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Rise of the Jesus-Followers by Evan MacCrimmon

The Trend

The term Jesus-follower (or follower of Jesus or follower of Christ) is on the rise in the United States.  More and more Christians are calling themselves Jesus-followers instead of or in addition to Christians.

A Newsweek article titled “A Christian by Any Other Name” (published on March 7, 2009) touches on this very trend.  Lisa Miller, the author of the article, writes that the phrase is gaining currency among the young and cites to Facebook for her claim.  She writes that “more than 900 groups use a variation of ‘follower of Jesus.’”  She also states the phrase is popular among people in the fellowship movement – small, collegial groups that regularly meet for ecumenical prayer.

We can see this trend in books, too.  Floyd McClung, famous for his mission work in the red light district in Amsterdam and a former leader for the largest missionary organization in the world, Youth With A Mission, recently authored a book called Follow: A Simple and Profound Call to Live Like Jesus. Publisher David C. Cook released it in September 2010.  In May 2011, Zondervan released a book called Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus. The book is about becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus as opposed to just one of his admirers.

Internationally-known missiologists Alan and Debra Hirsch have authored a book together called Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship.  According to the product description of the book on amazon.com, the husband and wife authors seek to answer the question, “How are we to think and live day to day as followers of Jesus?”  Accomplished author and professor Leonard Sweet has picked up on this trend as well.  His new book is titled I Am a Follower: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus and was released by Thomas Nelson in January 2012.

This increased emphasis on following Jesus is also demonstrated by internet sites and blogs.  Next Wave, a former e-zine for the emerging church, titled one of its recurring sections Following Jesus. Roger Thoman, a blogger in the simple church movement recently posted an article on his website “Simple Church Journal.”  His article is called “Follow Jesus and Expect Miracles.” In the article, Thoman mentions that his focus has been on the dynamics below:

  • Every believer becomes a daily follower.
  • Every follower becomes a disciple/gatherer.
  • Every gathering becomes an apprenticeship for life and mission.

Neil Cole, one of the leading voices in the organic/simple church movement and author of five books on church and leadership in the last six years, is another of the growing multitude of people Lisa Miller has identified in her Newsweek article who are using the “follower” lingo.  On his blog “Cole-Slaw”, Cole describes himself in the “About Me” section as a “Follower of Jesus, father of three, husband of one, church planter, author and coach.”


The “Why” Behind the Trend

Lisa Miller writes that proponents of the “follower” lingo claim two advantages over the label “Christian” or “evangelical.”  “First, it doesn’t carry baggage.  You can wear it abroad, in Islamic countries, or at home with your Jewish or Buddhist friends, without causing offense.  Second, it distances the bearer from the culture wars that have made American politics so divisive.”

Lisa Miller got it right – in part.  The “follower” lingo is on the rise, and those are two advantages of changing our lingo.  In fact, even yesterday, as I was editing this article, I came across a friend’s status update on Facebook that read: “I don’t consider myself democrat or republican. I am a follower of Jesus, who loves our oceans, our forests, and our children.”  My friend then posted a picture of a fetus inside the womb.  My friend’s use of the “follower” lingo is a clear example of the second advantage mentioned by Miller – distancing the bearer from the culture wars.  My friend, who resides on the beautiful Oregon coast, was communicating through those words the idea that she knows that environmentalists and pro-lifers used to be on opposing sides, but she follows Jesus, an Advocate for both the environment and unborn children.

While these two advantages of using “follower” lingo provide some explanation for the surge in growth of the “follower” label, they certainly are not the only advantage or even the most important reason for the term’s increase in popularity.  A third advantage of using the “follower” lingo is that it promotes obedience to Jesus, our Lord and Master.  To my mind, this is by far the biggest advantage of the three.  And it also is an important basis for the surge of the “follower” lingo.  In fact, all of the authors and websites I mentioned above, except one (the author of Not a fan), are affiliated with the simple/organic and missional movements.  And these movements emphasize obedience to Jesus.

Jesus has called men and women to action, to mission, and to obedience to Him.  “Christian” is a noun and so is the root part of the word – Christ.  In today’s society “Christian” can mean as little as someone who believes that Jesus is the Christ (Anointed One).  While “follower” is a noun as well, the root of the word is “follow” – a verb.  One must follow in order to be a follower.  One cannot follow without taking action.  So while some may use the term “Jesus-follower” to avoid unwanted cultural and political baggage, others – like many of the authors mentioned in the first part of this article – are using it to describe the action that the Spirit has called us to take.

Over the last decade, the Spirit has been pouring out revelation on what it means to “be the church” as opposed to just “going to church.”  At the same time, the Spirit is re-teaching and re-emphasizing what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  The Scriptures clearly demonstrate that Jesus called his disciples to follow Him.  And just as the Twelve did when He was with them, we should be listening to Him and following His lead.  The fact that leaders of the American church are emphasizing “following Jesus” shows a recognition of the distinctions between a mere convert and a disciple, and between head-belief and belief that leads to action.

