The Gospels contain many references where Jesus personally invited people to follow him. The Greek word translated as “follow” in most of these references is akoloutheō. This is a common word and is used throughout the Greek New Testament, but especially in the Gospels.
While akoloutheō is almost always translated as “follow” in English translations, it has a broader range of meanings. It can also mean “accompany” and “assist.” Many New Testament translations and lexicons do not give these other meanings, this is because they tend to favour the traditional translation of “follow.” Strong’s, however, is one lexicon that gives the extra meanings of “accompany” and “attend,” as well as “follow.”
The word “acolyte” is derived from akoloutheō. An acolyte is an assistant or attendant. Several Christian denominations, such as the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox churches, the Lutheran church and others, have assistants called acolytes. Acolytes perform rituals in religious services which may include lighting candles, carrying crosses, swinging censers and ringing bells. However meaningful people may find these rituals, we can safely assume that Jesus did not have these activities in mind when he said, “Come follow/ accompany me.”
If we understand that akoloutheō can have the meanings of “accompany” and “assist,” as well as “follow”, we can see that when Jesus was calling people to follow him he wasn’t just saying “tag along.”
Jesus didn’t want people to just listen and believe in him from a distance. He was inviting people to come close, to join him and join in, and help him with his mission. He wanted people to be vitally engaged with him in both learning and doing the work of the gospel.
He taught and trained his disciples. He sent them out on missions, and he wanted them to continue his work after his ascension and to take the gospel into new territory.
Jesus is still inviting people to be his disciples and to personally join him, learn from him, and help him in gospel ministry. There is nothing passive about being a true follower of Jesus Christ.
 Verses where Jesus invites people to follow him with the word akoloutheō: Matthew 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 10:38, 16:24, 19:21 (19:28); Mark 1:17, 2:14, 8:34, 10:21; Luke 5:27, 9:23, 59, 61; 14:27, 18:22; John 1:43, 8:12, 10:27, 12:26, 21:19, 22. Every occurrence of akoloutheō in the Greek New Testament can be viewed here. Occasionally, there is a preposition meaning “behind” or “after” in these verses.
 Strong’s Concordance (first published in 1890) is not always completely accurate. Strong’s was written shortly before the discovery of numerous Greek papyri in Egypt (and elsewhere) in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century that helped to give us a better understand the Greek of the New Testament.
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