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Discipleship Requires Modeling

Ever wonder why Christians can sit through so many church services and yet not become better followers of Christ? Recent breakthroughs in science give us at least one answer. Geneticists have found that certain neurons called mirror neurons cause people to imitate the behavior of others. The H…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Ever wonder why Christians can sit through so many church services and yet not become better followers of Christ?

Recent breakthroughs in science give us at least one answer. Geneticists have found that certain neurons called mirror neurons cause people to imitate the behavior of others. The Harvard Business Review outlines the implications:

“Perhaps the most stunning recent discovery in behavioral neuroscience is the identification of mirror neurons in widely dispersed areas of the brain. Italian neuroscientists found them by accident while monitoring a particular cell in a monkey’s brain that fired only when the monkey raised its arm.
One day a lab assistant lifted an ice cream cone to his own mouth and triggered a reaction in the monkey’s cell. It was the first evidence that the brain is peppered with neurons that mimic, or mirror, what another being does. This previously unknown class of brain cells operates as neural Wi-Fi, allowing us to navigate our social world.
When we consciously or unconsciously detect someone else’s emotions through their actions, our mirror neurons reproduce those emotions. Collectively, these neurons create an instant sense of shared experience.”

You can observe examples of this every day. When people laugh, cry, or yawn, we’re pulled to do the same thing ourselves.

So, what are the implications for those of us who want to heed Jesus’ call to make disciples? Perhaps the most important one is that we need to get out of the pews and into the lives of those we want to impact. They may not remember what you say, but they will inevitably do what you do.

Some of us have been a part of churches that weren’t going anywhere. The pastor would preach about praying more, but people didn’t. He’d preach about touching the poor, but people needed to see him show them how.

Jesus told his disciples he’d make them fishers of men and then he showed them what that means. I’ve devoted my life to taking young people on journeys where they get to see examples of people modeling faith. Then they get to try it out.

Science seems to support the conclusion that while Bible studies and church attendance are great, apart from modeling the behavior that Jesus originally modeled, we won’t make disciples.

What do you think? Do we need to change our methods and our expectations about how we follow Jesus? If he commanded us to go and make disciples, how do we do that?

Comments (16)

  • We absolutely need to change our methods and expectations leaving the status quo behind and being bold, yet compassionate in prodding, serving, asking questions and above all listening. We need to search our innermost nooks and crannies to find those areas that make us uncomfortable and expose them and then act…rather than leave a church that is not good at modeling, why not become the model? Yes, I know first hand how uncomfortable and sometimes wounding this can be, but a wise mentor suggested to operate around the margins as a moving target of sorts. Get out of your comfort zone and ask questions of different people. Be Bold. God has given us a bold spirit, the caution, especially as I talk to myself is to be gentle in my boldness…

    If you are being stretched you are probably moving in the right direction. 🙂

  • Seth,

    I love that you put this article in your blog. I’ve been watching people and my self. I decided a while back I need to see people operating in something in order to unlock that ability in me.

    What I see in this article is proof that God has wired us this way. Surely every aspect of us points to His creation. We are made to mirror Jesus. The living example that came to unlock our potential and give us the Spirit of God to empower us.

    Great stuff Seth!

  • Jenn (Shogren) Menn

    Yes. This is why we do foster parenting. Kids mimic us. They go from biting and cursing to loving and manners without too much instruction, just mirroring. Every time. Then, American families we do life with–church, Bible study, military and work friends–see they can “be missionaries” in their hometown too. God is so good to knit our genetics to follow (Him).

  • My daughter is on the race. I haven’t found a home church that is willing to be challenged to believe what the Scriptures say are for us today, miracles, signs and wonders. I went to launch, read Kingdom Journey and find myself desperate to know Him and GO! I’m hungry to serve God…..I’ve served in church. After reading Kingdom Journey I wanted to go on my own journey but was quickly talked out of it being told my family needed me while my daughter was away….still crying out to hear His voice and settle my stirring soul. Maybe more of us need to go on our own kingdom journey to be able to be those mentors and disciples to a complacent church body.

  • “Jesus told his disciples he’d make them fishers of men and then he showed them what that means.” Vision Imparted –> Leading by Example –> Effective Commission

    Thanks for this one, Seth.

  • Bryan, thanks. You are one of the best I’ve seen at both learning from others and modeling the behavior that disciples need.

  • You have an audience of one, Gina. Listen to his voice and do what he says and you’ll be OK. And if I can help you get there, it would be a pleasure.

  • Great words..I find it interesting as mom of 9 that some of the kiddos that watch my- “almost” every move…some will do as I do, some will CHOOSE not to. But good fruit does prevail as sweet Gladys called home from her intern experience at International House of Prayer and thanked me for making her clean her room. Her small team of gals were asked to help a woman of 6 children clean her house and it was a huge task at hand and brought her to this point of being “grateful.” for the teaching, but took this real picture in front of her to have her take notice. I keep doing the same thing and know that walking out my faith is a day to day commitment. It truly is a joy to serve in HIS Kingdom work.

  • Thanks for this Seth. Dave M and I have been having similar discussions lately as we examine our documentary film trajectory. Encouraging to find this in my blog feed.

    We noticed that in Philippians 4:9 Paul says something similar to what you’re highlighting here: Do what you heard and what you saw. Though we think of him as a speaker/writer, we’re thinking he probably modeled faith as well if he made the statement.

  • Love is the key. Without it we’re just a bunch of clanging gongs or cymbals. Noise. Bla bla bla. People learn real quick how to mentally tune out noise. Children especially. May our lives as Jesus followers be that of few words and much love in action.

    Meditate on the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. Without these it’s just … noise. Did someone say something? Did I hear some noise?

  • 3 thing last 4ever faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of all is love. 4 us 2 make discipleship, we need 2 put on the armour/weapone of love inside of us. Let the grace help us show love the jesus and his disciples work. Without love, no miracles and signs that will be seen in us.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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