Man is an imitative being. We naturally tend to mimic those whom we love and admire, and we all have our own set of heroes that we style ourselves after in various ways. Scripture does not condemn this tendency in itself, but it does require it to be directed toward the right exemplars.
Ultimately, Christians seek to imitate God (Eph 5:1) and to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29). Secondarily, Christians seek to imitate others inasmuch as they themselves imitate the Supreme Exemplar. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1), the Apostle Paul instructs. Elsewhere he broadens it out: “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil 3:17).
When one reads of the command to imitate other believers, one might immediately think of the extraordinary examples: David, the giant-slayer; Elijah with his chariot of fire; Paul, the death-defying missionary; Athanasius, the man against the world; Luther, the fiery reformer of grace; Spurgeon, the prince of preachers. These were all men of exceptional gifting whom God used in astonishing ways, and that they are all well worth imitating to varying degrees is beyond dispute. But we ought not only to think of the extraordinary saints.
The author of Hebrews directs us to look toward the well-known, famous heroes of the faith in chapter eleven, but later he commands: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb 13:7). Who were these men? We do not know. Their achievements were not lauded through the centuries of Christendom. Their names do not echo down university corridors. No dissertations are written on them; no quotes shared on social media. They were ordinary pastors—pastors who served the purpose of God in their generation, and fell asleep in the Lord. These are the sort of men the author of Hebrews commands us to imitate, as well as the others.
Current and aspiring pastors especially must take this to heart. Admire and imitate the well-known, great preachers and teachers of church history and the present, but also learn to consider and imitate the vast numbers of ordinary pastors faithfully serving Christ and his church, beginning with your own. (After that, consider reading a book like this.)
This is not a call to abandon your pursuit of greatness, but rather to redefine it. Greatness is not a matter of acquiring vast influence or obtaining notoriety—at least, not according to Jesus it isn’t (Matt 20:26). True greatness is faithful service offered to God through Christ. Such service is not without its fruit, though it is not the sort of fruit that many are looking for. The “outcome” of this way of life is not primarily registered in numbers or statistics but in faithfulness and holiness and in God's “well done.” In the end, God’s affirmation alone will echo down heaven’s eternal halls.
Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
- Matthew 25:23
* This article was first published on Through Him and for Him, and was re-published by the author’s permission.