding anything that Jesus taught them during the previous three years. Then the women come and tell of the empty tomb and Thomas says he won’t believe unless he can stick his fingers in the holes in Jesus’ hands and side!
To the very end the disciples did not believe Jesus was who He said He was! Yet, Jesus patiently taught them and told them all things would become clear after He was gone and He gave them the Holy Spirit!
That’s a far cry from how today’s churches go about bringing to people to Christ!
I love this teaching, because it breaks down the barriers religion has put in the way of our relationship with Jesus. So you think Jesus was a wise teacher? Great, follow Him! You think Jesus was a Rabbi but certainly not divine? Great, follow Him. You don’t really understand who Jesus is. Great, follow Him! It’s not about what you believe when you enter the relationship, it’s about what Jesus shows you once you become His follower!
I certainly cannot do justice to this series in this short blog, but I want to encourage you to watch the Follow Series at www.followseries.org. The links to the eight episodes are right at the top of the page. The teaching is really encouraging and it doesn’t matter if you’re just trying to learn more about Jesus or you’ve been following him for decades, this teaching will grab you and make you think a bit differently about how and why we follow Jesus.
My initial impression is that this teaching exhibits a general lack of understanding of the nature of the Church, which is composed only of believers in Jesus Christ who undergo an essential change (being born again) before entry can be granted by God.
There also seems to be no discerning the difference between a disciple (who can simply be a follower of a belief system or person without really being transformed by what they follow, and thus experience an eventual departure) and a believer in the finished work and person of Jesus Christ. The practical reality of this is given to us in John 6:60-71. While a believer is certainly a disciple, a disciple – or “follower” – does not necessarily have to be a believer. Your summary indicates Mr. Stanley does not find this distinction to be of any consequence.
Perhaps my concerns come from a lack of understanding the sense in which “follower” is used here, which appears similar to the currently popular notion of calling the unsaved by the less convicting term, “unchurched.” And while I certainly agree that much of the Church is lacking in its presentation of the gospel (mainly through watering it down), new or non-traditional approaches are not always better.
While it is true there may be no prerequisite to begin to examine the claims of Jesus, it is not true that “you don’t have to believe anything” or “agree on who Jesus is” to be transformed. You must accept a truth to be changed by it. To do otherwise is just casting seed by the wayside, on rocky ground, or among the thorns. Don’t we have quite enough of that in the Church today?
You bring attention to the calling of certain followers of Christ, but before fast-forwarding to the cross (and surmising that “to the very end the disciples did not believe Jesus was who He said He was”), it may be well to recall just a few of the scriptures that show that many did have a clear understanding of exactly who Jesus was.
Nathanael was quick to declare that Jesus was the Son of God and the King of Israel, even when knowing very little of Him (John 1:49). Peter declared Him to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16). The woman at the well realized who He was and was changed because of this understanding (John 4:29), and the fellow Samaritans she pointed to Christ clearly understood who He was and believed (John 4:42). There are many other scriptures along this line.
In John 10, Jesus proclaimed that it is His sheep who hear His voice and follow Him, not unbelievers or those with a shaky understanding of who He is. The Jews who heard his declarations certainly understood He was claiming to be the Son of God and sought to kill Him for it. The disciples with Him evidently did not shrink from this claim. As the Lord consistently made this and greater claims thereafter, many believed on Him as a result.
As believers we can (and should) demonstrate tremendous love and patience to those ignorant of the gospel, but we cannot encourage people to follow any notion of Jesus they may latch onto (2 John 7-11) for this is not true godly love, but rather deceit in the guise of compassion.
God is not seeking simple “followers.” He is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth.