“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23 NRSV)
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV)
I was talking to someone today about baseball. We are approximately the same age and had the same favorite team as we grew up. We talked about how we would imitate our favorite player when we played a pick up game. You wanted to imitate their stance, how they swung the bat, ran everything. We seemed to have the childlike idea that if we imitated them enough, we might become like them.
I believe that desire to imitate is a God given gift to children. Children want to know what it means to be an adult. They want to know how do we navigate the world we are in. And so they look to adults around them and often imitate them in order to learn how to live in the world. This is why as parents, and I think in some ways, especially for Fathers, it’s so crucial to exhibit what it means to be a godly man. There are generations looking at us imitating us. We ought to give them something worth imitating.
I don’t know that we ever outgrow that. We are always looking for people to imitate. I think that’s true for us as Christians. We look to others to imitate their relationship with Jesus, hoping to become like them. Once more, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. After all, Paul goes so far as to challenge others to imitate him as he imitates Jesus.
I’ve been reading through the Gospel of John, and I’ve found someone else to imitate. Obviously we all should imitate Jesus and allow him to live through us. But I’ve found someone who I want to at least begin to imitate in my leadership and I think my spiritual life as well.
John the Baptist. John the Baptist isn’t in the Gospel of John for very long, but in the few places we see him he gives us great insight into what it means to be a Christian leader. There is a lot to like about him.
Granted John the Baptist (or as we’ll refer to him JtB) wouldn’t win any fashion awards with the camel’s-hair robe. And he was probably never asked to bring anything to the Judean potluck’s after he brought the locust and wild honey casserole for the third time. But look beyond that and there is much to imitate.
First, he knew his role was to make the path’s straight not lead people down the path. Isn’t that our role really? To know that it’s not our place to convert anyone. All we can do is to help people be prepared to experience Jesus. Our role is simply to do all we can to prepare people to encounter Jesus and trust that He will do the rest.
Secondly JtB understands his role. His role was to make the paths straight and then to step aside. Often in ministry we try to do too much, often for the fear that if we don’t do it, it won’t be done. JtB knows that all he can do is to do what he is called to do and no more.
Thirdly, JtB knows being prophetic comes with a price. The world doesn’t want to hear the Good News. It pushes back. Being a prophet of God often means saying what the world doesn’t want to hear, but needs to hear.
JtB lives life that points to Jesus. When Jesus begins his public ministry JtB loses some of his followers. Soon he is completely overshadowed by Jesus. And once do we see JtB get angry or become jealous. His life was about given God the glory and allowing Christ to receive the credit. How often do we complain because we receive no credit for what we do? Hwo much more peaceful would life be if we did everything to the glory of God and only becomes restless when God didn’t receive the glory?
Look at how JtB answers his followers in John 3:29-30. “My joy is in the coming of the bridegroom. He must increase, but I must decrease’ I can think of no better prayer or any Christian, but especially those in Christian leadership than to pray “Lord may you increase and may I decrease today”.
JtB becomes a martyr. Some might think his life ended too soon, or that he is a tragic figure. I don’t believe that’s how JtB would have seen it. He rejoiced in the great privilege of giving his all to God. No one who gives all they can for the truth is ever a tragic figure. JtB left everything at the feet of Jesus and rejoiced in giving his all. What do you hold back?
The world needs more Christian leaders like JtB. Knowing our roles, telling the truth, willing to pay the price and be unpopular for the Gospel’s sake. desiring everyday to decrease that teh glory of Jesus might increase. Will anyone see a bit of John in you?
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><