Last year I had a casual meeting with a book publisher. As we talked about my writing and ideas for future projects, the publisher asked how many social media followers I had. The question caught me off guard. I entered the world of social media about 10 years after my peers, and at the time of my meeting, I’d only been on for nine months. My unimpressive tally made me feel small.
In the publisher’s defense, I realize that publishing is an industry. Books need to be sold, and social media followings help. Still, the question left me unsettled. I wondered whether the value of my work could be measured by likes and followers.
John the Baptist and His Followers
As I recently studied John’s Gospel, the idea of followers popped out as I read about John the Baptist and the first Jesus followers. John—despite his strangeness—was an influential man. He was the son of a priest. He was chosen by God to bear witness and point people to the long-awaited Messiah (John 1:7–8). John was clear he wasn’t the Messiah, but he created such a stir with his baptism and message of repentance that he developed his own following. He had disciples who were learning from him.
But when Jesus showed up, John redirected his disciples’ attention. There was no jealousy over ministry or influence, only an authentic desire to point his followers to the King of Kings. God had given John a platform—he had become famous and influential in his own right. But John used his platform to draw attention to the only One who could satisfy and save their souls.
Eventually his disciples came to him, jealous that too many people were going to Jesus to be baptized. They were concerned John’s influence was decreasing, as he was no longer winning the popularity contest: “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him” (John 3:26).
Again, John responds in meekness, deflecting attention from himself and reminding them that he’s not the Christ (John 3:28). Then he gives a purpose statement for his entire life: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Point Your Followers to Jesus
It’s easy to look at others and wonder why they have more influence, why they got that book contract or promotion or ministry opportunity, why they have a huge social media following and we’re followed only by our mom. But what if, instead of succumbing to envy, we used whatever platform God has given us to shine the spotlight on Jesus? What if we were quick to acknowledge others’ accomplishments and celebrate the way God has gifted them? What if we used whatever influence we have—whether over the crowd to whom we’re speaking or over the “followers” at our kitchen table—to point to the only One who can rescue and redeem?
John the Baptist is an example of a man unmoved by his own loss of followers, because he was fixated on exalting Christ. May God give us grace to be more concerned about following Jesus—and encouraging others to do so—than about watching the slow tick of our followers rise or fall.
May our longing be the same as John’s: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”