One of the greatest influences in my life is my friend Mac. If I weren’t a Christian I would say our meeting was coincidence, maybe even serendipity. But I know better than that. I had just heard him lead worship for our church in Urbana, and I was really impressed. He managed to pull an oldie out that I have loved for years and hadn’t sung recently. I was shocked because later that week he came bouncing out of the garage at my mechanic’s shop.
“Is this your Vineyard mug?”
It had been sitting in my cup holder, and when he was working on my car he had seen it.
“Yeah, man.” Recognition starting, “Didn’t you just lead worship in Urbana?”
Over the next few months we got together regularly. We were fast friends. He was funny and bold. He was personable and gregarious. He was dorky and really loved people. Being the self-conscious introverted type, he balanced me and challenged me to reach for more of God’s Kingdom and really be Jesus’s church.
It’s funny (both haha and curious) that God would choose someone so radically different from me to show me who Jesus is. I had never pictured myself with the big guy. I always gravitated to the nerdy types, but God used Mac to introduce me to more of Jesus. Being friends with Mac has made me a better leader. It has made me a better friend and husband. It has made me a better businessman. But more than any of those things, it has made me a better follower of Christ.
I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the Philippians.
17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us…20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
The essence of discipling other followers of Christ is to pull them along and say, “You might not have seen Christ before or not enough. Come and hang with me. Let me show you how to follow him.” That’s the beauty of having a leader who actively disciples you. When you put your trust and faith in a Christian leader, you’re actively putting faith in their ability to re-present Jesus. They are reflecting him.
It’s actually a little shocking for Paul to have told them to imitate him. Why not tell them to imitate Christ? Paul says as much to the Corinthians to be imitators of him as he is of Christ. The letter to the Hebrews tells us to keep from being sluggish and imitate those who are faithful to Christ and inherit his promises.
So here we have it, the model of discipleship. We try to imitate Christ, but the best way to do it is to watch those who love him and follow him. Sure you can read the Gospels and pray, but the best way to see Christ is to witness his representatives in action. It’s really the same thing Jesus said to his first disciples.
“You’ve never seen the God of the universe for yourself. I have. He sent me. So when you’ve seen me, now you can say you’ve seen God.”
If we follow this out then, in order to know God and love God, we must know and love Jesus. In order to do that we must put ourselves under the leadership of Jesus’s faithful followers, people that know and love him. Then we ourselves will know and love him because we’re watching it with our own eyes, in the lives of our teachers.
So how do others come to know God? You guessed it – by seeing Jesus through you. That’s why we’re called witnesses. And not merely witnesses, but accomplices, coconspirators. We’re sheep and we smell like our shepherd, and when we reflect Jesus back to the world, they come to know him and love him just like we do.
Not everyone who calls herself a follower of Christ is a very good representation. I’m sure you’ve had some leaders or know of some that were poor reflections. Maybe you’ve been betrayed by Christian leaders or you’re cynical and refuse to give anyone authority over you. I’m sorry for your hurt, friend. To be betrayed by people claiming to be Jesus’s followers is a hurt like no other. It wounds our souls. But there are godly leaders out there. I’ve served under several.
If you’re serious about being a disciple of Jesus, here are 3 things you need to do:
- Find a godly leader – you cannot hope to become an imitator of Christ if you cannot imitate one of his followers. To submit yourself to authority is the mark of Christian. What kind of Christian says they don’t submit to anyone? The answer is, none, because you cannot be a Christian who does not submit. To be under Christ is to submit to his right to rule your life. He’s a gracious and loving King who will never let you down. So find one of his stewards or emissaries and put yourself under his or her leadership for a season.
- Become a citizen of heaven – when you put yourself under Christ and under a godly leader’s authority you are saying you want to live like they do. You want to be immersed in the culture of Christ. Pretend you’re learning a new language. What’s the easiest way? Not Duolingo. Not Rosetta Stone. You go live there and force yourself to speak the language with the natives. Now Christianity isn’t a language of the mouth. It’s a citizenship and way of life in heaven. It’s a transformed past, present and future. It’s immersion in a world beyond our earthly experiences.
- Be transformed – our old ways of living, habits, thoughts, words, actions, attitudes, beliefs and possessions become oriented toward Christ. All the old ways of our lives before Jesus die and we get a new life where we have full rights as sons and daughters. It’s not just new citizenship. You have been adopted. You were wasting away in another country and your Dad swooped in and claimed you. Now you’re a prince, a child of the King, and all the brokenness and loneliness from before is gone. When you put yourself under the Lord, you’re allowing him to transform your life from alien to child. The act of salvation truly is the greatest miracle.
Wherever you are on your journey with the Lord, find a leader. It can be a pastor, an author, a friend or (as I would recommend) as many as you can get of each. We all need someone to imitate.
Today is Mac’s birthday, and I am so grateful for his example of Jesus in my life. I choose to imitate him even as he imitates Christ. Is he perfect? Nope. But he smells a whole lot like the Shepherd.