The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi, “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do” (Philippians 3:17).
What would it take to live a life that would prompt you to invite others to follow your example?
It’s not going to happen by chance. You’ll want to choose to pursue a life worthy of imitation. You’ll need to be about the Lord’s business every day in every part of your life. And your eyes will need to be attuned to seeing the people who are right in front of you and need guidance.
Paul made the tough choice to stop pursuing self-righteousness and begin pursuing a personal knowledge of Christ (vv. 1-14). By following the model of Christ’s heart, he became a model for others.
The first step toward becoming an example is to intentionally focus your study and meditation on knowing the heart of God. Move beyond reading for emotional inspiration or sharpening your doctrinal weapons. Specialize in discovering what the Lord loves, what he hates, and what his priorities are.
Second, intentionally imitate the model of Jesus’ prayer life. Carve out times for private prayer and make them part of your daily schedule.
In your prayers, focus on asking, seeking, and knocking (Matthew 7:7, 8).
Prayer should be more than asking for what you want. Ask instead what God wants. Take what you’ve learned in your Scripture reading and ask how to put it into practice in your daily life.
Seek the heart of God in your prayers. Talk with him about the differences between what he cares most about and what you care about. Seek to find his laws that are written on your heart (Romans 2:15; Hebrews 10:16).
Take Jesus up on his invitation to knock on the door into his inner circle. Use creativity and imagination in your prayer time. Picture yourself walking with Jesus alongside the twelve, carrying on conversations along the way. Grow in intimacy with him and become the disciple whom Jesus loves.
Intentionally becoming a man or woman after God’s own heart will transform you into the type of person who naturally models a life worth imitating.
From my childhood until the day he died, Roy Weece was the model of who I wanted to be when I grew up. I admired his posture, his voice, his speaking style, and his snowy white hair. I never did manage to fully imitate any of those characteristics (especially not the hair).
Instead I cherished every opportunity to imitate his example of spiritual depth, which he developed through his steadfast dedication to studying, knowing, and emulating God’s heart. And I hope others have benefited by following my example as I did from him.
If you want to disciple others by example, intentionally follow the example of Christ and of the people who have modeled his character in your life.
A key part of intentional modeling is training for intentional ministry. Train your eyes to be like Christ’s, constantly seeing people who need your love. Train your lips to become like his also, seizing every opportunity to share the good news.
If you’re uncomfortable or inexperienced in ministry, find someone whose example you can follow. Walk alongside them as they serve. Work with them and learn from them.
Then step out in faith and be active in your own ministries. Stretch yourself and become the kind of active servant your mentors are.
Where do you find people who need your help? Wherever you are.
If you’ve never seen a young mother struggling with a tight budget and cranky children at your local store, it’s because you’re not paying attention. Or maybe you see them but you’re too busy judging them for not controlling their children.
Instead, learn to see the need. Go to the market to intentionally seek out people in need. Keep your own shopping list short, but add to it a ministry list: tearful moms; tired and bewildered seniors; befuddled male shoppers; foreigners; outcasts being judged and avoided by others.
See them. Ask them if they need help. Answer their questions. Help them unload their shopping cart at the checkout. Distract their children. Let them know you care. Invite them to get a cup of coffee. Tell them why you care. Invite them to church. Invite them into your life.
Do the same thing at your workplace and at the burger place, at school activities and sporting events.
The final step in becoming intentional in ministry is not only to set an example of constantly being on mission, but to take people along with you when you’re following in the caring footsteps of Christ. Give someone else the opportunity to learn ministry from you, just as you learned from your mentors and from Christ.
When you’re with Christian friends, don’t hesitate to interrupt your fellowship by responding to the needs of strangers who happen by. The best thing you can do for the people you know is to let them see how important it is to keep their eyes open for the needs of people outside your group.
Jesus’ disciples and his methods were both intentionally chosen.
He didn’t set up a search committee to recruit disciples. He found followers by doing and saying things that caught the attention of people who were looking for a better way to live out their faith. And then he simply invited them to follow.
From among the dozens of followers and scores of curiosity seekers, he gradually focused on 12, an even dozen with nothing going for them except a willingness to follow his example.
From among the 12, Peter, James, and John became his inner circle. They weren’t necessarily the most spiritual or the ones who caught on the quickest. Perhaps they were simply the ones most eager to learn, the three who had the most questions. Or the ones that the others most naturally followed.
Who are your 12? Choose those people and intentionally mentor them. Don’t force yourself on them like a helicopter parent. Challenge them to walk alongside you.
The best way to collect your dozen is to start or become part of a small group, a life group, or whatever your church calls them. Whether or not you’re the official leader of the group, take it upon yourself to get to know each person as closely as possible. Invite them to be a part of your life and hug yourself into their lives.
From among that dozen or so who are closest to you, keep your eyes open for the two or three who seem most interested in growing their faith. Which ones ask the most questions, express their need for guidance, and are willing to spend time with you and follow your example?
Don’t force yourself on them. Don’t be a nag. Just work toward intertwining your lives enough so that mentoring happens naturally.
Teach them to seek the heart of God with you. Invite them to do the work of God alongside you.
Disciple them by example.
T. R. Robertson is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Missouri.