Herman Melville wrote, “It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation.” We tend to have a bias in our culture against imitation. Imitation often equates in our minds to fake. For example, imitation leather or imitation fur. Imitation may connote something being cheap or of lesser value. The idea that originality is always better is not always the case. In fact, imitation can be an amazing tool for growth.
When I was a candidate for ministry I had to write a statement of faith that would be reviewed by a committee of my denomination. I’ll never forget that some of the committee members were put off by the fact that my statement of faith read and felt like classic statements of faith, such as the Apostle’s creed. I was criticized for not being more creative. That’s probably one of the only times I have ever been criticized for a lack of creativity. Frankly, I took it at as a complement and thought their comments said more about them than me. Imagine being in an art class and the instructor with obvious displeasure telling you, “You paint like Rembrandt.” or “That work looks like it came right out of Monet’s studio.”
I was prompted to think about these things this morning as I did my devotional reading and came across these verses:
“You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7
“For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews.” 1 Thessalonians 2:14
Paul in other places did not only acknowledge believers for begin imitators, but actually encouraged them to be. In the scriptures above Paul actually notes three different ways the Thessalonians imitated good models. They imitated Paul and the other disciples who had brought them the gospel. They imitated the Lord and other churches.
Whom do you admire for his or her faith? How can you imitate his or her lifestyle, speech, behaviors, or disciplines? If you admire someone, but don’t know the habits they keep, you may want to invite them to lunch and learn more. If you know someone with bottomless biblical knowledge, then ask how he or she studies and follow that example for awhile. If you know someone with an amazingly powerful prayer life, ask about prayer practices.
Imitation is a very effective way to grow as a disciple. You will eventually become that which you imitate if you practice long enough.