My wife returned from the Philippines this past week after six weeks. Nowadays we're blessed with the ability to communicate through Skype (when internet connection is sufficient), email, and texting. But it's great to have her home and by my side! We've been partners in life and ministry for forty years. An element of our partnership is the agreement that I'm the spokesperson, the public persona of our relationship and ministry together. Adjustments have come over the years to how we relate to each other and even our roles at home. This was more apparent than ever while she was gone these past few weeks (overseeing our ministry in the Philippines). As I faced certain situations at home or with the family I often wondered, "What would Susan do?" And even asked my daughters when faced with domestic duties, "What does Mom do with...?"
Not long ago I wrote a post titled "WDJD?" related to the Christian WWJD fad a while back, and based on the classic book, "In His Steps" by Ptr Charles Sheldon. If you haven't read the book, I highly recommend it. Recently, as I read through 1 Corinthians, I came across Paul's admonition, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." (1 Cor 11:1) Sadly, this verse has been misconstrued and misunderstood by many, and has brought abuse and outright rejection of spiritual authority.
During the 70's, a controversial (and divisive) style of ministry flourished that took this idea of imitation to an extreme. It was termed "the Shepherding Movement." It was very authoritarian and emphasized submission of every believer to an elder—a shepherd—in everything. This movement distorted spiritual leadership into a pyramidal form of petty authoritarianism.
Some of the teaching instructed believers to seek counsel on all decisions in life—job changes, marriage, buying and selling, and so forth. It got pretty ridiculous leaving many believers and families confused and abandoned as "damaged goods." I had some personal encounters with it, seeing its devastating effects on people firsthand.
So what did Paul mean saying, "Be imitators of me?" He was personalizing what Jesus said to His own followers, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matt 16:24 / Mark 8:34 / Luke 9:23) This is more than a Christian platitude, it is the Lord's basic call of discipleship for all believers. The question is—How is this supposed to work? How do we follow Jesus?
This is the heart of discipleship—intentional, relational discipleship—what Jesus did. It is also the responsibility of leaders, and it's what helps make Christian communities (churches) healthy environments for all believers, just as in the early church (Acts 2:42-46).
While Susan was away and I faced some domestic dilemma, like how to cook something, I found myself asking "How does Susan do this?" I looked to a familiar, personal example. This is what Paul was encouraging the Corinthian believers to do. This is the responsibility of every believer in some sense.
But, what if my example (the one I'm following) uses poor judgment, loses their cool, or some other life action lacks spiritual inspiration or integrity? The key is "as I am of Christ," or follow me as my example matches what you see in Jesus. Whether you are an example for others (and you are for someone!) or you're following someone's example, the key is modeling the heart and character of Jesus.
How do we know what His heart and character are like? Read (or listen to) the Gospels. As Jesus said to the hyper-religious spiritual leaders, "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me...." (John 5:39)
Whose example do you look to? Who looks to you as an example? The more we learn of Jesus, the truer discipleship becomes. Whether we are leading or following, we always focus on Jesus.