Written by Taylor Price
When the world shut down due to the global pandemic, I, like most people, shifted to shopping (and spending most free time) online. Since picking up, trying on, or closely inspecting products was no longer an option, I quickly got into the habit of clicking over to Youtube, where I’d watch a trendy millennial tell me over stock background music every pro and con of the product in question. All in favor? Add to cart. #influenced.
Whether by earned trust, colorful Instagram feeds, viral videos, or niche expertise, social media influencers account for some of the most effective marketing campaigns in our society today. From vacation spots to fashion to coffee orders, our generation looks to others to know how to think, what to buy, and where to go.
Our generation is so eager for someone to follow. So hungry for direction, advice, and shared experiences. What does the Church have to do with this need?
Let’s take a second to peel back some layers of this lifestyle marketing trend. While some may assume laziness is the root of this cultural shift (young people not wanting to do the work themselves, but looking to others to entertain/inform them), I believe the roots go a bit deeper.
Depression and anxiety levels among adults and adolescents have skyrocketed in the past few years, and understandably so. We live in a world with endless options, abundant judgment, looming fear of being cancelled, and for some, fear of even leaving the house.
There seems to be some sort of comfort in looking to the opinions, research, or approval of others–even when it comes to insignificant decisions. The instant fame of peers-become-influencers online speaks to a felt need: we’re hungry to be led. Seeking to be spoken to. Dying for some direction. Scripture is full of evidence that this need is not a new one; it’s just showing itself in new ways. The Church has been given plenty of words about our role in influencing our generation. We have answers of hope and truth, and we’re called to make disciples by living a life worth imitating.
A “Life Worth Imitating”
In at least six different passages in the New Testament, Paul tells his readers to imitate him as he serves the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:15-17, 1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17, Philippians 4:9, 2 Thessalonians 3:9, 2 Timothy 3:10, etc)
He outlines a few examples in 1 Thessalonians 2 of what it looks like to have a life worth imitating–aka, how to disciple. We could spend a long time talking about the qualifications of a great discipler. At a high level, and staying in this particular chapter of Scripture, let’s choose three. A life worth imitating has a commitment to Truth, a willingness to share life and invest in another, and bears spiritual fruit.
Commitment to Truth:
But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 1 Thessalonians 2:3-5
Paul shares that despite persecution and difficulty, he is committed to sharing the gospel clearly, without selfish gain or error, motivated only by pleasing God (not man). This attitude of unwavering commitment to sharing the truth of the gospel is one we should be quick to imitate.
Willingness to share life and invest:
So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2:8
This is such a beautiful description of discipleship. There should be a deep care for those in whom we invest. If the motivation for discipleship is not love, the motivation is wrong. Sharing pieces of your life–the wins and losses, habits and hurts, and everything in between–brings a new level of influence that builds trust and strengthens bonds.
Bearing spiritual fruit:
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.
1 Thessalonians 2:13-14a
If someone observed your life closely, would they find your words back up your lifestyle? All throughout 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul references the hard work he and his team did to further the gospel. In the verses above, he talks about seeing God’s work in the lives of those they came to serve. When a believer is growing, God doesn’t demand mistake-free living, but He does say there will be evidence of that growth. A life worth imitating will have tangible evidence of God’s work. In verses 19-20, Paul describes his audience as that very evidence- the “joy and glory” of his work.
For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20
Meet Them There
Want to catch fish? Go where the fish are. Want to reach a generation obsessed with influencing/being influenced by others? Meet them there. Maybe that looks like modeling a life worth imitating to a few younger believers. Maybe it’s intentionally starting conversations and creating connections with people you interact with daily. Or maybe it looks like using your social media platform to share the hope you’ve found in God’s Truth. The gospel is not so limited and ancient that it can’t be found relevant in that space.
Just to be clear, I’m not asking you to go create a TikTok account with a million followers. There is a space for that, but it’s not for everyone. What I am asking you to do is consider your part in pointing a seeking generation to the truth they are desperately searching for. I’m asking you to see those looking for insight and guidance, and be to them a life worth imitating. Be willing to share your life and have an influence that lasts beyond the trends and impacts eternity.
*All verses above listed from the English Standard Version of Scripture