“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” ― Albert Schweitzer
We may think we’ve heard or read everything on the subject of Leadership. With all our learning, it’s easy to pass over the most obvious and profound principle of leading. If leadership is influence, than, according to Schweitzer, our EXAMPLE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT tool in our leadership belt. The Apostle Paul understood this well. Writing to the church in Thessalonica he says:
“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.., with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example.” 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9
The Apostle Paul intentionally offers his life as a pattern for these young believers to follow. His manner of life was the assurance of the truth of the gospel which he shared (1:5). And his example impacted this faith community to such a degree, they became a model to others throughout the entire region (1:7). That’s influence. That’s leadership.
The Greek word for “model” used here is “tupos.” It means, an image formed by a blow or impression. The idea of tupos was a mold into which clay or wax was pressed (or molten metal for castings was poured), that it might take the figure or exact shape of the mold. When you transfer this concept into human relationships, you understand the purpose for being an example (tupos) is to make an impression on a life. We never set an example for ourselves but for others. The most important opinion people will form about us is from our example. I make a mark by living an exemplary life.
As in the process of printing or casting there are three things necessary to make a good impression. The same things apply as we influence others with our example.
This simply means nearness in relationship. Up-close and personal. Many people are uncomfortable with this kind of intimacy: they see the flaws and insecurities in their own lives and know they will be discovered, or even worse, transferred into the lives of others who get to close. But there is no impact without close contact. Life transformation emerges from authentic intimacy.
When Jesus told us to make disciples of Him, this is the process He had in mind. It’s the same one He used to make an indelible impression on His disciples. Jesus did life in close contact with the Twelve. They witnessed Him in every conceivable situation. There are no shortcuts for making a disciple.
How we respond (or react) when people see us in the furnace of trials and tribulations will make a lasting impression. It’s easy to pretend, put on a good face, and be on our best behavior, when everything is going well. But turn up the heat and the genuine YOU will come forth.
A tupos forms an impression when pressure is applied; when the heat is turned up high. It was in His sufferings Jesus gave us the perfect example to follow in His steps (1 Pt.2:21). As I seek to influence, impart, imprint upon others the Christ life, I understand the clearest impression is formed under difficult circumstances. People are watching to see if I am the same person in bad times as in good.
For an accurate image to be made, the material which receives the image must me pliable – easy to work with. In the context of human relationships we would say teachable, humble, open, easily influenced. This is an ingredient others add to the process of life transformation. I may set an excellent example but there needs to be a receptive heart on the other end.
I have discovered through life experience the act of giving uniquely opens the heart to receive. The more we give of ourselves, our resources, the more open we become to the influence of others. Jesus’ disciples gave up everything to follow Him. This kind of sacrifice set them up for the life impressions made by the Model Teacher. Others recognized the disciples were now just like Jesus (Ac.4:13).
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Gail and I are incorporating the “tupos” truth of modeling – setting an example for others to follow – into SPRINT Schools for training disciples/workers/leaders. We have intentionally designed these schools for maximum impact and life transformation by first connecting with students relationally; intimately; allowing them to get close enough to see our lives match our teaching. SPRINT Schools are asking students to contribute to their own education and growth thereby opening themselves to a clear, powerful and lasting impartation. We are choosing students who are committed to pass along the truth they receive by modeling for others.
“[Paul to his spiritual son, Timothy]…be an example (tupos) to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 1 Tm.4:12 & 2 Tm.2:2