One day, almost by accident, I came across an amazing statement by the Apostle Paul. It startled me because it was so different from what I was used to hearing in church. This man, Paul, said: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) Paul seemed to be confident in his relationship with Jesus. Although he once referred to himself as “the worst of sinners,” he claimed to know what was required to follow Jesus and invited people to imitate his actions. Instantly I knew I needed exactly this: someone to imitate. Jesus was still the goal, but Paul was someone who did something more than simply point to the goal. He told the Corinthians: “Here. I’ll show you how.”
How many leaders in the church make such statements today? I suspect many people would consider Paul’s words boastful if they heard someone else say them. Yet this is exactly what Jesus instructed his followers in the Great Commission when he charged his disciples with making more disciples, and to “teach them to observe everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). We have a gospel that promotes forgiveness and exalts Jesus as Savior. We have biblical language that exalts Jesus as Lord. We do not, however, have much of an idea about how to make disciples who will actually become like Jesus.
In fact, many leaders consider discipleship to be secondary to preaching the Gospel. I have heard this kind of statement more than once from the pulpit: “When you get to heaven, God will only have two questions. ‘Do you know my Son?’ and, ‘How many did you bring with you?’ ” I would like to suggest that this concern for evangelism is sincere but misguided. Even for those whose hearts burn to win the lost, the proper response should be to follow Jesus’ instruction to make disciples.
Each of us should ask, “Is my life worthy of imitating?” This question is difficult to ask if we believe we cannot possibly live up to his example. It is doubly difficult to ask if we believe the idea no one else is qualified teach us how to live up to his example.
In the gospels Jesus’ message was the good news of the Kingdom of God, and his Kingdom method included making disciples. Just 15 verses into Mark’s gospel Jesus announced: “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) Immediately—in the next four verses—he called four men to come and follow him. The Kingdom proclamation and the command to come and follow cannot be separated. From the very earliest moments of his ministry, Jesus called men to follow him. It was the call of the Kingdom and it was his invitation into his school of ministry.
After Jesus finished his mission, the inspired record of the book of Acts shows nearly every believer doing ministry, that is, every believer was a leader, an example. Even as Acts depicts the rise of leaders within the church, it also reveals everyday believers doing the works of Jesus and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Acts contains stories of men like Stephen, Philip and Ananias chapter after chapter (Acts 7, 8 and 9), men who were not Apostles, men who were ordinary believers doing Kingdom works. The growing church needed leaders, to be sure, but it appears the Scripture does not set apart ministry as an activity reserved only for leaders. When did ministry become a task exclusive to leaders, and more importantly, why have leaders quit inviting people to follow their example?