Transformational Leadership,

Transformational Leadership | Lesson 1: Imitation of Christ and Christian Leadership

By Ben Lovvorn

I want to welcome you to the iCampus! The iCampus is a ministry of the First Baptist Church of Dallas in Dallas, Texas. My name is Ben Lovvorn, and I’m the Executive Pastor here at the church. I have the privilege to serve under our Senior Pastor, Dr. Robert Jeffress.

Our goal on the iCampus is to equip you with discipleship resources that help bring God’s truth into your daily life. This video series is about Christlike Transformational Leadership. What I want us to discover together is a biblical, Christ-centered way of leading people.

Who This Series is For

God has called me vocationally to serve in the church, so that’s where I spend my time working and leading others. But this approach to leading in a Christlike, transformational way applies wherever you have influence, anywhere that God has called you to be. So I apply these biblical truths not just as a pastor, but also as a husband, a father, and as a coach. I think you could apply them as a business or nonprofit leader, as a teacher or administrator, as a parent, a volunteer, or in many other endeavors—even with your extended family or circle of friends as you steward the relationships that God has given you. So wherever God has you, I think this course can be helpful to you as you think about what it means to lead like Christ.

Series Overview

We’ll explore what transformational leadership is throughout this series, and I want to give you just a quick overview of where we’re headed. This first video is about how the concept of imitation in Scripture relates to Christian leadership. Every Christian is called to be a leader because each of us is called to live a life worthy of imitation. We imitate Christ so that others can imitate us.

In our second video, we’ll define two very different kinds of leadership, transformational leadership and transactional leadership. Our goal is to become transformational leaders, leaders who desire to transform the lives of those we lead. But often in our world, we’re pressured and tempted to be transactional leaders, to view leadership as a transaction, focused purely on rewards, like money; consequences, like disciplinary action; and results rather than on the people we are called to serve and shepherd.

In the third part of this series, we’ll look at a biblical example of a transactional leader and in the fourth part, we’ll look to Jesus as the ultimate transformational leader.

In our fifth video, we’ll conclude the series by talking through how to assess what kind of leader you are. I want to give you some diagnostic questions to ask yourself, which can help you grow as a leader who works toward the transformation of those under your influence and who imitates Christ’s example. You’ll also have the opportunity to download a free resource that we have developed for you—our Transformational Leadership Self-Assessment tool.

The Power of Imitation

As a father of four young sons and now a new baby girl, God is often teaching me through my children. For example, I have learned very well that lessons and behaviors are better caught than taught. Sometimes this a good thing. Sometimes, it is not so good.

Recently, I was up early working in my home office. One of my sons came downstairs, grabbed his Bible, and began reading it. Then, another one came down, saw his brother, and did the same thing. Then, a third. I proudly thought, “Hmm… I must be doing something right.” A short time later, I was putting them to bed. As I walked out of their rooms, I thought, “My gosh! There are dirty clothes everywhere. Tomorrow, I am going to tell them they need to pick these up!” I went downstairs and into my bathroom… where I found a pile of dirty, sweaty workout clothes I had left on the floor that morning. “Hmm…” I thought, “Surely, their behavior has nothing to do with mine.” We are all heavily influenced by others’ examples—good and bad. And, we are influencing others by the examples that we set.

As Christians, we are called to lead exemplary lives. We are called to be Christ-like. However, if we are honest, we often view Christ’s teachings as idealistic and aspirational, but unrealistic. As fallen people, we realize that we can never achieve complete or perfect godliness in this life. But unfortunately, that sometimes leads us to relinquish the effort and settle for much less than what God has called us to do. We fail to become the person God has called us to become.

Believe it or not, Jesus does command and expect you to follow both his teachings and his lived example. That is why, in 1 Corinthians 11:1, the Apostle Paul charged the church, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.”

So I ask you today… Are you really striving daily to imitate Christ? Do you even believe that is possible? Are you a person who can confidently challenge others—your family, your coworkers, your classmates, or your friends—to follow your example, because you are following Christ?

Christianity is not just an idea or a feeling—it is an entire life lived for God’s glory, in imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ. To become a disciple of Jesus Christ means to take on the task of learning to imitate Christ. To make more disciples requires modeling the Christian life for them. It means giving others an example to be imitated, emulated, and followed. This is what Christ did for all of us—the Son of God came to earth to model how we should live. As Christians and as leaders, then, the Bible calls us to live the kind of life that others can imitate and follow.

One New Testament scholar explains it like this. He said that imitation “is not the way to salvation through pious achievement, but an attitude of thanks in response to the salvation that has been given to us. The summons to discipleship can be fulfilled only when a person is grasped by Christ and undergoes the transformation that existence under his lordship involves.”

