the weblog of Alan Knox

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Discipleship

Posted by on Dec 3, 2009 in discipleship | 8 comments

Now, before someone slams me for the title of this post, it is simply a play on words… or actually, a play on the saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” No, I don’t believe that imitation is actually the “sincerest” form of discipleship. However, I do believe that imitation is an important (and often overlooked) aspect of discipleship.

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he said:

But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 ESV)

His exhortation to “remember” their hard work was not a call toward mental exercise alone. Instead, Paul was telling the Thessalonians to remember how he and his group lived their lives among them, and then for the Thessalonians to imitate that way of life.

In fact, in may instances, Paul specifically told his readers to “imitate” what they had seen him and his team do (for example, see 2 Thessalonians 3:7 and 1 Corinthians 11:1). He was not content with teaching people a set of lessons to be learned by memory. Instead, his lessons included instructions and demonstrations in how to live as a follower of Jesus Christ.

This idea of imitating someone else’s faith (which would include their manner of living) seems fundamental and foundational to discipleship in the New Testament. Paul often commended people to his readers as people who should be followed (Philippians 2:19-30). John warned his readers to make sure they are imitating good examples, and not bad examples (3 John 1:11). The author of Hebrews exhorted his readers, “Consider the outcome of [your leaders’] way of life and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7 ESV)

Do we still practice imitation as a form of discipleship? I haven’t seen it as much in my life, although it is growing more common among the believers that God has placed in my life. I have seen example after example of someone taking another person aside to teach them “correct doctrine.” But, it has been rare when I have seen someone show someone else how to live, how to serve, how to love as a follower of Jesus Christ.

For instance, when someone is a new believer, often Christians think, “Let’s get them into a Bible study.” That’s all well and good. But, what about also including this, “Let’s take them with us as we serve people.” (This assumes that we’re serving people of course – but, maybe that’s part of the problem.)

When a brother or sister is having a hard time loving someone else (because of any number of reasons) we can offer them a study on love, or we can take them with us to demonstrate God’s love to some other people who are hard to love.

Of course, these are just a few examples. But, I think, imitation is a very important (and scriptural) aspect to discipleship. Unfortunately, I also think imitation is an aspect of discipleship that has been lost to many Christians. Perhaps imitation is a lost art because of individualism or the extreme importance placed on education. But, for whatever reason, we don’t see much imitation discipleship practiced today.

What do you think? Is imitation an important aspect of discipleship? Have you ever observed and followed someone else’s way of life? Do you have any suggestions as to how to increase imitation discipleship?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 12-3-2009

    I’ve learned far more about living out faith in Christ from those I’ve spent time with and observed than I ever did in theology classes.

  2. 12-3-2009

    Another great thought provoking post Alan. I like to try and visualize a theme and how it relates to certain situations.

    If we took different “church” structures and different “leadership” structures and endeavored to imitate the leaders faith in those different scenarios based on our observations of and interactions with them, what would that look like?

  3. 12-3-2009

    imitation happens all the time when we see people we look up to. It’s not necessarily intentional but it happens almost subconsciously (like how i started to like 5 guys burgers and fries just because you do; i mean we all know in reality a burger is just a burger). Maybe it isn’t as obvious because people, in fear of not appearing humble, aren’t as comfortable saying “do like me” like Paul did.

  4. 12-3-2009


    I have learned by example and observation more often as well. But, I think I need many, many more good examples to imitate.


    Actually, I think that happens all the time. In face, many Christians do what they do because of what they’ve seen others do (this includes pastors and other leaders as well).


    Another good point! Of course, as in your example with 5 Guys, we need good examples so that we can learn that a burger is not just a burger.


  5. 12-3-2009

    I think that many people don’t share their faith because they have not seen a leader or peer do it therefore they are not motivated to share with others nor do they no how! I have spent the last 30 years taking young people with me when I intentionally go to share my faith and it rubs off in a very good way!

    I am convinced that demonstration and imitation go hand in hand and that we see way too little of it in discipleship today. In his book, “The master plan of evangelism” Robert Coleman devotes an entire chapter to “Demonstration” as one part of Jesus Master Plan and that is why He spent so much time daily with his disciples…so they could see him minister, serve, preach, discipline etc.


  6. 12-3-2009


    I just talked with someone, who was asking me would I disciple a friend of theirs because the person had relocated. He asked me if I had the time to “disciple”. I told him two things.

    1. I can invite the person into the context of my life. Studying the bible is bible study, learning information is learning information and reciting fact is reciting facts, those could be part of discipleship but are just that a part.

    2. I hope the person entering the relationship understands that I am looking for mutality. Since every believer is fully filled by God, He or She has much to contribute to me (discipleship) and they would have to understand that this is a mutual process and I would like to imitate areas where he is strong and maybe I can help him in areas where he needs some strengthening.

  7. 12-3-2009


    Yes indeed, that was my point, what would somebody learn from observing the little that they saw of a “pastor” of a mega-church church? What would/could they emulate and immitate? They would have to secure tehir own stage! Grin.


    You told him that?

    How did he respond?

    Would it maybe have been better to meet with the individual who “needs” discipling where he is and unpack those truths to him over time as you get to know each other. If he’s willing to hang out with you – you could show him those truth and speak to him about those truths as your relationship grows, if its during a bible study craft the bible study to support the truths you wish to convey and then go out and do those truths in front of him and with him.

    Why lay down the law up front so to speak?

    I’m not getting up in your face, as I read your comment I thought of all the opportunities I probably ahve missed by “laying down the law”.

    Just sayin.

  8. 12-3-2009


    Evangelism is a great example. I was thinking of serving/loving people who are hard to serve/love (because they are not naturally lovable), but your example is a good one.


    I like the idea of mutual discipleship.


    Well, I know what I learned (and have had to unlearn) from situations in which “pastors” did more administration than shepherding.



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