Clones for Christ

Jesus doesn’t need clones.

Jesus doesn’t call us to be like other Christians, and he doesn’t call other Christians to try to mold us in their images. Yet sometimes I read articles by someone famous and it sounds an awful lot like “If you would only live the Christian life exactly how I tell you to, the way that I tell you I live mine, then you’ll be the person God wants you to be.”

Those leaders appear to want to operate a disciple machine like this:

From the funny folks at Leadership Journal

From the funny folks at Leadership Journal

That’s not what really happens in God’s family, though. In fact, the family aspect of belonging to God is the first clue that we are not to be clones, but rather individuals. When you look at a family you don’t see people who are indistinguishable from one another. Sure there are similarities and family traits, but families do not consist of absolute identical beings.

Consider the people Jesus drew alongside him. The twelve disciples who were closest to him included fishermen, a tax collector, a political/religious activist, and more. After spending three years by Jesus’ side they continued in their individuality. Even after the Holy Spirit came on Jesus’ followers following his resurrection, they still showed remarkable diversity in the way they lived out their faith.

Peter and John preached together for a while but eventually split up and Peter settled on the coast, while John traveled far to the north to reach out to people completely unlike the neighbors he grew up with on the shores of Galilee. John’s brother James, on the other hand, stayed in Jerusalem, the big city also so unlike their home town, to lead the infant fellowship of believers. It got him killed. The government didn’t like this new movement of faith and went right to the top to stop it by getting rid of the person who seemed to be in charge. James was dead, yet the church continued to grow even without his leadership.

That’s the thing about belonging to Jesus. No one is really in charge, and no one really has a say in how everyone else is supposed to behave. Any time I see a new church or movement claiming to be Christian, I figure I should wait to see if it can survive the removal or death of its founder. One thing I’ve discovered is that if there is a leadership crisis and the church closes up shop or the movement folds, then it was probably more about the leader trying to make people do things his way (and usually it was a man in charge) rather than pointing people to Jesus.

Christianity survived the death of James – and Peter, and John, and Phoebe, and Priscilla, and Aquila, and Lydia, and Paul, and Timothy, and Barnabas and all the other people we read of in the Bible – because our faith is about Christ and not about them. It continues to survive despite what some leaders today are trying to do in making their followers in their own images. Their movements might fall, but the church will stand.

And as people who belong to Jesus’ family, as the people who each make up the body of Christ, as the church universal that stands for eternity in God’s kingdom, we also will not fall but forever remain with God.


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20 Responses to Clones for Christ

  1. Deanna says:

    Tim, this is an awesome post-have you ever heard of Steve Taylor? if not, google the lyrics to his song “I want to be a clone”. He is a quirky classic Christian artist, witty, sarcastic and sometimes controversial-but that song (which was written in the early 80s but is still quite relevant!) fit this column perfectly!

  2. Jeannie says:

    Great post, Tim. Trying to make all Christians the same is like trying to make a body that is all feet. I’m pretty sure there’s something about that in the Bible somewhere, in fact … 🙂

  3. Jeremy M. says:

    Wait so you’re telling me that the message of Christianity isn’t “You need to look exactly like ” and is about Christ?

    I wish I could say I haven’t run into it, sometimes it takes the look of a particular leader, but I think it also takes place in denominations. A Christian looks like our particular distinctive and you can’t deviate in the slightest even if it is a secondary or tertiary issue.

  4. Pastor Bob says:

    How about this: “Follow me as I follow Christ.” The basics do not change, cannot, and will not. But as we grow in Christ we add our own distinctive elements, develop who we are in Him, and grow with and in Him.
    I followed a rigid regimen early in my Christian life, because this what my pastor did. He insisted that I stick with this until God led me in a different direction. After a few months the Holy Spirit did lead in small changes, and I have all but abandoned those early ideas. The key to this was discipline, it was not necessarily what was done, but the why.
    I stress the same model with my kids, the youth I work with, and many are in ministry in their adulthood.

    • Tim says:

      I thought of passages like that too, PB. I love them because in context it’s clear that the Bible is telling us all to grow in our relationships with God, to become the people he wants us to be. Paul, for example, never told people that the goal was to be like him but rather to grow in Christ.

  5. Pastor Bob says:

    I thought of passages like that too, PB.
    “PB?” What does this mean?

  6. Beth Caplin says:

    Yesss. You should see the looks I get when people find out I can’t stand 90% of most worship music. Therefore, the ‘worship’ portion of church is the most awkward and disliked part for me (because the bible clearly says “music is the only way to worship Me”).

    • Tim says:

      I know what you mean, Beth. And particularly when I am reading someone who promotes the psalter as the only way to sing praises in church, or those who insist that instruments are unbiblical. Most merely say this is how they choose to sing, of course, but some who insist it’s the only way.

  7. Rev. Carlene Appel says:

    How timely Tim. I was just commenting on a Chaplain’s website about a similar thing. A local pastor was asking for advice as to how to connect with the town fire/police guys and gals, as he had just undertaken an additional role of being their Chaplain. Chaplaincy and parish pastor are very different. The Chaplain isn’t there to make a follower in her/his image and often God sends us to people who have beliefs very different than our own.

    • Tim says:

      Chaplains have my admiration for reaching out to any and all when folks are in such distressing and dire need. Christ is revealed in word and action, not by calls of conformity but by the graces of comfort and hospitality.

  8. The tragic thing is that we all lose out when we try to make everyone the same. Who you are, how you relate to God, your own unique understandings and experience all enrich me when I take the time to listen and engage with you. If we’re all the same, we have nothing to give or receive within the body.

    Btw, I wrote something similar about the Borg…

    • Tim says:

      So true. Not only can we not say to another part of the body that they don’t belong because they’re not just like us; we also can’t say that we can do without them.

      Thanks for the link, too. I left a comment there. You might like this one I wrote too on how The Bride of Christ is not the Borg Collective. (Great minds can still think alike while remaining individual, right?)

      • Thanks, that was a good read, Tim (as is so much of what you write here) 🙂 I especially liked your affirmation that we become more our true selves as we mature in Christ:

        “The women and men who make up the Church, the Bride of Christ, really do end up being more of who they are as individuals created by God.”

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