Are Christians “Fans” of Christ? And Should They Be?

Recently, college basketball star Marcus Smart was involved in an altercation with a fan, which ended with Smart shoving the fan and receiving a technical foul. Smart was suspended for three games and made an official apology to his school, team, and the fan. The fan involved also made an apology and has vowed not to attend anymore games this year. In his apology, the fan said that he called Marcus Smart a “piece of crap.”

I’m not here to comment on who was right and who was wrong in this situation. Quite honestly, I think they both share some responsibility here. However, this story has led me to ask what it means to be a fan. What rights should fans be given? Where does fanaticism cross the line. And more importantly to the church, is being a fan of Jesus something we should aspire to? Or does that cross a dangerous line?

First, let’s look at what is means to be a fan. It is thought that the word comes from the Modern Latin word fanaticus, which means “insanely, but divinely inspired.”[A] Interestingly, this Modern Latin word is derived from an older Latin word fanum meaning “temple” or “sanctuary.”[B] Even in its etymology, there is a connection between fandom and the church. So, for the sake of discussion, I’ve decided to take a look at 5 characteristics of sports fans and apply them to churchgoers to see what that might look like.

1. Sports fans yell loudly during games. For many of us, yelling and church are an oxymoron. Church is viewed by many as a place of solitude and silence. What would it look like if congregation members cheered on the pastor during her or his sermon? I’ve actually been in churches like that, where the congregation would shout, “Amen,” all throughout the message. At first, this practice was a shock to my Dutch Reformed sensibilities. But as the worship continued, I got sucked into the enthusiasm and found myself longing to shout right along with them. But what would it be like if people shouted out questions? Or openly disputed claims made by the preacher?

2. Sports fans proudly display their affiliation. It is not unusual to see sports fans proudly wearing their team’s jersey on game day or flying a team flag outside their home. In my community, when Iowa plays Iowa State in football, my son’s school is decked out with half Hawkeyes and half Cyclones décor. As a Cubs fan, I proudly wear my Cubs tie to church during the summer (and sometimes even in the offseason). Most sports fans will even display their team colors boldly when surrounded by a sea of people who are rooting for the opposing team, sometimes even when it may pose a danger to their life. Christians do some similar things at times like wearing a cross necklace or a t-shirt with a Bible verse on it or displaying a Jesus fish on their car. But is that really the same? Does it display the same devotion that wearing your team’s jersey does?

3. Sports fans know the ins and outs of their team and its history. Most sports fans can not only tell you the names (and possibly numbers) of the players on their team currently, but they can also tell you about the history of their team: most recent championship, former superstar players, stats for current and former players, current and former coaches, etc. Christians these days seem to know less and less about their “team.” They might know some of the “players,” but quite often they can’t even connect those players to their story. Wasn’t Jesus put in a basket in the river when he was born? Didn’t Abraham lead the people out of slavery in Egypt? Moses got swallowed by a whale, right? Maybe Christians have taken their heads out of the game, so to speak.

4. Sports fans put watching games above nearly everything else. When their team is playing, sports fans make sure to watch it. If they can’t for some reason, they record it or watch highlights online or, at the very least, check the score. I know far too many Christians for whom church is not a priority. Too tired? Just skip church this week. Need new shoes? Sunday morning is a great time to go shopping. Christians often claim commitment to their church and their religion, but their lives don’t reflect it. What would church look like if they did?

5. Sports fans think about their team even when the team is not playing. As a Cubs fan, I often find myself thinking about my team…even during the offseason. I read team-related news stories, follow players and Cubs bloggers on Twitter, and wait with nervous excitement for the beginning of Spring Training. How much do Christians think about church or God or the Bible when they are not actually AT church? I asked my youth group this question a few years ago and the answer from every one of those kids was, “Not at all.” Would the adults in church answer that question differently? How would you answer?

