God Loves Copycats

A couple of months ago, I had the chance to be interviewed by Drew Marshall on his radio show.  A few weeks prior to the actual radio spot, Drew and I shared a phone conversation. He was wanting to get to know me. Who is this Modern Reject chick and what is she all about?

He asked me if I am Donald Miller-ite. “No,” I answered flatly. “Well then, do you worship at the altar of Beth Moore,” he asked? “Um, not exactly,” I responded.

He paused for a moment and then told me very bluntly that he needed to know who I identified with in the Christian culture if he was to “get to know” me. I scrambled for a second. I hate questions like this. What authors I read is one thing. What Christian leaders I respect is another…

…but who do I worship? Who do I identify with my faith? I struggled to answer and then said the only thing I could…

“I know this might be a cliche answer,” I told him, “but I really don’t associate myself with any one Christian leader, thinker, or pastor.” He was quiet. I could tell my answer was unsatisfactory.

So, to appease Drew Marshall, I listed off some of my favorite Christian authors–the usuals: C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, but also some contemporaries like Frank Viola and Francis Chan.

He seemed satisfied enough with my answer and so was I. We moved on.

But after our little phone chat, I kept wondering if maybe I was suppose to have some succinct, tidy, formulaic answer as to who I associate myself with. I mean, a lot of Christians do, especially Christian bloggers. Was I weakening my influence or shortening my reach by not identifying myself with one particular (or 2 or 3) Christian thinker(s).

And then my husband’s wise words came to my mind. He always talks about the difference between imitation and identification.

You see, the apostle Paul told his disciples to imitate him, as he imitated Christ. He also told us in another passage to simply be imitators of God. But the world, and more specifically, the Christian culture, very much encourages us to identify with others–Christian leaders, as it were.

Imitation tells us to model ourselves after someone. Imitation is to follow. Identification, on the other hand, incorporates aspects of another person’s personality. One definition says:

Identification is “the transference or reaction to one person with the feelings or responses relevant to another, as the identification of a teacher with a parent.”

The difference between the two words–imitation and identification–may seem subtle, but it is not. One is us following our Lord and His example. The other is a slippery slope, whereby we follow another and begin to associate them as an extension of Jesus. Sometimes this extension can become a substitution. 

Now, I’m not saying, by any means, that people who admire Donald Miller, Mark Driscoll (how’s that for pitting two different types against one another?), Joyce Meyers, or Eugene Cho are somehow dabbling in idolatry.

But what I am saying is that we ought to be careful to the extent with which we associate or identify ourselves with people other than Jesus Christ. Again, the apostle Paul warned us against this in 1 Corinthians, when it was made known to him that the church of Corinth was arguing over who they belonged to–or rather, who they identified with–in the faith.

Paul told them sternly, “What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

And a little while later, just to be sure that the people of Corinth understood, Paul wrote, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

We Americans think that being an imitator or copycat is unoriginal, lame, and undesirable, but that’s exactly what God wants–a church full of copycats. Us, copying His Son. God loves copycats.

I admire, respect, and am even a “fan” of many Christian leaders, writers, thinkers, bloggers, and so on. Yet, I am ever careful of identifying my faith with any one of them or being their copycat. I may relate to their teachings perhaps, their lessons and wisdom, yes. I even have people in my life, who I attempt to imitate and copy because their lives are genuine reflections of Christ.

But my identity remains in Christ, not in any other person. It must. I want to know Him and Him crucified. The rest is just details.

Do you feel like you associate or identify yourself with any particular Christian leader? To what extent? Do you think the Church is too quick to latch on to leaders? Why or why not?

18 thoughts on “God Loves Copycats”

  1. I totally agree with you Nicole and I think that the way that you answered Drew Marshall was perfect. I can totally identify with the way you feel about identifying with a contemporary Christian leader.

    I personally don’t associate myself with any particular Christian leader today either. I find that if I put up some sort of leader up on a pedestal, then I’m just setting myself up for disappointment because they will fall short somehow. But if I look to Jesus, then I will never be this point :-)

    1. Peter, well said. People are just that, people. They are subject to failure and sin whether a leader or not. Jesus, on the other hand, will never let us down.

      What a comforting reminder.

  2. Amen! Personally, I feel like kind of an outsider in the church because I avoid associating myself too closely with any one or two Christians.

    On another note, maybe you didn’t decrease your influence by avoiding the answer. People follow and respect unique voices, not their copycats. I read your blog every day because it’s completely unique from anything else in my blog reader. :)

    1. Matt, so funny you should say this because as I was writing this post, I was listing bloggers inmy mind and so many of them I could associate with another Christian leader. But I thought of you and how well you do the opposite and simply focus on the Lord.

      Thank you too for the words of encouragement. I think sometimes I’m so conscious of being original, that I fall prey to unoriginal thinking in the process…if that makes any sense. So, your kind words are appreciated!

  3. And that is why I love you.

    I feel the exact same way. I have long noticed Christians glomming on to whomever seems follow-able, and it disturbs me. Even more disturbing is that it appears to me that many Christian authors, pastors, speakers, etc., encourage groupies. Or, at least their marketing team does.

    It makes me hesitant, actually, to read ANYTHING contemporary.

    1. BTW, my FIL got me a Joseph Prince book for Christmas, Unmerited Favor. He said that he had greatly benefited from it. Martin even read it, and found it worthwhile. But, I just can’t get over Prince’s carefully coiffed, cooly-dressed image staring at me from the front cover. And from the spine of the book. Anyone who is THAT hung up on his own image is going to have a hard time winning my trust. I find that my oddly-placed sense of rebellion rises up whenever I hear that such-and-such Christian leader now has a TV show. Or has written a best-seller. Or whose church now has 15K+. Or whatever. Perhaps it’s only my personal inclinations and opinion, but I find that whenever someone appeals to The Masses, that it’s typically not a good thing.

