In my last blog I explained that discipleship is a life-long process.
In this blog I want to consider one of the key tools that I see used in the New Testament that I think is underused in our modern church approach to discipleship.
Often our modern approach has been to give people information—lots of information. We invite them to Bible studies and train them in sound doctrine. We give them lots of great information about God, about the Bible and even tell them how Christians should live. Now, these are important and valuable things to do. It’s just not the primary way Jesus made disciples.
Although Jesus did teach His disciples, much more importantly He modeled something for them to imitate. He modeled a Kingdom-centered lifestyle, a relationship with God and a mission for them to imitate. Remember in my earlier blog how we likened a disciple to an apprentice? (Read that blog here.) You don’t graduate from an apprenticeship by just reading a book. You learn alongside someone who can already do what you are being trained to do.
What we need in the Church today are people who look enough like Jesus inwardly and outwardly so that others can actually imitate them. That means having accessible role models. Paul sent Timothy to the church at Corinth, precisely for the reason of giving them someone to imitate. Paul was imitating Jesus; Timothy was imitating Paul; now he asks the Corinthians to imitate Timothy. Ultimately, they are imitating the Christlikeness they see embodied in Paul and Timothy. Now, it’s clear that Timothy was charged with teaching sound doctrine, so clearly that is part of what Timothy did, but that cannot be our only strategy. People need to see our transformed lives (and our struggles!).
One reason we are uncomfortable about doing this is perhaps because many of us don’t think we look enough like Jesus to ask someone else to imitate us. Mike Breen (the global apostolic leader of 3DMovements and author of Leading Kingdom Movements) writes, “You don’t need to be a perfect example. You just need to be a living example.” Imitation is a major dynamic in the New Testament approach to making disciples.
My fellow countrywoman Jo Saxton says it this way: “You can’t be what you can’t see!” (Click here to hear Jo Saxton speaking on imitation.) That means we are going to need to let people get close enough to us to see how we are imitating Jesus in our own lives. This proximity in relationships is one of the reasons why the vocabulary that the Apostle Paul most often uses in his letters to describe discipleship is the language of family. He describes spiritual fathers, spiritual sons and brothers and sisters (1 Cor. 4:14-17 is a great example of this).
Just as most children learn from imitating their parents, they will mature to become unique adults. Ultimately, imitation in discipleship is not about cloning. Instead, it equips us to be able to discern for ourselves how the Holy Spirit wants to use us in keeping with our unique identity in Christ.
In my final blog in this series, I will share two simple questions that I have learned that have significantly transformed my own discipleship and approach to discipling others.
In the meantime, who do you know and have access to that is enough of a living example of Jesus for you to begin to imitate? Who might be a spiritual father or mother to you? Do you give people enough access to your life for them to imitate the Jesus they see in you?