In The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch defines discipleship as “following Jesus and becoming increasingly like him (Christlikeness).”  He writes that “[p]eople accustomed to ‘being fed’ are generally loath to move from passivity to activity.”  There it is again – action.  While a person may call herself a Christian and take no action to obey the teachings of Jesus and get away with it, that same person is harder pressed to call herself a “Jesus-follower” when she knows she has no intent or desire to do what Jesus says.  A person in that position is more likely to call themselves a “Christian” than a “Jesus-follower.”

For example, about a year or two ago, I was at the courthouse with a client and his wife.  They had grown up in a bush village in western Alaska that I knew of.  I found out that they had grown up attending a Covenant church in that village and had even gone to its Bible camp in their area when they were kids.  This couple had no trouble affiliating themselves with that organization in times past, but when I asked if they were Jesus-followers presently, they could not answer “yes.”  Would they have stated they were Christians if asked?  I don’t know for sure, but they very well may have.  Why?  Because they grew up Christian.  “Christian” in their mind is a religion, and they hadn’t changed religions – they hadn’t become Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist.  But they certainly knew that they were not following Jesus.


The Future of the Trend

This distinction in terms is important in regards to fulfillment of the Great Commission.  The rise in numbers of people who describe themselves as “Jesus-followers” shows that evangelism is and will be changing.  The language shift by believers that is underway foreshadows a decline, at least in America, of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned against in his classic book The Cost of Discipleship
– “cheap grace.”  In the future, more and more disciples of Jesus will be calling not-yet disciples (unbelievers) to “follow” Christ, not merely to mouth the words “I believe that Jesus is the Christ.”  In the same vein, this language trend helps predict an increased emphasis by believers on obedience to Jesus’ command to make disciples (as opposed to mere converts).

In his book The Harvest, Rick Joyner wrote prophetically in 1987 “[t]he laborers who are coming will be armed with more than a recipe for getting a quick decision …. The true call to radical discipleship will be restored and will come with such power that a radical church that lives by radical faith in power will be the result.”  The shift in terminology from “Christian” to “Jesus-follower” that is currently taking place demonstrates that the church is changing.  She is becoming increasingly concerned with action words – obedience, mission, and disciple-making.  The increased usage of “Jesus-follower” goes hand-in-hand with the simple church movement and the missional movement.  The increased use of the term is also related to the increased concern for the poor, the oppressed, and “the least of these” (social justice) by Christians.

Jesus isn’t coming back for an idolatrous, spotted, impure Church.  He’s coming back for a Bride that loves Him and obeys Him – a pure, spotless Bride.  So if we start acting like He is the Son of God by doing what He says, as opposed to merely saying that we believe He is the Son of God and living how we want, then this world will take notice – resulting in people from all nations honoring Him as the King of Kings.  Only after all nations have tasted of Him will He return for us – His Bride.  So the fact that the church is becoming more concerned with following Jesus in our actions as opposed to merely with what we believe in our heads is reason to hope that we will see Him face to face sooner rather than later.  Now, that is something to get excited about!

© 2012 Evan MacCrimmon
Posted by Permission

Evan lives in Alaska with his wife Tara and two sons, Ethan and Silas.  He attends a Native American fellowship and practices law as a criminal defense attorney.  He desires to see the Inupiaq and Yup’ik Eskimo peoples plant indigenous house churches throughout western Alaska.  He also desires to see the kingdom of God expanding via the marketplace.


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5 Responses to “Rise of the Jesus-Followers by Evan MacCrimmon”

  1. Very interesting Evan! It’s encouraging to hear that there are some churches out there heeding the call to action. I started calling myself a Christ-follower because I could see that many, many people are calling themselves Christians no matter what religion they believe or practice. Or in name only, but rejecting God’s Word to do their own thing. Or calling themselves Christians while really acting as their own god. And I chose Christ-follower because many people think of Jesus and God as all kinds of things, but not who they really are, the ultimate authority and power. Thanks for the great post!

    Posted by Tiffanie | April 5, 2012, 11:22 pm
  2. Love your article here Evan! I sense similar heart down here too. I hope and trust this is revival in the best sense, a return to the 1st century Church, the Body of Christ.

    P.S. sent along a “friend request” via Facebook, but no worries there. 🙂

    Posted by Patrick Watters | April 26, 2012, 10:04 am
  3. I would like to use the image you used for your blog post for some flyer materials for my church here in AZ. Is this your image? If so, could you email me permission to use it?



    Posted by Nicki | July 22, 2015, 4:01 pm

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