I was watching the Verge conference when one of the speakers reminded us that discipleship was more about imitation than information. She explained that we in western culture tend to view discipleship as passing down information to a disciple instead of modeling our lives. The art of discipleship according to Jesus was living, eating, and ministering together, not just passing along information.
Today we default to sharing information because it is much easier to teach a Bible study than to take the time to model the life that you want your disciple to emulate. And when we do imitate our mentors, the things we end up copying are usually not the most important characteristics of a believer. Instead of learning the daily routines of spiritual disciplines and reproducing the idea of service and dying to self, we mimic the outward appearances. We think we are modeling by learning the motions in worship, how to "speak" the language of a true believer and how to look like one. You find yourself surrounded by others who dress alike, worship, speak, pray and preach the same way. We feel comfortable in these surroundings but is this really the way it should be, the means to grow in Christ?
Didn't Jesus teach that it was not about the outward appearance but about the heart? Yet, as humans we so often imitate the wrong things, defaulting to the conduct and not the essence of the life of a believer. Focusing on the outward appearances takes our eyes off of the real stuff of the life of a follower of Christ and on to actions that should not necessarily be copied.
You see this occur in churches that become cookie-cutter images of other churches. Pastors preach exactly like the pastors of the church they grew up in or the ones they have watched on TV. They have the same accent, the same mannerisms, and often the same sermons. For years the church taught that if you didn't worship our way, look a certain way, worship this way, you weren't a real Christian.
Yet, shouldn't your setting, culture, abilities and unique calling as a believer, pastor or church determine your style and strategy. What you should be reproducing is your foundational theology, values, spiritual disciplines and the heart of how you live and go about the ministry. The form of how we do ministry should not be confined to just how we've always done it in the past. The Apostle Paul said "I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some." We need sound theology wrapped in new ideas and ways to reach people based on the culture of those we seek to reach. We don't need cookie cutter churches and Christians who look and sound alike and hang out only with people who look just like them.
One of the pastors that I am coaching had an "aha" moment when he realized that the model he was trying to follow taught by his church planting organization wouldn't work in the inner city where he was planting. He had become frustrated trying to follow a model that is great for a church plant in the suburbs where there are a lot of new homeowners and affluent believers looking for a church but doesn't fit so well when you plant in the inner city and reach mostly unbelievers. He realized that his context required a unique strategy and he was "freed" to be different. He could take away basic principles but didn't have to follow the exact form.
We often can limit our own potential when we compare ourselves with others and try to emulate the wrong characteristics. Whether you are a believer searching for your God-given calling, or a pastor seeking to find God's direction for your church, seek to be unique. Draw from others the more meaningful things but also develop your own style.
- What aspects of the life of your mentor do you imitate?
- Is your life worth imitating, the true and important things?
- What exactly is it that you are passing on to your disciples?
- Do you feel free to be different as a Christian in the way you dress, worship and minister or do you feel bound by a standard imposed by the church or by other Christians?