I am at West Coast Grace Youth Camp, teaching in a college program intended to help people become comfortable with camp ministry. I started by discussing the somewhat obvious fact that the cam counsellor is a model of the faith to younger campers. This is my conclusion from this morning’s session.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6 Paul praises his readers because they have become imitators of both Paul and the Lord. Imitation of a model was considered to be a form of flattery in the the Roman world, so it is not surprising that Paul would expect his disciples to imitate him. While most people in contemporary culture would be put off by a teacher offering himself as a model of spirituality to be imitated, this was a normal practice in Paul’s day.
Imitation is important because we are command several times in scripture to imitate a model. Paul praises a church for imitating him in 1 Thess 1:3-5 and in Phil 3:10 he presses on toward the goal of Christ-likeness. The very name “Christian” implies that the follower of Jesus are to be “little Christs.”
Understanding imitation is also important because most people imitate some role model anyway. It is natural for humans to gravitate toward someone they respect and imitate they way they speak or the way they act. Think about someone from the “north” who spends a little time in the “south.” Most people start to pick up the accent, even if they do not notice t until they return home and everyone hears the accent. (You can use whatever country you like here, every part of the world has a South with different accents!)
I think that humans are imitators by nature. Children imitate their parents or older brothers and sisters. Kids imitate their favorite sports stars when the play a sport, Musicians often betray an “influence” (how many “new Bob Dylans” have their been?) If we naturally imitate others, we have to make sue that we are imitating the right model. I think that imitation should be intentional. People ought to choose a proper model and use them as a guide to developing their spiritual life. We do this for learning and instrument or perfecting a sport – why is it that we try and be total individualists when it comes to developing spiritual life?
A third reason that imitation is important is that Christians are also constantly modeling their faith to others. People watch and learn whether you like it or not. This too is a biblical model for discipleship. The disciples of Jesus were to be models for later disciples, Paul appointed Timothy and Titus and expected them to model their fait to the churches where the served. So too then the individual Christian imitates a mature role model and then model their faith to others. This chain of model and imitation creates a chain of tradition, which can be good or bad.
The challenge is to be a model worth following.