These are just 5 characteristics of sports fans and I’m sure there are many I’ve missed. Feel free to chime in with your own in the comments. And tell me if you think churches would be better off or not if Christians were truly “fans” of Jesus Christ. I think my answer is “yes” and yet some part of me balks at the term. Chime in and straighten me out. 🙂

A. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan_(person)
B. http://www.latin-dictionary.net/definition/20304/fanum-fani

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6 thoughts on “Are Christians “Fans” of Christ? And Should They Be?

  1. Is a fan a disciple? Is there something loosey goosey about fandom that does not cross over to discipleship? I think there is. All that is loud, big, boisterous, and placards does not make one a better Christian….but it helps you be a better fan. I don’t want to be a billboard for Jesus. I would hate to see tail-gating before morning worship (we eat after worship – ha!) Do we need pep rallies in church – is that the intention of a classis meeting, a regional or General Synod meeting? Something is lost in the translation from fandom (Go North Iowa Bulls) to disciples (1st Reformed Church – rah – or something like that). My 2 cents

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    • Bill, I agree…I think. And yet perhaps fandom has something to teach us as well. Maybe tailgating before worship is not the answer (though it could be kinda fun), but wouldn’t some excitement about Christ at classis meetings be a good thing? Fandom is NOT discipleship, but perhaps the connection is closer than current evidence would state.

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      • Jeff, what would that “excitement” about Christ at classis meeting look like? I really believe that Classis meetings are business meetings….we so much want feel-good experiences in the church that we think that church business is a dirty word. Let’s do the business well so that when we return to our congregations we are enabled to celebrate Christ with the hoi poloi….rather than experience a corporate show where the forces of one-up-manship seem to reign so well. If everything is as positive as some would make it appear at classis…why is the church in the doldrums so often? There is as much of a disconnect here as there is in the fan vs disciple matter. Fans are fans because they choose to be fans. I’m enough of a Calvinst to believe that disciples are disciples because they have been CHOSEN to be such…our will means little….God’s will is sovereign. Dang that sounds heavy.

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      • Honestly, I have no idea what that “excitement” would look like, but what I do know is that “business” does nothing for me. If Classis is ONLY about business, then I vote that we get in, get out, and move on to the things that really matter. The problem for me is that our churches tend to emulate that business model of operation and then where is the excitement? Where is the discipleship? I ask, not out of a desire to argue, but out of genuine concern for the state of the church…both on a local level and on a more global level. And even in our chosen-ness we still have to follow. When Jesus said leave your nets and follow me, those fisherman still had to get up out of the boat. And that was not the last time they had to choose to follow Jesus. But maybe I am not Calvinist enough! 🙂

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      • I’m also not looking for an argument. I think you are plenty Calvinist enough! Worship is looking more like a performance to me. The tendency to turn our work into a mutual admiration society is rampant. We try to one up one another…rather than celebrate the mission we make possible. If our egos are not stroked….or we don’t leave our mark…or if we don’t come away on the mountain top, we think our work is tainted and of no value. I reject all of this. We are churchmen and churchwomen. Church is our work – our business….it may be fun, but personal satisfaction is not the measure of its efficacy. Why is there no passion in our experience of this work….actually there is for me. But I’m afraid we are developing a quick fix mentality in faith. We have McWorship…McCounseling…McStudy. The Lord’s Supper – we want it to be a Happy Meal….where we get to pick and choose our toy! We owe Christ more. The Church has more to offer….right now we are sad….sad about how loose our organization is….sad that it is not loose enough. The miracle is that inspite of all of us….God still chooses to use the church…and will continue to do so…with me or without me. So what can WE DO….let’s do his work well. Let’s do mission effectively, efficiently and eternally. Let’s find our raison d’etre in the work and not the way it makes any of us feel. I think on this we agree!

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      • We certainly do agree on that! And perhaps the term excitement is where the rub is. Perhaps what we need more of at Classis and Synod and in our churches is less excitement and MORE passion…passion for the “work” of the kingdom. I would love to spend our meetings doing kingdom “work” rather than Classis “business”, but perhaps I am just nitpicking words now. My wife has accused me of that more then once.

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