Do you remember playing Follow the Leader? Do you recall the squabbles over who got to lead? Most everyone wanted to set the pace and be the example at some point. I’m intrigued by how that changes over time.
Have you ever considered how the growth and maturity of the church depends on us continuing to play Follow the Leader?
Let’s examine this from a New Testament perspective, starting near its chronological end.
In II Timothy 3:10-11, one of Paul’s last letters, the apostle writes to his protégé: “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.”
Paul is inviting a younger believer to recall a life lived in full view. The faith is not private, nor is the idea of declaring one’s life exemplary thought odd. It seems, rather, to be expected. Paul has drawn Timothy near. The younger man has seen how the wizened apostle handled day-to-day life. He saw him respond to success and failure, abundance and poverty, sickness and health. And lest we think this is simply a study in leadership development, consider that Paul says something even more direct to those crazy Corinthians: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1).
This version of Follow the Leader is more than a first-century mentorship program. Keep in mind Paul is a second-generation disciple addressing a third-generation disciple. Paul had not been with Jesus like the other apostles, but he had been with Peter and the gang. Timothy was one step further removed. Clearly, a way of life deemed worthy of imitation was central to the life of the early Christians.
Let’s back up even further. Peter and John, who embraced Paul following his conversion, are arrested. Their oppo-nents are frustrated and want them to cease and desist ministry in Jesus’ name. They can’t do it. The colour commentary of this stalemate goes like this: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John, and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:12-13).
What is noted? They had been with Jesus. Which, of course, was Jesus’ plan all along. “Come follow me,” he had said in Matthew 4:19. Be with me in the temple, with your drinking buddies, at a wedding, in the face of opposition, and as I pray and handle the Scriptures. Be with me and become like me. And this becomes, essentially, what Paul ultimately says: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” This is discipleship’s modus operandi.
Which begs the question: Whom have you asked to follow you lately? I wonder what might change in our church discussions and debates if this was our practice? Would it not raise the bar of our own discipleship? Might it not focus our ministries on who we are becoming, rather than on only what we are doing?
Phil Wagler lives in Surrey, B.C., and is thankful for those faithful saints across the country who invited him to follow them as they follow Christ.
—Posted Nov. 6, 2014