The Power of Example

“People will do with others

what you have done with them,

not what you ask them to do with others.”

Howard Hendricks, retired professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, described it this way.  He related that he had stood before his class and told them that they needed to get involved with others in Bible studies.  The following year he traveled out to where his seminary students were doing pastoral work in local churches.  As he sat in the pew, he heard them tell the congregation that they needed to be involved with others in a Bible study.  The students were not involved in any Bible studies themselves, they were simply telling others what they had been told.  Howard states that he went back to Dallas and began to have Bible studies with the students.  A significant change occurred in this group of students.  Wherever they went in their ministry, they were involved with others in Bible studies.

About forty years ago I recall sitting in a small tea room in downtown Wichita.  An insurance salesman whom I had met a few months earlier was asking questions about the person of Christ.  As I began to explain the gospel to him, I found a pamphlet in my pocket, written by an evangelist in California.  It was a series of questions and statements in which my friend showed interest.  At the conclusion of our discussion, he sat across the table from me and gave his life to Christ.  Over the next several months we met regularly, during which time he became established in Christ and I began the process of equipping him for ministry.  A co-worker of his was interested in spiritual matters and we discussed several ways of presenting the gospel including the Bridge illustration. After several months went by, I asked him how he was progressing in presenting the gospel  He hesitated, and then related that he was unable to do so because he had not been able to find the pamphlet that I had shown him when he trusted Christ.  Remarkable!  He was programmed to do with others what I had done with him.

Years later I was meeting with a man who had asked me to help with his discipleship.   He was more established in his walk with Christ; so I chose to start with some materials more suitable for a mature believer.  He continued to grow in Christ, and in time developed his own ministry.   To my chagrin, he was using the same materials that I had chosen to use with him, but with new believers for whom it was not the best choice.  He was doing with others what I had done with him.

Jim Petersen, author of Living Proof, stated the following in a Navigator staff conference:

          “A ministry develops sort of a genetic code, a DNA, as it progresses.  The choices made, the way things are done and the people who become a part-all contribute to defining the shape of things to come for better or worse.

           Once the code is set, once a ministry takes form, it tends to follow that course.  It will require deliberate conscious effort to make changes.”

Everything we do becomes a pattern for those who follow.  Our initial interaction with those we are leading to faith will govern to a significant degree the manner in which they, in the future, will relate to non-believers.  Not only is this true in a spiritual realm, but our relationships we have with co-workers, our families, our use of money, time and other resources will be an influence not only on those to whom we minister but to succeeding generations as well.  Our lives, for better or worse, are patterned after the examples we have seen and lived with to a significant extent.  I recently read again the story of Samuel.  He was a man dedicated to the Lord, and committed to honoring the Lord.  Yet we read in I Samuel 8:3, ”But his sons did not walk in his ways.  They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.”  What was the reason for this, we might ask?  From whom did Samuel learn his parenting skills?  Eli, unfortunately, was the model to which Samuel was exposed.

I am in the process of learning to view others with a concern, not only as to what they might need, but more importantly, as to what those to whom they minister in the future might need.  This requires looking beyond them to succeeding generations who will need a pattern for their lives and ministry as well.  A young man with whom I meet regularly was quite knowledgeable with the scriptures.  When I first met him, I was tempted to begin with something that I thought would be of more interest to him.  As I considered the options I became convinced that what he needed was to have a pattern of ministry established clearly in his life that would be the DNA for succeeding generations.  Accordingly, we began with Beginning with Christ.  This is where he needs to begin with most of those with whom his life will have an influence.  They in turn, will have this patterned in their lives.

 Paul states the following in Philippians 4:9,  “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.”   It is my prayer that whatever is learned, received, heard or seen in our lives may be the correct pattern for the succeeding generations of followers of Christ.

In Christ,

Richard Spann

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