Almost two months ago, I was hired to be a host at the new Olive Garden here in Wake Forest, NC. Having this job has seriously been a blessing from God, and in His providence and by His grace I was one of a handful of new employees selected to go through training in order to become a Certified Trainer. Basically, if I complete the training, I will be one of two hosts who are certified to train new team members hired for the host position, and I will also be eligible (eventually) to go and train team members hired for the host position at other Olive Gardens opening in other parts of the country. Now I don’t know about you, but to me, this just sounds epic. In my mind, this is the Timothy position of the restaurant business (and before you label me a “heterodoxologist,” I understand that welcoming and seating guests at the OG cannot be compared with the greater calling to spread the gospel).
During training for the CT position, we were introduced to the OG way of training new team members. One of the most prominent methods used by trainers is the “Say, Do” Method. In this method, the trainer follows these steps: I say, I do; I say, you do; you say, you do. First, I explain how to do a given task and then I do the given task in clear view of the trainee. Then, I explain the steps of the task again, this time watching as the trainee does the task on their own. Finally, the trainee explains the task while they are doing it. “Bailey,” you may be thinking (or awkwardly saying to your computer), “what’s your point?” My goal in this post (and other posts to come later) is to show what discipleship principles are hinted at in this secular training methodology. No, I do not believe that this formula should be taken verbatim and incorporated into the practice of disciple-making (although it would not be the first time that secular business practices have been applied to the church). All I am trying to show is that even the world understands the importance of setting an example in reproducing quality workers. Disciple-making not only involves clear instruction, but also visible exemplification.
American Christians do a great job of showing new believers and their offspring how to be religious: go to church, pray before meals and bedtime, read the Bible as often as possible, go to Sunday School/small group/Bible study, hang out with church friends, and the list continues. However, we (because I am just as guilty of this as everyone else) DO NOT consistently exemplify the important responsibilities entrusted to us by Christ in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). In my experience (and I would not be surprised if it was the experience of most Christians raised in recent generations), believers have trouble showing others how to evangelize, to do the things Christ commanded, and to pass Christ’s commandments on to others. Especially in the Southern Baptist denomination, making disciples has not been our forte. Converts, yes. Disciples, no.
My father, a Southern Baptist minister who graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary a week before I was born and has been faithfully ministering to God’s people since before I existed, is the only Christian man whom I have firsthand observed witnessing and evangelizing on a regular basis. This is not to say that none of the other godly men from my past were not faithfully spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. However, for the majority of my life, I viewed my dad as the exception rather than the normative, and I am hard-pressed to believe differently about Christians today. For me, the son of a Southern Baptist pastor, I knew that evangelism was a mark of a believer, but I knew this because the Bible taught it, not because of the examples set for me by other Christian men. Because I did not regularly observe evangelism practiced by the men and women around me who claimed faith in Christ, it was not instilled in me that spreading the gospel was a foundational mark of a follower of Christ.
Paul, in multiple passages in the New Testament, encourages and exhorts the believers he is addressing to “be imitators of me.” For instance, in 1 Corinthians 4:15-16, Paul writes, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” A father is the greatest example that a child has to follow. My father has set an example of a gospel-oriented and driven life that I will seek to follow for the rest of my life. There is a difference between being a guide and father, that is for certain. Although we could meticulously analyze the distinctions between the two and determine what it means to be a guide versus a father, it seems obvious where Paul draws the line: Guides instruct; Fathers exemplify. To put it in terms of the Olive Garden training process described earlier, guides skip the first step of the process and begin with “I say, you do.” Fathers, simply by nature of being a father, follow the process with precision. They say and provide an example, then instruct and expect the child to follow the example and instructions given. Ironically for a father, it often does not matter what the father tells the child to do. Although the child may be obedient through adolescence, if the father is a hypocrite and does not “practice what he preaches,” then the child will most likely be exactly the same way and either stray from his father’s teachings in deed AND in word or live hypocritically just like his father. Thus, Paul stresses his fatherhood of the Corinthian believers over the guidance of others.
Then, in 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul writes, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Of course we should imitate a man who is imitating Jesus Christ, since Christ is our ultimate example of holiness and humility. To not imitate Paul would basically mean to not imitate Christ. Although Paul is not Christ, he sets an example in word and in deed for how someone desiring to imitate Christ should act and speak. In one final passage, Philippians 3:17, Paul writes, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us! Are we setting the example of what it means to be faithful followers of Christ, the example which we want our children and their generation to follow? Even if the answer is yes, are we doing it in such a way that they can keep their eyes on us?
To end part one of this discussion, I am convinced that men of God, as disciple makers, need to recover the art of setting an example. The way maturing, gospel-loving disciples will be made is if they are not only instructed in the way they should live, but also if they have a clear example of how a person faithfully obeys Christ’s commands. Do you want to make disciples? Then set an example which they can follow. Do you need a place to start? Start by letting them observe you share the Good News of Jesus Christ on a regular basis.