In some circles, imitation may be considered a bad word. This is true even in Christian circles.
People want to fit in and so many surmise, what better way to fit in than to imitate those with whom I associate? The problem is, it doesn’t work—well.
Why? Because in most cases these same people [who want to fit it] fail to differentiate between imitation that is good and imitation that is evil. In other words, they take on both characteristics, and this imitation becomes detrimental to discipleship.
Paul uses the Greek word mimétés, translated imitate in English, to beckon us to imitate him as he imitates Christ. It is where we get the root word in the English word mimic. It means to follow a positive pattern set by a person worthy of emulation. Therefore, when Paul encourages us in 1 Corinthians 11:1 to be imitators of him, this is chiefly because he was an imitator of Christ. And who better to imitate?
In our first post in this series, we learned two ways in which small group leaders imitate Jesus as they commit to leading others as Jesus led his disciples. Here are two other ways leaders have the privilege of imitating Christ while advancing the kingdom of God through discipleship.
3. Jesus gave of his resources: his time. We can hardly go one day with complaining or listening to someone else complain about not having enough time—time for relaxation, time for a hobby, and even time for the most needful tasks. But Jesus seemed to always have time. He had time for the twelve disciples, and he had time for the three he kept even closer than the other nine. For every individual he encountered, Jesus had sufficient time. Not only did he have time, but he recognized when his disciples needed time. Jesus recognized that even those who were in God’s will needed time alone—away from the crowd—to rest. On one occasion his disciples had been busy in ministry, and they came to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. Recognizing their need for rest, albeit from their faithfulness in serving, Jesus urged them to come aside and rest for a while (Mark 6:30-32). Understanding others—and their needs—takes time and time spent together.
Small group leaders should imitate Jesus in this way. It’s been said that what people want most is to be known. In other words, most people want someone(s) to care enough to notice them, to take an authentic interest in them, to be willing to make time for them, and to express sincere concern for them. Sort of a “See Me” scenario. . . but ongoingly. The group leader has the benefit of interacting with each group member outside of the group, whereas some members may not interact with one another except during meeting times. In many cases, this give the leader opportunity to give individualized attention—time to listen and minister to each group member separately as necessary. Jesus understood that each of his disciples were at different stages of maturity. The observant group leader will notice the same and minister accordingly, following Jesus as the quintessential example of authentic discipleship.
4. Jesus prayed for those who followed him. A great many Christians think that the Lord’s Prayer is recounted in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. These passages should be known as the Model Prayer, where Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. It serves as a guide for believers when he spoke those words originally and even for us today. But the actual Lord’s Prayer is housed in John 17. In verses 6-19, Jesus prayed specifically for his disciples. While he prayed that they would be sanctified by the truth and protected from the evil, he also prayed that they would dwell in unity together. Other occasions in the Gospels, Jesus was featured praying for his disciples. Knowing what the Enemy had planned for Peter, Jesus reassured Peter that he was praying for him (Luke 22:31-32). When Jesus prays for us, his requests are perfectly aligned with the Father’s will. What a comforting thought to know that the Savior is praying for those who follow him specifically.
In many cases, small group leaders have greater knowledge of how to pray for group members specifically. Just as Jesus got alone to pray for his disciples precisely, most small group leaders are fortunate enough to have the same privilege. When others know the details and agree with us—cover us in prayer—there is significant strength to be enjoyed. Jesus said, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world” (v. 14). Likewise, when small group Bible study leaders have a commitment to the Word and teach the Word to others, praying for those who are being taught is a non-negotiable. Jesus said it himself: the world will hate them because of their allegiance to him and his Word.
Many benefits exist for those who are willing to serve the Lord by teaching and facilitating his truth. The single most important benefit, in my estimation, is our likeness to Christ when we are committed to teaching and shepherding just a small segment of his Body.
Most groups—even in the local church assemblies—are not close-knit. Cliques. Factions. Dissensions. All are sadly commonplace. Small groups with a unified focus upon Christ should be close-knit—and doing life together. It is the small group leader’s role to maintain the unity and the focus of the group by demonstrating and emphasizing Christ consistently—to members and non-members alike. We look more like Jesus when we endeavor to lead like him!
Next post in this series on the benefits in serving in leadership: We get to participate in true discipleship.