1 Corinthians 4:16-17, “I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.”
While discipleship involves following Jesus directly, it also involves choosing someone further along and mature in the faith to follow as well.
I have wonderful parents – gentle, patient, hard-working. They modeled many good qualities for me. But in my teen years, I felt a bit unconnected from them and needed a role model – enter Brad Chase. Brad was my church’s youth pastor and he became my father in the Lord. He had strengths that my parents did not have and a passion for Jesus that was infectious. He became my friend, my confidant, my mentor and, as I grew older, my partner in youth ministry. I learned from what he taught me, but most notably I learned from what he showed me.
Discipleship is about following Jesus, who is now invisible. While God values faith (trusting in the unseen), he also recognizes our need to learn by seeing. In his grace, God provides role models, mentors and teachers. People whose lives reflect what the Christian life ought to be, so that we can imprint our own lives on theirs. This is the primary role of pastors and other church leaders, to be examples for others to follow.
“In everything set them an example by doing what is good.”
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care…not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
These are instructions of those who took instruction directly from Jesus, who was the ultimate example for his flock. If we seek to follow Jesus, then we must seek to follow those who are following Jesus. I once did a trust walk in the pitch black through the forest with my fellow camp counselors. All I had to follow was the white shoes, dimly lit up in the dark, of the person in front of me. I had to follow her as she followed the person in front of her and so on. So has the Christian faith been passed down from generation to generation, by one following the lead of the generation before. This becomes our responsibility then, to follow someone who is following Jesus so that those who follow us will also follow Him.
At a minimum, as a disciple of Jesus, find a role model, someone who sets an example from a distance and model your life after their life. Even better, find a mentor, someone with whom you can have a closer relationship, who can be a direct encouragement to you and who you can submit to out of reverence for the Lord. It is in these relationships that discipleship comes alive for, “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”