The power of modeling

DatsunThe stick shift stood tall, like a bully daring me (the punk) to step over a chalk line. Sure, I had my driver’s license, but I had passed my road test with our family car, an automatic. This was different. At 17, this was my first car, a 1973 Datsun 610, and this was no automatic. This was a four-on-the-floor. The price had been reasonable and the decision to buy the economical two-door sedan seemed wise at the time, but now I wondered: What had I done?

It was Sunday night. Early Monday morning, I was to report to the grocery store across town for my first day on the job. Thankfully, all is not lost when you have an amazing Dad. With me riding shotgun, he drove my Datsun to the empty parking lot of a nearby department store. He could have immediately switched spots and told me how to drive a standard, but for now, he had a better plan. “Watch me, Greg” he advised. Then patiently he modeled how left leg and right hand work together to clutch and shift. First he showed me, and then later – behind the wheel myself – I imitated his actions. A punk no more, an hour later, I drove us back home. The bully had been defeated.

Driving stick shift isn’t the only area in life where modeling is powerful. It is just as important when it comes to Christian faith. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, was direct: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1, NIV). Youth are meant to observe those who are older. The sobering question is:

What are we modeling?

Foul language, harmful habits, and infidelity play out on the family stage. The saying is true: “Little pitchers have big ears,” but children also have open eyes. When they see us modeling negative things, they will pattern their own lives accordingly. The apple rarely falls far from the tree.

Thankfully, the power of modeling can be turned in a positive direction. Riding along with his parents, a six-year-old boy piped up from the back seat. “Daddy,” he said, “I’m going to be just like you. I’m going to be a Christian, and I’m going to be a pastor.” A smile came across the young father’s face. I felt honored to witness a sacred moment.

Singing about a father’s influence on his son, Philips, Craig and Dean pray:

Lord, I want to be just like you, ‘cuz he wants to be just like me.

Mothers also model confident living for their daughters. Providing a pattern of egalitarian marriage is a godly heritage that young girls can admire. They in turn will seek out men who understand and practice the mutually beneficial synergy of teamwork.

As for families, so for faith. St. Francis of Assisi reminded us: “Preach always. When necessary, use words.” We learned in first grade during “show and tell” that showing beats telling every time.

Who’s watching you? What are you modeling? May God give us grace to lead lives that others will want to imitate.

Preach it!

black female preacherPreachers today get a bad rap.

“Don’t preach at me” figures on the list of most popular comebacks, along with “Stop judging me.” In modern usage, to preach at someone is to set oneself up as superior, to condescendingly render a verdict on another’s behavior. It is the pop star Madonna pleading with her father: “Papa, don’t preach.”

Yet preaching wasn’t always devalued. There was a time when “preacher” was a term of endearment, a little less formal than “Reverend” but respectful nonetheless. As recently as 1996 in the film “The Preacher’s Wife,” Courtney Vance portrayed Reverend Henry Biggs, an African-American pastor who – while insensitive to his wife’s needs – was nevertheless committed to his work, selflessly serving the members of his inner-city flock. Being a preacher was cool.

So if the term “preacher” has lately fallen on hard times, why do the people of God continue to use it? To answer this question, let’s briefly look at what the New Testament has to say about preaching and its importance to the life of the Body of Christ, the church.

John and Jesus: the preaching cousins

A good place to begin is with the second cousins, John and Jesus. John went into the wilderness and took up a simple lifestyle, wearing clothes made of camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). People streamed to John and he baptized them with water as a sign of their abandoning their sinful ways. Yet the baptizing followed preaching. We don’t have a lot of detail about what John preached, but it wasn’t for the faint of heart. He urged people to produce good fruit, proof of their changed ways. He called religious leaders “snakes” (Matthew 3:7), demanded that tax collectors not collect more than they were required, and warned soldiers not to accuse people falsely or to extort money. Instead, he told them to be content with their salary (see Luke 3:7-14). John’s boldness in preaching knew no social boundaries, and he paid for his boldness with his head (Matthew 14:1-12).

Yet John was always a warm-up act for the main attraction. About Jesus of Nazareth, John testified: “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:30, NLT). Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus passed his test in the wilderness, resisting the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). After this testing, what did Jesus do? He immediately began to preach: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (4:17). In fact, the kingdom of heaven and the parables Jesus drew from everyday life became the staple of his magnetic preaching. Just before returning to heaven, Jesus commanded his disciples to preach the Gospel (literally, “good news”) to all creation (Mark 16:15). We preach because it is the command of our Lord to do so.

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