Life is filled with imitations. I know because I’ve tasted them. I remember vividly as a child when my parents would return from a stewardship conference or come home from a Dave Ramsey class. (OK, it was Larry Burkett at the time.) All kinds of new things would fill our pantries and refrigerators. The budget was under revision, and anywhere my parents could save money was fair game.
Sodas and cereal seemed to be the place where these revisions cut deepest. Dr. Pepper was exchanged for Dr. Thunder. Mr. Pibb became Mr. Pig. Fruit Loops turned into Fruit Spins. Corn Pops gave way to Golden Nuggets of Corn. Lucky Charms became Fortunate Marshmallows. Total was now Almost. No longer did my parents believe the real thing was necessary. They had bought into the lie, and we were their victims.
The lie of the imitation says that you can have all the taste for half of the cost. “No need to go with the brand name,” the imitators say. “Our product looks the same. We just chose to forego four colors on our boxes and saved you what we saved on marketing.” The only problem with this idea was that it wasn’t the same product.
My mom and dad spent lots of time trying to convince us that there was no difference between the imitation and the real thing. But we kids knew that there was. Maybe not at first, but soon we knew. The imitation often tastes like the real thing at first. It’s not until the aftertaste that you realize you have been duped.
Unfortunately, what we also found out about the imitation was that if we ate or drank it long enough, we could convince ourselves that it was just like the real thing. But that only lasted until we went to one of our friend’s houses where they had the real thing. In that moment when we tasted the real thing, we once again realized just how much Fortunate Marshmallows fell short in comparison to Lucky Charms. The imitation simply could not compete with the original.
I bring that up to tell you that becoming a something less than the real you is exactly the opposite of what discipleship is all about. Discipleship is never about the real thing creating little generic things that look and taste real at first but in the end never quite live up to what’s real. Discipleship isn’t even about becoming a generic version of Jesus. Let me say this clearly: It is never ok to become a generic of anyone or anything in the name Jesus. And any discipleship method that doesn’t help you become the real you is something less than the movement that Jesus gave his life to create. It may cost less to become someone else, but it will leave an aftertaste both in your life and in the lives of everyone to whom you want to minister.
As a discipler, my goal is not to make you a ripped-off version of me. Rather, it’s to turn you into the real you. It is to instill in you the substance that all real things are made of and then give you freedom to express Jesus inside your personality, giftings, callings, and limitations. It’s not about you becoming me or me becoming you. It is about each of us imitating Jesus and becoming who he would be if he were us.