      1. Karen, you touched on so many great points. I agree that many Christian authors, leaders, and pastors encourage “groupies.” They like to form camps, as it were. They might use the euphemism “platforms” but a lot of it is the same to me.

        And I can so relate to the sense of rebellion that rises up in you when you see polished professional Christians, or hear stats, or dollar signs. I feel the same way. I roll my eyes, cross my arms.

        Yet, I think so many of us are to blame. We’ve created and sustained this American consumerism of a church. We want church to be like fast-food–cheap, quick, inexpensive (costing us very little), and we don’t mind if it isn’t very good for us. {sigh}..which is a whole ‘nother conversation, isn’t it?

  4. I resonate with other Christian leaders are saying, and I agree or disagree with their stuff- but I wouldn’t classify my own faith by naming off Christian leaders who I admire.

    I like older, very obscure authors too that I knew personally or through acquaintances that I saw their faith lived out. And I think that is important- to realize that the major Christian leaders are always putting up a front- we can’t see their daily lives and how they live out their faith.

    There is a great article, one of the best I have ever read (see I am looking up to an author!) about “paper pastors”. I don’t normally read this blog but I just stumbled upon the article when I was struggling with who to “follow” in the internet world of Christian leaders:

    Because identifying yourself with people you don’t know personally can become dangerous. We need to look to Christ- and those who live out their faith before our eyes. ;0)

    Excellent post- BTW

    1. Aadel, great point about authors and other Christian leaders having a front, at least to some extent. We can only know so much about them.

      Thanks too for sharing that post. I read it and it so very good. I think I’ll link to it on my Friday Findings post this week, so thank you!

  5. One of the highlights of my day is when I log in to my reader and there is a little number next to Modern Reject. That is because of post like this.

    I found early in my Christian walk that I “identified” so with certain local or celebrity Christians that I took their word for it on biblical and doctrinal things. As a milk drinker I just surmised they had it all figured out. I was wrong. I later found that I needed to find out for myself what the scripture had to say about this life following Christ.

    1. Ken,
      Ha, I love your ability to put Biblical concepts and language into everyday language.–milk drinker.

      And you are so right…we cannot rely on others to feed us. It must come from the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. We must choose to actively seek out God’s wisdom. Proverbs says “get wisdom,” meaning we have to go and find it and then take it.

      Thanks too for the kind words. It made me smile.

  6. I think this goes beyond just Christian leaders. It’s also applicable to people that we’re in real relationships with, such as our parents, pastors, or mentors. It’s hard when you get to the point that you really trust someone and consider them to be “solid” to still see them as human. When we put people on pedestals we forget that they’re human. Then if that person falls we feel like we’ve fallen. Slippery slope indeed. I feel like people probably think I’m disagreeable, or that I just love to play devil’s advocate, but it’s not that. I just think there’s a lot of value in questioning and discussing, rather than always just accepting what people put out there and bandwagon jumping.

  7. Fabulous word, Nicole! Not only do you once again identify a major unhealthy trend in today’s churchian culture, but you bring the proper Scripture to bear on it.

    I just learned yesterday about a popular major theological leader who has dismissed several Scriptures to form his own independent view on a matter, which makes him theo-illogical. Regardless of how well-regarded a leader is, as soon as he starts departing from the Word of God, he and his own band of followers are in trouble.

    It is good for us to find solid Bible teachers to listen to and to learn from, but we must always keep testing everything we read and hear against God’s own authoritative Word in order to keep speaking and walking in the truth.

    And when people ask us about our faith, let us tell them that we are followers of Jesus Christ, rather than talking about which denomination we like or which building we visit on Sundays. Denominationalism is identification with men instead of with Christ.

    O Lord, let me always be identified only with Jesus, and follow Him all my days. And may I walk in such a worthy manner that others wish to imitate my faith and obedience.

  8. Thanks for writing this, Nicole.

    What a convicting post! In my own life, I am guilty of judging other Christians who agree (and seem to “follow”) leaders or thinkers that I don’t agree with. What I really should be focusing on is God, not our leaders. Considering that we are all human, it’s safe to say that no one really has it completely figured out, our wisest included. Even what we think we know may not be true, so in the end, we can’t rely on a theology. We have to rely on God and who he says he is and who he says we are.

    I also really liked the helpful distinction you made between “imitation” and “identification”.


  9. If we really want to be imitators of those we respect, we should be imitators of their character rather than their actions. Even in our imitation of Jesus or Paul, they weren’t saying “do exactly what I do, exactly how I do it.”

    We love to imitate formulas and strategy when the most important trait we can imitate is good character.

    As far as associating with leaders, I wouldn’t say I identify myself with anyone. I’m DEFINITELY influenced and inspired by particular leaders. But even with major church leaders, I don’t “identify” myself with them. That’s why I don’t like terms like “Calvinist” or “Arminian”. Their theology is NOT my identity.

    1. Tony, great point you raise about not falling prey to formulas or processes. Christians are some of the best at creating made-up rules that they then decide equate to “success” or not. Iagree, Paul wasn’t saying talk like me, walk like me. He was saying following my pursuit of Christ.

      Also, I love your closing line. Theology is not our identity and I see so many of us walking this dangerous line.

      Great thoughts Tony! Thanks for commenting.

  10. I’m with you, Nicole. It’s been freely given to us to speak to God and to hear from Him – we are not under a covenant that leads us through a man, but under one that leads us to an Awesome God! Get all excited just thinking about it… :)

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