Once, several years ago, while driving through an intersection, a car turned right in front of me and caused me to slam my brakes. After getting on my way (and proud of myself for not saying a word) my young daughter leaned forward from the back seat and asked me, "Dad, is that guy an idiot?"
Kids often imitate their parents in everything, whether good or bad. This is no less true for adults. When it comes to Christianity, the faith is passed on not just from individuals reading their bibles in seclusion, but is handed down from person to person (2 Timothy 2:2). Certainly college students learn from leaders how the faith is lived out and practiced, and that is a subject worth pursuing. But I think that we must first ask the question: who do I imitate? For with what we learn from those who are our mentors, we pass on to those for whom we minister.
Consider just a few biblical verses on this: "Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us" (Philippians 3:17). "We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what was promised" (Hebrews 6:12). "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith" (Hebrews 13:7).
It is imperative that we, as those who minister to students and others, imitate those Christian leaders who have a proven character in persevering in the faith in the face of pain and suffering, and have done it with great humility. This does not necessarily mean that we emulate those who eruditely speak the Word of God, have superior gifts and abilities, and enjoy success in ministry. It does mean that we ought to imitate, and have as mentors, those persons who imitate Christ and are not self-promoting peacocks who go after being admired and praised. Paul chose Timothy to go to the Philippian church because Timothy had proven himself as being genuinely concerned for others, and not for making decisions that would simply further his ministry career (Philippians 2:19-23). Timothy had learned from his mentor, Paul, how to cultivate a life of service to others rather than to be self-serving.
We are to imitate those who have proved themselves in hardship. A Christian leader who has not undergone the purgative fires of trials in this life may more easily become seduced by their own importance. However, leaders who have seen their share of hard circumstances, pain, and suffering, and have come through it loving God and serving others out of grace and humility, are leaders worth imitating.
So whom will you follow?
What Christians will serve you well as good models of faith and ministry?
Be alert for Christian leaders who exemplify genuine meekness, selfless service, and are in the habit of being helpful and doing good. Imitate such persons.
If you do not have someone in your life you can truly consider a "mentor" in the faith, begin today to search for a person for whom you can imitate. The students for whom you minister to deserve it.