“They are really listening and watching.”
The anxiety ratchets up. The heart beats faster. This isn’t excitement. This is fear.
One of the scariest parts of ministry to me is not the times when people ignore me and discount my words. Far more frightening are the moments when I realize people are watching me and listening to me because they believe that by being like me, they will become more like Jesus.
Here are some thoughts about imitation:
1. Imitation is expected. The writer of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 13:7 “Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Scriptural discipleship expects believers to imitate Christian leaders.
2. Imitation is unavoidable. Embrace it. The Apostle Paul called on himself as a model for Christian behavior, going as far as to point to himself and say “imitate me.” He did not run from being a model for imitation. He embraced it.
3. Imitation multiplies your best moments. The times when you are most alive and passionate will be the moments that are sticky and contagious for others. People who are passionate about worship will most likely multiply passionate worshippers. People who are passionate about sharing faith will most likely multiply evangelists. Leaders who are most excited about Bible study will most likely multiply Bible students.
4. Imitation breeds your worst traits. As contagious as your best moments are, your worst traits are downright pathogenic. The cracks in your character will give permission for others to take the easy outs and not grow and develop into the fully mature and healthy disciples God wants them to be. If you have a problem with authority, you will pass along harmful attitudes to those who look to you as a leader. They will mistrust parents, adults, elders, and other leaders. If you are morally permissive, those who follow your lead will most likely imitate your permissiveness. If you have an integrity issue, they will imitate your level of honesty and integrity.
A man who’s life I imitate said, “What you do in moderation they will do in excess.” This is especially true in student ministry.
Because Christian leadership is about not just giving a set of correct propositions but modeling a way of life, here are a few suggestions.
1. Know yourself. Know what makes you feel alive, and know your darkest moments. Don’t be content to simply admit you have an authority issue, but understand the root of that problem. Investigate your history. Understand your story. Answer the questions “Who am I?” and Why do I do what I do?” In the same way, know your strengths the best things about you. Knowing these things can help you be more intentional about what you pass along to others.
2. Imitate others. Find others who are healthy Christian leaders and learn from them. Take them to lunch. Ask all kinds of questions. Get in their homes and see how they treat their families. Watch them interact with their elders, church board, their staff, their friends. Make a commitment to learn from others and pick up on their best behaviors.
3. Imitate Christ. Pour yourself into the life of Jesus through the Gospels. Know the life and actions of Jesus as well as his teachings. Interrogate the example of Jesus and ask yourself what lies in the gap between Jesus’ attitudes and actions and your own attitudes and actions. Prayerfully explore how to imitate Jesus more fully.
Imitation is frightening when we realize others are following our examples. This is not accidental! This is God’s intention. Embrace it humbly and continue to be formed into the image of Christ.