He was a few years older than me, and he had a car: an old beat-up Honda Civic. When he asked to spend time with me, I didn’t hesitate. Of course I’d spend time with someone ahead of me, someone who wanted to invest in me!
Looking back, my friend was still young and immature himself. But that didn’t matter. He was further along than I was. His investment in my life came at just the right time and helped to shape who I am today.
The Bible gives us the pattern for discipleship. “I urge you, then, be imitators of me,” Paul writes (1 Corinthians 4:16).
This sounds egotistical. Can we really ask people to imitate us? Yes, as long as we’re imitating Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). After all, we all learn by example. We learned from our parents, and we need spiritual parents as well who can model what it looks like to live the Christian life.
“For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers,” Paul says (1 Corinthians 4:15). A guide gives advice. Guides fill a role, but they’re not parents. According to Paul, we need people who love us like parents, who enter into our lives, and show us by example how to live.
My friend did that for me. He didn’t just give advice. He listened to me. He invested in me. He gave me advice when I asked for it, but mostly he let me watch his life. He gave me a pattern to follow. He modeled what it’s like to follow Jesus so that I could learn to do the same.
An Urgent Call
Most of us think we’re not ready to be imitated. We don’t need to be miles ahead of others, though. We just need to be a little ahead, and to invite others to follow us as we follow Jesus.
Generally speaking, people have enough guides. What most people need is for someone to serve as an example.
One of the best gifts we can give another person is to invite them into our lives so they can see how we imperfectly follow Jesus. We don’t need to be perfect. We just need to be one step ahead.
When you do this, don’t hide your mistakes. Allow people to see where you’re still learning and where you fail.
People can’t copy your personality, and they shouldn’t copy your flaws. They can, however, copy the one thing that matters most: that you run hard after God, and invite them to join you.
Ask people to follow you. That’s not proud; it’s biblical. Show them your faults. Invite them into your life. Talk about how you are learning to apply the gospel. Share how God is changing your desires, and share your struggles too. Reflect with them about the ways that God is growing you. Let them see the habits you’ve already built and the ones you’re still developing. Show them how to suffer, and aim to one day show them how to die. Don’t be content with your own growth. Share your life so that others follow Christ because they’re following you.
We don’t need you to be perfect. We just need you to allow us to follow you as you follow Jesus. It’s a strategy that’s simple and effective. The results will ripple through generations. Do this for a long period of time and you’ll probably never be famous, but your life will matter for eternity. (from How to Grow: Applying the Gospel to ALL of Life)