Preaching Articles

It was a Thursday afternoon, and I was sitting in our sanctuary where 30,000 people would soon be coming to one of our services. I had no idea what I was going to say to them. I could feel the pressure mounting. I sat there hoping that a sermon would come to mind. I looked around at the empty seats, hoping for some inspiration; instead, there was just more perspiration.

I wiped the sweat off my brow and looked down. "This sermon needs to be good," I told myself. There are some people who only come to church on Christmas and Easter (we call them "Creasters"). I wanted to make sure they all came back. "What could I say to get their attention? How could I make my message more appealing? Is there something creative I could do that would be a big hit and get people talking?" Still nothing.

There was a Bible on the chair in front of me. I grabbed it, but I couldn't think of a Scripture to turn to. I've spent my whole life studying this book, and I couldn't think of one passage that would "wow" the Creasters. I considered using it the way I did as kid: I would ask a question, open up the Bible, point somewhere on the page, and whatever it said would answer my question. I just shook my head at that one.

Finally, a thought crossed my mind: "I wonder what Jesus taught whenever he had the big crowds." What I discovered changed me forever, not just as a preacher but as a follower of Christ. I found that when Jesus had large crowds, he would often preach a message that would be more likely to drive listeners away rather than encourage them to return for next week's message.

When Easter weekend came, I was so convicted that I stood up and began my sermon with an apology. I said to the congregation, "I'm sorry for sometimes selling Jesus cheap and watering down the gospel in hopes that more of you would fill these seats." I followed up with a sermon series entitled "Not a Fan." We went word-for-word though Luke 9:23—Jesus' invitation to follow him—and honestly asked ourselves, "Am I a fan or a follower of Jesus?" The dictionary defines fans as "enthusiastic admirers." Jesus was never interested in enthusiastic admirers; he wanted completely committed followers. He wants more from us than a hand raised or a prayer repeated at the end the service. He is looking for more than a prayer before a meal and a Jesus fish on the back of the car. He wants more than fans; he wants followers who take up a cross and die to themselves.

We soon realized that this was more than a message that we had created; God was orchestrating a movement in our church. He began to challenge our commitment to him. In that series, we were reminded that there is no believing without following, no salvation without surrender, no forgiveness without repentance, and no life without death. I said things in that message that for years I had quickly skipped over in fear that they would scare people off. But instead of pushing people away, this unedited, unfiltered presentation began a revival. That weekend set a new course for our congregation and provided a new lens through which I now preach.

At the end of the series, we had made it clear that Jesus wants his followers to be all-in, and then we offered an invitation and challenged people to repent and be baptized. I wasn't sure if anyone would respond. But for hours that weekend, our sanctuary was filled with whistles, whoops, and cheers as 221 people were baptized in less than 24 hours.

"I haven't experienced anything like it in my spiritual life," said New Member Minister Don Waddell. "I went to a worship service, and a pep rally broke out. It was a great thing for the individuals baptized, but it was also a great thing for the church."

Some were crying, holding onto a friend or relative. Others were over-the-top excited. Whole families came, as did teens, seniors, people in wheelchairs, and children.

Decision Guides brought each one to a table full of T-shirts in different colors. Each pile had a different word on the front: Free, Forgiven, or Alive. After they picked their shirts, they went into the baptistery in front of the congregation, where I waited to talk with them about the significance of baptism, the symbolism of dying to self, and being alive in Christ.

There were so many people who for years had struggled with this decision and decided in that moment to step across the line. I began asking different groups if they planned their baptism for that day. The majority had not planned on making the decision, but they had been thinking about it for a while. I told them, "This day may not have been on your calendar, but this day in your life has been circled on God's calendar since before you were born."

Each one who came had a story. One mom brought her husband and three children. "This is 20 years in the making," she told me.

Mike Janes decided a week ago to be baptized. He had no idea he'd be baptized in front of a cheering audience, however. "It was incredible," he said.

Jesse and Kim Bocock had been coming to the Southeast on and off for a few years. The couple collapsed into each other's arms when they were baptized. "I've come to this place after a hard, long string of heavy stuff," he said through tears.

Newlyweds Jose and Krystal Valentin came to be baptized together. Stationed at Fort Knox, he was dressed in Army fatigues. Once I baptized him, Jose turned and baptized Krystal.

The last one to come was a teen, bringing her family. Apparently they'd talked about baptism before, and they were all the way into the parking lot, ready to get in the car when the teen said, "I thought we were going to be baptized the next time they asked." The family turned around and made their way back into the church.

As the congregation sang worship songs, they broke into applause, cheering, clapping, and whistling as each one was baptized. It was another part of the service no one anticipated. It was meaningful to people being baptized in ways that I never would have imagined. After Saturday night, I was just amazed to see how people responded. In my car on Sunday morning as I was driving to church, I found myself praying a very simple prayer, "Do it again, God! Do it again."



