Examples are wonderful; we all need them. But there is a difference between following someone’s example and being their clone. Following Paul as he follows Christ does not mean having a mirror image of his experience in God. It is not apprehending what Paul apprehended; it is having a Pauline zeal to apprehend what Christ apprehended you for.
Paul did not “preach himself;” He preached Christ. He did not want clones of himself. He wanted men to be copies of Christ. The strongest of leaders often raise up the most religious followers who want to emulate the ideal man they venerate. Paul was aware of this tendency to glory in men and did everything he knew to do to get people’s eyes off him. He didn’t speak of how many he baptized; he spoke of how many he didn’t baptize. He didn’t glory in his accomplishments; he gloried in his weaknesses. He didn’t want anyone glorying in him or saying they were “of Paul.” As a wise master builder he laid the foundation of Christ and he warned anyone who came after him to continue to build on that same foundation. (1 Cor. 3:10) Strong leaders especially must be careful not to lay their experience in God as the template for others to follow. Those wanting to take hold of Luther’s grasp of God became Lutherans; Wesley produced Methodists; and Calvin still begets Calvinists.
Sitting under a strong leader does not necessarily make one strong; in fact it may make one’s relationship with the Lord weaker.
Sitting under a strong leader does not necessarily make one strong; in fact it may make one’s relationship with the Lord weaker for a number of reasons. Firstly, each of us is to have our own unique relationship to God. I have seven children and they all know me and I know them; but there is a specific dynamic that is at work in each relationship. One is not better than the other, they are each different. I would not want one of my children to try and have the same relationship with me that one of their siblings has. I have things to say to one that I don’t have to say to another. There is not a one size fits all approach. I exhort, comfort, and charge each of them according to who they are, where they are, and what they need. “As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children” (1 Thes. 2:11)
When a leader tries to superimpose his relationship with God over that of his brethren he is not understanding that they need the liberty to grow and develop and hear from God for themselves. Our growth is stunted when we are boxed in and under pressure to walk, talk, and think like someone else does. Some flourish under leaders that appear to be weaker yet give them more leeway in their relationship with God. The issue should never be has a leader duplicated himself in those who follow him, but is he encouraging their conformity to Jesus Christ. Is he allowing them to grow in their own walk, even if they have to learn through their mistakes; or does he insist that others think and act like he would?
When Jesus arises over us as the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings we are to grow up like calves in the stall and then go forth in His name. (Malachi 4:2) We all are assigned a stall to grow up in under the tutelage of our Lord. The five fold ministry must always be an extension and never a replacement for the one ministry of the Teacher. Although there are “lords many” even in the church, Paul said: “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” (1 Cor. 8:6) We are to grow up in Him in all things, and be transformed into His image, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. We are to deem no single individual our teacher but Him. (Matt. 23:10) So important is our being taught directly by Him that John wrote: “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” (1 John 2:27)
If not careful, a strong leader can overshadow his congregation in a bad way. How? It is the tendency of those who feel their own connection to God is weak to feed off their association to another who they feel is closer to God. Instead of being able to declare what God has spoken to us or is doing in us we are more apt to talk about what “Pastor so and so” said, or what God is doing through him. But Paul said that each us of should bear our own burden and prove our own work, in order to have have rejoicing in ourselves alone and not in another. How can we know what our work is when we are a mere cog in the wheel of another’s work. There is a time to grow under the ministry of another, but that should not inhibit our hearing directly from God and developing in our own unique way. The Lord knows each of His sheep by name, and we are to know His voice in our lives. In a great house there are many vessels of honor but they are different from each other. They each have a particular function and usage to their master. Each of our backgrounds, even our temperaments, let alone our gifts and our callings, make us people who need to hear from God in a very custom tailored way. How God is raising us up and how He intends to use us, what our message will be and who we will be able to reach is unique. Do we dare to be different? Are we willing for God to shape and craft us into a unique vessel of honor for His use? Then we cannot afford to try and be someone else. We must hear from God and be led by His Spirit in ways that further who He would have us to be in Him. We cannot put on Saul’s armor.
Surface uniformity to religious ideals often masks a deeper failure to take hold of the personal relationship that God wants with each of His people.
Ministers, denominations, movements, religions, that like conformity may think all is well in the ranks. But surface uniformity to religious ideals often masks a deeper failure to take hold of the personal relationship that God wants with each of His people. So much piety can be artificial and manufactured, it has not root, no real life to it. Dare to hear from God apart from the opinions of others. Submit to and seek God in such a way that you will know that you know that you know that it is Him that is speaking to you. Don’t live to please the eyes and win the praise of any but your one Lord. Don’t be satisfied that you are walking in anyone else’s footsteps or grasping what they have grasped. Don’t be a clone of any man. Let your one Master make you a unique copy of Himself.