“… Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.,'” Luke 10:37
“Follow me as I follow Christ.” I Corinthians 11:1
“… Just work first and foremost, and if they want to live like you, they will see to it themselves. Be the example …” Sayings of the Desert Fathers
One of the scariest things about our times is the rise of influencers. These social media stars, some of whom have no real qualifications other than attractiveness, use a variety of electronic platforms to sway peoples opinions to buy products, wear certain styles of clothing, behave in particular ways and the like. Sometimes they are paid for what they do by sponsors or other means of generating an income. Rarely do they take responsibility if someone is harmed after doing or saying something under their influence.
Our Lord, His Apostles, and those after them were not influencers. They accepted the responsibility of discipling people who looked to them for guidance. Rather than seeking compensation or celebrity in this world, these men (and women) took on the shame and tortures here to gain a greater glory in the world to come. Jesus was crucified. Paul was frequently beaten and imprisoned before his execution. The same is true for almost all other of the Lord’s inner circle. Christians in the first 300 years of the faith risked martyrdom. Monastics practiced lives of extreme asceticism. Except for the conversion of 3,000 in Acts 2:41, the goal was not to gain a mass following.
Some of the Desert Fathers drew hundreds of disciples to live in asceticism and austerity. But, this life was not simply a trend to be here one day and gone the next. Onuphrius lived in isolation for 60 years, much of the time with his own body hair as a garment. Even though Basil of Cappadocia left the desert to become a priest and bishop, he lived very modestly as he built hospitals and hostels for others. From Pachomius who founded the great monasteries in Upper Egypt to Fr. Seraphim Rose who helped establish St. Herman’s Monastery in California, monastic fathers very strict with themselves and merciful to all who strived to live in holiness. They had a responsibility not simply to influence a following. Their task was to grow and groom the Lord’s disciples.
Father Adam Roberts described the three types of people a Christian needs: mentors, mentees, and peers. We need people who are directly responsible for our spiritual growth. We need to have people who we are able to train. And we need those around us who can give a word to feed our souls and we them. Not everyone is going to be clergy or a parent. We should be prayerful and led by the Holy Spirit and have good guidance before we go assuming roles in the Church and society. But, we all have a responsibility to carry and share the Gospel with each other and others. Ours is a faith of compassion, consistency, and community. A distance image and voice giving general advice on temporal methods to gain an earthly following could point someone in a good direction for a time. But, like the hardened path, the seed of God’s truth is quickly lost without the relationships that add depth to spiritual growth (Matthew 13:1-23).
May the Lord make me a good influence incidentally as I strive to mentor, interact with peers, and (especially) try to learn to be a Christian. I still have much to learn.