I tell you all of this because I believe that the "Not a Fan" is a message that God wants his people to hear. It is much more than a message that I preached; it's a message that was preached to me as I sat in the sanctuary on that Thursday. My prayer is that this message will continue to be preached to God's people around the world, and that together we will grow to be completely committed followers.

Kyle Idleman is a teaching pastor with Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, one of Outreach magazine's top-10 largest churches in America. Kyle's engaging approach to preaching inspired the "Not a Fan" campaign to help develop completely committed followers of Jesus Christ. Learn more about Kyle and the "Not a Fan" series at

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John Neufeld

commented on Sep 27, 2010

Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I too have been at that place of building a base of fans instead of followers. I was both convicted and inspired by your sermon.

Kevin Brian

commented on Sep 27, 2010

Thanks for sharing, Kyle. I appreciate your transparency and insight. I am from Louisville but I am currently a church planter/pastor at Journey Church in Central Florida. Thanks for the encouragement to preach the message of full surrender to Jesus.

Dell Pfaff

commented on Sep 27, 2010

Praise the Lord! I believe people are looking for something meaningful in their lives, not something meaningless. Authentic Christians are never just average. Their Lord has risen above and as they follow him they also rise above... above sin, above satan, above selfishness.

Jim Kilson

commented on Sep 27, 2010


Anonymous Contributor

commented on Sep 28, 2010

WHAT A WAKE UP CALL! Love the honest approach and truth being told in three simple words. I have lived for too long as a fan but never knew it - I'm on the road to becoming a follower. Thanks for message.

William Steed

commented on Sep 29, 2010

"In that series, we were reminded that there is no believing without following, no salvation without surrender, no forgiveness without repentance, and no life without death." - I thought eternal life was a free gift.

Stuart Balmer

commented on Sep 30, 2010

Great article - thanks! William S. Are you implying that there's no cost to being a disciple of Jesus? I think that Jesus himself would beg to differ! I think the point of this article is about discipleship, not entering salvation.

Anonymous Contributor

commented on Oct 1, 2010

Eternal life is a free gift, but so valuable is the gift that it costs you your life. It is not a gift on top of everything we already have, but a gift that destroys everything of no "eternal" value. Just like the cross, the cross is free, but the reception of the cross cost you your life!

Richard Mc Quinn

commented on Oct 7, 2010

Dont ever be tied to the fear of the crowd--fans--and leave the richness of the true following of Jesus. He promises to lead the way no matter. Continue to give Him the Glory---and tell of the Great things He has done.

Rodney Buchanan

commented on Feb 22, 2012

Spot on. This is so needed in our churches today of popular appeal and pablum Christianity.

Timothy P

commented on Feb 22, 2012

Thanks for the timely reminder, Kyle. Others have made the comparison of being followers versus being disciples of Jesus. Guess to say be a disciple instead of a follower, implies that something is amiss in the process of leading people to Christ. I like the way you phrase it, "completely committed followers," and that equates to disciples.

Robert Sickler

commented on Feb 24, 2012

Kyle, you have taken a step in the right direction but you must not stop at one step. Billy Graham led many people to Christ but he is reported to have said that it was only the first step ... now someone has got to grow them into born again Christians. You got a lot of sinners wet, but that does not mean they were saved! You yourself said: "there is no believing without following, no salvation without surrender, no forgiveness without repentance, and no life without death." All of this does not happen in the blinking of an eye: it takes time. People can go to church for many years and never develop a relationship with Jesus. Sticking them under the water does not a relationship make.

Terry Giboney

commented on Aug 26, 2012

Kyle, Did I misunderstand you the other day? It seemed like you said, even if you believe in Jesus, many people would not be saved. You have to belong to a certain elitist group of Christians? Maybe I'm all wrong, if so I apologize, if not then you are nothing buta Pharisee......

Aaron Mitchell

commented on Dec 26, 2014

James2:18-20(AKJV) 18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. 19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Romans 10:9-10A(AKJV) 9 that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. The Bible says that believing is not enough, you must act on your belief. If I believed my wife was the one and i never asked her to marry me she would never be my wife. Many people are convicted and know the truth and believe Jesus is the only way but never ask Him to save them, they are not saved according to the scripture. I believe this is what he meant by his statement. If not you know what i believe, haha. have a great day!

Anonymous Contributor

commented on Mar 2, 2018

Well done, Kyle Now you've had your reward - among men Seems all about you and your church, and that you had under-prepared that first Sunday Sorry to be cautious

Mike Brenneman

commented on Dec 19, 2020

I'm impressed brother or sister. You are able to judge a person's heart and motives.

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