Connections 01.15.2023: Letting Them Go

John 1:29-42

All four Gospels tell stories that include John the Baptist. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus’s cousin John shows up several times—the writers tell of John’s life, his ministry of proclamation, his death, and they continue to refer to him even after he is gone. Luke even includes the foretelling of John’s birth. But the Gospel of John only mentions John the Baptist twice: first in chapter 1, when Jesus comes for baptism (an event that, here, is only implied) and in chapter 3, when John reacts to a query about why everyone is going to Jesus for baptism instead of to John himself. In 3:29b-30, John says, “…my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

“He must increase, but I must decrease” seems like a life motto for John the Baptist in the narrative of John’s Gospel. It begins in chapter 1. Jesus comes on the scene where John has been baptizing and “making straight the way of the Lord” (1:23), and John does not hesitate to direct everyone’s attention to Jesus. He makes sure all who are gathered around him—and all the readers of this Gospel—know who Jesus is: the Lamb of God (v. 29), the Chosen One (v. 34). John “made straight the way,” and he has been a good teacher. When his own disciples take off with Jesus, they are doing exactly what John has taught them to do: follow the Lamb. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

What a contrast John the Baptist is to many modern-day proclaimers! Christian “influencers” and celebrities are not a new thing, but with the advent of social media, “not losing followers” is more important now than it has ever been. “Content creators” depend on likes and clicks and followers and shares for financial stability, and celebrities are made in the same way whether or not they are creating religious content. Can you imagine your favorite TV evangelist, celeb pastor, or social media creator losing all their followers with the attitude of John the Baptist? In our world, “decreasing”—in follower counts, membership rolls, clicks, and revenue—is always a bad thing, but John knew he would “work himself out of a job,” and he did it with joy. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Can you imagine your own church joyfully “decreasing,” blessing and encouraging people who leave to follow Jesus in a new way in a new place? Influencers aren’t the only ones who depend on follower counts. In our churches we practice financial stewardship to pay the pastors, keep the lights on, and continue ministry and mission work; these things only happen with people’s active participation and their financial commitment. When we proclaim Jesus, do we really mean people should follow him with all they are and all they have—wherever he calls them to go, even if it takes them away from us, here? Even if it means we, too, must decrease with joy?


  • How does John 1:29-42 describe a real-life version of John’s later declaration “he must increase, I must decrease” (3:30)?
  • In 3:29b John says of Jesus’s coming, “my joy has been fulfilled.” What do you imagine John felt as he watched his disciples leave to follow Jesus? Do you think he had any hesitation or worry as he “lost” these followers?
  • Think about your favorite Christian celebrities, evangelists, preachers, and authors. How do you discern which Christian “influencers” are trustworthy teachers? Consider whether those people truly teach their followers to follow Jesus, or whether they use Jesus as a “draw” to convince people to follow them. Compare them with John the Baptist. Would their “joy be fulfilled” if people stopped following them to follow Jesus himself more fully?
  • What do you think is the role of the church in the ways people follow Jesus? How does your church teach and encourage people to go with Jesus, wherever he calls?
  • Is your church in a time of anxiety about the loss of members and resources? How might John’s joyfulness as his disciples recognize and follow Jesus, the Lamb of God, guide and encourage your community?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at


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