Are you willing to say, along with the apostle Paul, “Imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1)?
Contemplating my own life message, I’m tempted to add an asterisk to that verse, leading to some small print with a disclaimer: *Certain exclusions apply. Imitate some of what you see in Dan, but not everything!
It gets more convicting when I think of the verse in the negative. Should I say to a new disciple, or even to my whole congregation, “Hold on! Don’t imitate me, since I don’t really imitate Christ”?
Paul wrote about this dynamic in other places as well, encouraging Timothy and others he was training to carry on the lifestyle he was modeling. When writing about being productive, he said, “You know that you ought to imitate us” (2 Thess. 3:7).
The two problems I keep running into regarding this are, first, I don’t feel worthy of being followed, and second, I don’t have time to get that close to people!
My sense is that in church culture (at least in North America), we’ve placed such a premium on preaching and teaching that it’s possible to neglect the central part of discipleship, which is lifestyle imitation. And although appropriate humility would never allow us to claim full 100% mastery of the Jesus walk, it is false humility, and a dereliction of Christian duty, to casually wave off lifestyle imitation altogether.
If you are a follower of Jesus, people should imitate you. And if you are a pastor, a father, a mother, or in a position of any influence at all, people will imitate you, even if you don’t realize it. As they do, you should keep imitating Christ. It’s not an option reserved for top-level leaders, elite monks, or long-dead desert fathers; it’s a calling, a reality, and a vision for you. “Follow me as I follow Christ” is, in fact, another way of stating our Great Commission. Right?
I’m actually quite sure the Great Commission would survive without church organizations. People learning how to follow Jesus could still occur without doctrinal compacts, denominational meetings, expository preaching, youth groups, small groups, worship music, leadership conferences, theology textbooks, and even parachurch organizations like Life Action. In fact, you might even be able to make the case that disciples are multiplying faster in areas of the world that lack access to these amenities—which is a disturbing thought, isn’t it?
Maybe it has to do with focus—that when we aren’t tied up maintaining a discipleship system, we spend time making disciples instead? Or maybe there are aspects of discipleship that simply can’t be accomplished through sermons and group discussion questions—that require something more personal, more daily, more “watch this” rather than “hear this”?
We’ve tended to define Christian engagement as participation in church activities rather than in developing the character qualities of Jesus and mimicking His approach to life. The support systems we’ve erected might actually be holding us back!
I’m not suggesting we abandon those systems—at least not yet. But we can’t let them become our mission; we can’t let the means become the end. We can’t let our involvement in so many Christian things become our excuse for not doing the thing Christ actually did.
So the challenge is before us: to live and model the way of Jesus, to cultivate a life message worth sharing with others, and then to intentionally share it.
Somewhere nearby to you, right now, there is a person who needs to take his or her next steps of faith. They need someone like you to invite them into something intentional—call it mentoring, call it apprenticing, call it friendship, call it lunch, call it hanging out, call it serving together, call it career coaching, call it whatever works in your context. The point is that the person doesn’t just need words; they need you. They don’t only need to hear something, they need to see something—your life message.
Perhaps it begins here: “My life has been transformed by Jesus, and He’s changing me from the inside out as I follow Him. Follow me, and I’ll show you what I’ve learned so far!”
Dan Jarvis is the Managing Editor of Revive magazine.