Imitation – why’s it so hard?

In our last post we gave you 9 pointers to inviting others to imitate your life. We found one of the comments in response to this post extremely helpful (thanks Sarah) in summarising the challenges of living a life of imitation:

 “I find this hard. People understand meetings but they don’t seem to understand the getting involved in my family life. They are either too busy in their own lives or don’t want to intrude in mine. Obviously my door is open and I am working on building fellowship within the church but whether it is cultural or a problem with our individualistic society I find this level of imitation difficult.”

And we absolutely agree and acknowledge that calling others into imitation is hard.  Shifting away from the cultural norm isn’t easy. Personally, we’ve been on this journey now for about 12 years. Over that time we have seen gradual and increasing breakthrough in our capacity and ability to open up our lives to others, as well as seeing those we invite becoming increasingly more responsive & learning how to open up their lives to us. Like anything in the Kingdom, as we’ve given our hearts to the process God has helped us and brought the breakthrough. And we look forward to seeing more

To help get through the pain barrier we’ve identified four reasons why we struggle to implement this in our own life and why other people may not understand or respond immediately.

Living a lifestyle of imitation is…

1) Hard.

Fullstop.

It’s hard because it involves all of our life. Not just the bits we want people to see.

But it is not impossible. And it is full of God’s grace

We live in tension of seeing some of what we want to see come to fruition and at the same time not seeing it in all the fullness we want to.  Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail.  Sometimes we are weak & sometimes we are strong. Like anything else in the Kingdom we live in tension, on a continuum of seeing lots of breakthrough at one end of the spectrum and seeing very little on the other. Allowing people to share all of our life (not just the good side) is hard. It takes bravery, faith, hope, vision and time.

2) Not instantaneous or event-orientated

Our culture demands instantaneous, measurable results. And we like to think in terms of events. But often discipleship by imitation is not quantifiable, it’s gradual. Discipleship by imitation is not an event, it’s a relational process.  Because of this we can easily become discouraged in the short term. We covered this in more detail here.

3) Counter-cultural

We’re fighting against a culture of individualism & consumerism every time we try and function outside the expected norms of the nuclear family.

What we need is a nuclear explosion. In other words, we need to slay the idol of nuclear family and re-learn how to function in a way that is biblical but counter-cultural.

Being counter-cultural means that we’re swimming against the tide. The currents and the pressure are against us. Our society, and our lives, are often not set up to live beyond our nuclear family, which is why seemingly simple steps can sometimes feel like such hard work.

Jesus functioned in extended family which included men, women & children and it covered the spectrum of business, rest, work, and friendship. In Luke 10, when Jesus sent out the early disciples, he was sending them out to extended families NOT to nuclear family. He sent them to find communities –extended families –  open to Jesus.

4) Re-defining the way church views and understands discipleship

If we really got down to the nuts and bolts of how the average western church leader views discipleship most would find it difficult to define it aside from meetings, programmes, and bible studies. These may have elements of discipleship. But when we talk about imitation it is not a pastor’s responsibility, it is not a program, it is not a set of beliefs, it is not done at a set time of the week. It is a life that imitates Jesus being imitated by those who are close enough to see that life and have decided to recreate its pattern in their own life.

But there is hope. Here are four simple steps to ease your way in.

4 simple steps to help this happen:

1) Pray

An obvious place to start but it’s often overlooked! Pray for people to be stirred and challenged to change. Pray for wisdom for whom to engage with and invite closer. Pray for a change in the culture and dynamic of your friendship group/community/small group/church. And don’t just do it once – commit to doing it regularly and don’t stop when something starts to change. Ask, seek and knock….

2) Start small

In an earlier post we talked about looking for the pioneers. This is a similar process. Who are the one or two that are open? Start with one, two or three people or couples. Start small and sustainable and see what develops with these people. Trust is built slowly and behaviour is changed gradually. We move towards the integrated lifestyle that we desire by taking small steps. Small is sustainable – don’t start with lots of people or a grand gesture which won’t last.

3) Look for natural overlap

What are the activities that you would do naturally and regularly as a person, couple and family? What do you love doing? Once you identify these, then ask these questions:

Who could do it with us?

Who does this /likes this anyway?

These are natural connection points where life overlaps. Don’t look for an extra event or an extra dynamic which is created for a purpose – it doesn’t work!! Invite people into what you’re doing and let them share that with you. 

4) Start a huddle

As you connect with people naturally and spontaneously it’s also great to have a structured way to process this growing shared life together. A huddle is a great way to pass on DNA, values, and culture. It also creates the environment where people are asking – “What is God saying to me and what am I going to do about it?” This environment and these questions foster deeper relationships, personal responsibility and missional vision. It’s also a great way to discern if those you have called are with you simply because they like you, or if they really want to follow and invest in a life of discipleship.

Imitation and extended family are such an integral part of the life of a disciple. They are not easy, they are not always understood, they are not always simple.

We would love to hear your thoughts, stories, and wisdom on this.

Are you trying to live life this way? How’s it going?

Any tips you can share for others?

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