I told my friend the other day something that probably left him a little skittish: He was my new role model.
My friend—husband, father of two and just five years older than me—probably knew I had been watching. He could sense I was eyeing his way around his wife, his kids, his time, his house, his life. But for me to say that now I was keeping score and taking notes out in the open probably set him back.
It’s not that I want to add any more pressure to his life, but I’ve got to start somewhere. We’ve all got to start somewhere. We all need to look around—inside our homes, inside our churches, inside our workplaces—for people to emulate. Role models are a necessity.
It first hit me what I was missing in my life when a friend of mine moved to a new town and started a new job a few months ago after graduating from college. She wanted to find some stability with new friends. She wanted to find a footing at the new job. But most of all, she made it a point to find a role model. She wanted to eat lunch once a month with someone a few years older, someone who had been down her path. She wanted to see this person living what might just become her life in a few years. She wanted to start witnessing the faith, the faithfulness, the fruit of such a life. So she needed someone who was already knee-deep in it.
I had forgotten why that was so important. And I suspect most of us have, too. This generation has forgotten the value in role models. Maybe since we left high school and thought we had grown up and become our own person, the idea that we needed a role model has vanished from our self-started, self-strengthened, self-centered lives. We can make it on our own—we can figure it out if we have a little book there, a little devotional here, a little friendship there.
Some of us who are either having children or about to have children are seeking out role models—older parents. We yearn for all their secrets of the trade. And some of us are headlong into careers where we have found that aging veteran to listen to.
But those types of role models are only for the slice of life we desire. If we truly want to be whole people—people who have a glorifying touch on all we do—we need people to show us not just how to be better at this or that, but who live out their faith in every area of their lives.
The role models we need are people whose lives we can enter, whose houses we can sit in. We need their wholeness—their mornings, their afternoons, their evenings. We need to see them when they are tired, when they are strong, when they are mad at their spouses, when they are playing with their children.
So where do we find such all-engrossing, top-of-the-line titans of the faith? Scripture gives us some idea by showing us how the community of faith breeds role model relationships. Joshua followed Moses—they came from the same community. Timothy followed Paul—they came from the same community. And the best example—the disciples followed Jesus, and they too came from the same community.
There is a danger to having a role model. We tend to forget they are models—they walk in front of us trying to look their best, trying to stand up straight, trying to keep it all together. But as role models lead by example, they also lead by failing. You ever seen your role model cry? You ever seen your role model get divorced? And then did you ask yourself why they were your role model?
Because they carried their cross. Because they fought the good fight. Because they kept the faith. These are the things that matter. These things are the stuff our lives are for. These are the things we should learn to model.
[Matthew Boedy is a writer and Young Life leader in Aiken, S.C. He enjoys reading, writing and probing the depths of his friends’ patience.]
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