There is a story told of a young girl who applied to the college of her choice. She was anxiously awaiting the reply to see if she would be accepted.
However, the young girl answered a question on the application that she thought may have disqualified her from acceptance. The question was: Are you a leader? She thought about it for days, but finally answered no, she was not a leader.
A few days later, a letter from the college came in the mail. She anxiously opened it and found not only a letter of acceptance, but a personal note from the president of the college. It read, “In all 1,500 applications we received to our college, 1,499 prospective students said they were leaders. We figured they needed at least one follower. Welcome to college!”
What has happened to all the followers? And why is being called a follower considered derogatory in our modern culture today? The first and last words of Jesus to the Apostle Peter indicate the need for a theology of follower-ship: “Come, follow me.” Both the first time Jesus met Peter and the last time Jesus saw Peter, near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus called him to follower-ship.
When Jesus called these men, they knew what they were being called to. Not only were they to become fishers of men, Jesus was also presenting himself as a good Rabbi looking for disciples.
In first century rabbinical culture, there are some interesting things going on here. The Rabbi, on a normal basis, would not seek out disciples. Eager disciples would come to the Rabbi and request to study under the Rabbi, however Jesus reverses the method and instead chooses the disciples. So when Jesus called the disciples to follow him, they were being called to the most intense education they would have ever known to date; to live with, walk with and learn from the master teacher.
Christianity sets itself apart in that we follow a man, but not a man who lived, taught and died (every other religion in the world does that), but we follow a man who lived, taught, died and rose again. He is the only historical teacher that is still living today.
Furthermore, Christianity is set apart in the fact that we do not just follow Jesus’ teachings, or methodology, or even his next generation Rabbis. We are actually following him. It’s one thing to walk in the way of another person, it’s a whole different thing to walk in the way, when Jesus is the way himself. Discipleship is essentially the art of pilgriming or wayfaring alongside Jesus.
It is interesting that Jesus describes himself and says, I am the way, the truth and the life. The first of Jesus’ self-identifying words is a verb. But Jesus takes a verb and makes it a noun: Jesus is the way. When he says, “Follow me," he is saying follow not just my ways, but follow me, I am the way.
When a person loves music, they do not necessarily have to hear every song a person sings to recognize that artist when their songs are played. Rather, one just needs to be intimately familiar with their voice, style, temper and ability. One knows Mozart, not by reading about Mozart, but by listening to Mozart. You cannot understand Mozart without listening to Mozart.
The same is true with Jesus. We are all on this wayfaring journey, and daily as we listen to Jesus — his word, his voice, his temper, his ability — we grow ever more intimate with the way that is Jesus Christ. So, when Jesus invites us to follow him — to be in the way — Jesus is inviting us to not just walk a path that he’s walked before, but he’s asking us to walk a pathway that is him. This is why the Apostle Paul wrote, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me.”
Dr. Leonard Sweet tells a story to help us realize contemporary issues with the church. The story goes like this: There was a man who was on the verge of a mental breakdown. So he went and sought out the help of a psychiatrist. The first session the psychiatrist asked the man what his problem was. He man replied well, “I’ve actually got two problems. The first is that I don’t think I’m human any longer, I believe I’m a vending machine. For one dollar I can dispense six different kids of soda.”
The doctor stopped and thought about the issue and then pulled four quarters out of his desk and said, “Open your mouth so I can put these quarters in, I’d like a root beer.” The man replied, “That’s actually my second problem, I’m out of order.”
Sweet says that like the man, the church has an identity problem and we no longer believe we are the bride of Christ. That we have traded out identity as the bride for an identity that is about getting our needs met. The second problem is that we are out of order. We are out of order because we have gotten into the habit of making churches instead of making disciples, making followers of Jesus.
Jesus has called us not to making church happen, but making disciples. Anything else we do is likely, as the scriptures says: hay, wood and stubble. So to define better what it means to make disciples, let’s go back to the first time Jesus called, “Come, follow me.”
Scott Bowman is the pastor of New Harvest Assembly of God. He can be reached at email@example.com.