Monday, June 15, 2009

Hero Boycott

I don't like copy-cats. "Get a life," I might think, "and call me when you've got one."

A few years ago I was at a leadership seminar near Denver, Colorado. One of the leaders of the leaders was leading one of the sessions, when he said, "If you're going to lead your people, you've got to model for them. Modeling is so important! They've got to see you doing it before they will do it themselves. They need to copy you, and that's how leaders lead."

Did you follow all that?

Raising my hand during Q&A, I asked, "If what you, the leader, is most concerned about is that people are watching your leadership style, so you'd better do it right so they can copy you, doesn't that make you very self-centered? And doesn't that teach people to copy you, rather than assist them toward transformation, one of the high goals of Christian life? Doesn't that make ministry about copying, rather than about the Holy Spirit's ability to live in us and through us, making of us what He wants? The way I see it, that kind of leadership sets people up to be your groupies, not the people you serve so that they may grow in Christ. It seems to make the whole thing, well, fake; a put-on, rather than who we really are."

If one were to gauge the acceptance of my remarks by the look on the leader's face and the discussion that followed, I failed utterly. Except with one youth leader, who shot me a look of, "Oh Lord! I agree!" Thinking back on it, I'm not certain my line of reasoning was appropriate for the occasion. I might have been wrong to have brought it up. . .maybe. However, I was becoming weary of hearing how ministry is about copying the most successful, 'duplicatable', user-friendly method available, and about modeling and teaching others to do the same. After all, I reasoned, why would you need to know God for that? Further, wouldn't that cheat those around you from knowing Him, too?

Yes, it would. And it does.

Look, I don't mean to say that we shouldn't have mentors and heroes and leaders we admire and such. But if those leaders teach us to copy their style of ministry or their style of leadership, and that's the sum and substance of what we get from them—choose another. Leaders who tell you and show you how to know God and how to let Him do what He wants with you are the ones we must choose. That's what makes life genuine, and not an external put-on or a show-off.

It's all about transformation, not imitation. The former is what God is now doing with you and me. It's what's now most natural and invigorating because it has to do with life—His life, real life for which you were designed.

Anything less is a distraction.


  1. Anonymous2:54 PM

    I've often thought this. Thanks for putting "on paper (screen)" what I've thought for years.

  2. Anonymous12:59 PM

    You ROCK. Can I copy you?

  3. Anonymous1:00 PM

    This is pretty shaky, I'm afraid. Μιμηταί - 1 Cor. 4:16 & 11:1 - "to use as a model, imitate, emulate. "Imitate" (Eng.) is from the Latin imitatio - imitation; pretence. Of the 11 times I've noted its use in the NT, 9 times the directive is to copy or imitate another person's example and only one time is the directive to imitate God (Eph. 5:1). The principle of transformation is central to the gospel (e.g. Rom. 12:2) with the use of μεταμορφοῦσθε (fm. the root of which we get the word metamorphosis); but you're conflating two entirely different concepts, imitation & transformation. The first speaks towards praxis (one vital tool in the discipler/disciple relationship), and the other speaks toward result; i.e. (partial) cause & effect. I would suggest that the problem you note has less to do with either the principle of model and imitation, than with flawed spiritual formation & character issues in the so-called "leaders" with whom you've interacted. Would love to talk more!

  4. Anonymous1:00 PM

    Ralph, Good words and very true. I wonder if our leaders lead us even if we don't know we're being led - sort of like osmosis or something?

  5. Anonymous1:01 PM

    Right on target. (I want to follow you in what you said, ha).

  6. Anonymous1:01 PM

    I understand where Mike is coming from (see his comment) but I think Ralph's observation is valid. The sad truth is that we are all born originals and most of us die copies; cheap imitations. We are supposed to make disciples not clones.

    I am no Greek scholar but I think that I am right in saying that the word that Paul uses in 1 Cor 4:16 and the other passages quoted is Mimetes which means to follow and that seems to me to convey the spirit of what Ap Paul was pointing us to. Whilst I don't doubt that one could translate the word mimetes/to follow as imitate but if we did we would have to accept that to us moderns 'imitate' means to pretend to be; do an impression of and of course we all know that was the farthest thing from the Apostle's mind.

    Authentic mentoring, (which incidentally is very definitely about modeling beliefs, attitudes, values to a protege) the kind that the Ap. Paul speaks of is not about imitating his actions (external) but participating (internal) in the same.

  7. Anonymous1:01 PM

    Again, two notions (imitate/copy & transformation) are being conflated. In Ralph's article the good & essential notion of imitation (see, attend to, mimic the good example set for you) is reduced to imitation as vanity & inauthenticity. The good is thrown out with the bad. Biblically, imitation is a vital part of the transformational process. This was an educational cornerstone in the Mediterranean world of antiquity, and is still the heart of good education today.
    Evangelicalism always has its current buzzwords, the new always getting traction with the "we'll do it right this time" attitude toward the old; and transformation has certainly been been faddish this last 10 years or so. It is, of course, a very old notion: Must we continue to run with scissors in our hands? Why let a good word, and even better idea, suffer from our bad and inattentive examples? The problem isn't the word; the problem is our choice of leaders. Transformation is impossible without imitation.

  8. Anonymous1:02 PM

    You are right on! It sure takes the pressure off of the leaders!

  9. Anonymous1:02 PM

    I'm thinking there are 2 kinds of pride. Or maybe there is just one and it's multi-headed like a hydra. There is arrogant, boastful follow me-ness and then there is false humility or self-deprecating don't follow me-ness. I HOPE there are some people around who don't fall into either of those categories. I HOPE there are some people that lead by new-creation nature somehow and have a good influence on those around them. I HOPE there are some people that when they walk by or speak we sense Jesus. Surely there are a some. And how do we discern/recognise the leaders? I guess it'd take a miracle.

  10. Anonymous6:33 PM

    I agree about imitation!!! I know this from my own experiences and failures.