Imitate Christ So Others Can Imitate You

Let’s dig a little deeper into this critical verse that I just quoted earlier, 1 Corinthians 11:1. Here Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

At this point in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul has been helping the church think through the proper use of Christian freedom. He notes that “All things are lawful, but not all are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” Specifically, in chapter 10, Paul addresses the thorny issue of how to deal with meat sacrificed to idols. He ends his guidance to them by emphasizing that we should always strive, in everything we do, to glorify God. He writes, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

As he concludes his broader discussion of how Christians are to approach various issues, he begins chapter 11 with this powerful admonition, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Cor. 11:1). So if we take what Paul is saying at the end of 1 Corinthians 10 and the beginning of 1 Corinthians 11 together, we see that the what, “do all things for the glory of God,” is accomplished by the how, “imitate my life as I imitate Christ.” This is the joining of head and hands, of knowledge with action. We are called both to know Christ’s teachings and to live those teachings out. We believe what Jesus said and we follow his pattern of life. We hear his word and then we do his word.

Now I want you to really consider what Paul is saying here. Take it seriously. You may feel like it would be impossible for you to live a truly godly life. You may feel like you don’t even know where to start. But remember, we know what a life lived entirely to the glory of God looks like because we have had it modeled for us perfectly—we have seen the perfect life of Jesus Christ. Not only is He our Savior who redeems us from the power of death, He is also our example who shows us how to live.

So, what was Paul really saying here when he says, “Be imitators of me”? Paul was telling the church that he was living out his life in the very pattern of Jesus Christ. Because they too had been called to follow the example of Jesus, they could follow Paul’s example as a means of emulating Christ.

Importantly, Paul doesn’t treat this as a command just for the Christian elite. This isn’t just for monks and martyrs. Paul does not say, “As an apostle—a super-saint, I imitate Christ. But you? You should just do the best that you can.” No. Just as Jesus instructed his apostles to make disciples, teaching them to obey all that he commanded, Paul tells us that we should strive to emulate Christ ourselves. And he says, “If you need to know how to do that, watch me, because I am doing it.”

Living like Christ will come with its own set of complexities in this world. Few of us will face the question of whether we should eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols, which is what Paul works through carefully in 1 Corinthians 10. But there are many other questions and issues that Christians must navigate daily in order to follow Christ and live like Him in a fallen world. The point stands that the main focus and aim of our lives should be growing in Christ, imitating Christ, and living lives that bring Him honor and glory.

Dallas Willard, who is such a great guide for the spiritual life, notes that some may object: if Paul really meant that we were to live a spiritually rigorous lifestyle, that we were to submit ourselves to righteousness in the same we Jesus did, why didn’t he come right out and say it? “But he did come right out and say it,” Willard argues. “Paul says to us, ‘Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.’ He says, ‘Whatever you have heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).

In our most honest moments, we may admit that we do not really treat all of Christ’s teachings or way of life as realistic. We may take them as idealistic or aspirational, but we do not really seek to imitate Christ. How do I know? Because when I look around, I can see that most of the time most of us are not actually doing the things that Jesus did. We do not live the way he lived. We do not spend time alone with the Lord, put others before ourselves, serve the church, or invite others into God’s Kingdom by sharing the good news of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ.

Instead, we tend to think that we are following Paul’s example if we merely believe the same things that he did. But, Willard contends, “Our lives are not like his life at all. We do not do the things he did. Yet it was surely Paul’s practice that alone explains his marvelously victorious life in the easy yoke of Christ, for he in faith adopted his Lord’s overall style of life.”

You see, as Willard explains, “The key to understanding Paul is to know that, with all his weaknesses and failures and personality deficiencies, he gave himself solely to being like his Lord. He lived and practiced daily the things his Lord taught and practiced. He lived a life of abandonment; and it was his confidence in this path, and in the power that derived from the rich union with Christ it created, that enabled him to call others to do the same.”

Scripture is rich with teachings that should inform our way of living in imitation of Christ. For example, Christ did not please himself, but denied himself for the good of others (Romans 15:3, Philippians 2:4–7). We are to love and welcome others and invite them into the family of God (Romans 15:7, Ephesians 5:1–2). Husbands are to love our wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Indeed, Christ even instructs us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

Now, we recognize that we will never be perfect in this life. We will never be able to exactly replicate Christ until we are fully glorified with him in heaven. New Testament scholar Anthony Thiselton explains that Paul is not arguing for exact replication. Instead, he is saying “Take me as your pattern, as I take Christ for mine.” He explains that we are to take Paul’s lifestyle as a “pattern or broad model in . . .  aiming at glorifying God,” not because it was Paul’s model, but because Paul was following Christ’s model.

So this is the high calling of every Christian—to imitate Christ’s way of life. When we do that, we become leaders. We become the kind of people who others can imitate and pattern their lives after. With the rest of this video series, I want us to think together about how we can lead like Christ did. Christ is a transformational leader, and in his power and through his example, we can answer his call and become transformational leaders too.