A criticial ingredient for imitation
Effective discipleship or apprenticeship requires both information and imitation. That is why plumbers and surgeons attend classes as well as spend time working with experienced plumbers and surgeons. Too often in discipling Christians we have just relied on conveying information and omitted imitation. But how do we do imitation?
In Acts Chapter 9 there are 2 great examples of imitation which can help us understand a critical ingredient for imitation to occur.
It is great to compare the actions of Peter with the actions of Jesus - the person he imitated:
32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. 34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. 35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”
39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.
49 While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.”
50 Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”
51 When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52 Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.”
53 They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” 55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.
Peter clearly imitated Jesus. However he could only do that because he got close enough to Jesus to see an imitatable example. Jesus allowed him to be close to him as he went about his life. Jesus wasn't even directly involving Peter in what he was doing, he was just allowing him to be a close observer. Peter may not have even thought much about the need to copy what he experienced with the paralyzed man or at Jarius's house, but when he got to Lydda and the room with Tabitha, his previous experiences probably came flooding back.
So effective imitation requires closeness. If all I see of a minister is how they preach a sermon from the platform I might be able to imitate their preaching style but that is of no help in the nitty gritty of everyday life - the fine details, the things that are more caught than taught, the tips that never make it into sermons or books. By observing at a distance I might be able to mimic their speaking style but without closeness, I could never really imitate their life.
So as we are discipling people we need to think how are we allowing people to be close to us so they can observe us and then in appropriate ways imitate us. Now we can't give lots of people that sort of access to our lives, it just isn't possible. So again we can learn from Jesus (Luke 6:12-13) and pray about the smaller number of people we should invite to have closer access to our lives during any particular season. For Jesus it was 12 and within those 12 a smaller group of 3. Then we should think about how to include them in our lives: inviting them to come along to activities that we were planning to do anyway - a shopping trip, a walk in the park, a birthday party, or a meal with neighbours.
Sometimes you can be intentional and include a person in an activity so that they will get to see how you do it. But on other occasions you will find that opportunities for imitation present themselves in unplanned ways.
photo credit: Child. Man. Horse. Walking in Step. via photopin (license)