The power of example

Mexico in the 1940s was a country trying to come to grips with the 20th century. While discoveries of oil and a developing infrastructure encouraged foreign investment, basic social indicators like literacy rates, health care and basic wages demonstrated that for the vast majority of Mexicans, life was still a great struggle. It was in this context that Ávila Camacho was elected president in 1940.

President Camacho will be remembered for many things, but one particularly has stuck with me. In 1940, 58% of Mexicans were deemed to be illiterate, a figure which Camacho thought was unacceptable. In an attempt to improve literacy, he instigated the ‘Each One Teach One’ program, asking teachers and other educated people to give one hour per day to tutor a relative, a friend or a colleague. The program was a great success—illiteracy dropped to 43% by 1949 and the trajectory continued downwards to 9% in 2009.

As soon as I heard that my thoughts were immediately—what would happen if all Christians did that with 1-1 Bible reading! That would be a lot of people investigating the scriptures, asking questions and sharing insights.

But there is more to this story than a reminder of the great benefits of personal ministry.

President Camacho was so committed to this project that he himself spent one hour a day tutoring. Imagine being taught to read by the president!

As a leader, it’s one thing to say a program or an activity or a habit is important. It’s another thing all together to ‘put your money where your mouth is’ and to lead by example.

In 1 Corinthians 4:16 Paul urges the Christians in Corinth to imitate him. In the context of the chapter this imitation will take the form of being weak and foolish in the eyes of the world (4:9-10), suffering (4:11-12), blessing in the face of persecution (4:12) and enduring (4:12). We also see that Paul has made the personally costly decision to send them Timothy (4:17) to encourage this imitation.

Now if Paul was exhorting these qualities from the comfort of his plush study, untroubled by the pressures of a coalface ministry existence, the words would be encouraging and true, but perhaps easily brushed off. But as we read of Paul’s time in Corinth in Acts 18:1-17, we know that these exhortations do not flow from theoretical reflection or idealistic dreaming, but from hard fought experience. Paul is not inviting his readers to imitate a theory he is postulating, he is inviting them to imitate the life he lived with them, and continued to live throughout his ministry.

(It’s also worth keeping in mind that Paul is not trying to set up some sort of personality cult—1 Cor 1:12-17, 3:5-9 and 11:1 make that clear.)

As Christians, especially as Christian leaders we are often willing to give advice suggest ideas or think up a new program. In Ávila Camacho, and more importantly the Apostle Paul, we see the value of personal example.

3 thoughts on “The power of example

  1. Very encouraging. We often get overwhelmed and think ministry has to start off big.

    I’ve been reading recently about masculinity as sacrificial leadership. That seems a hard concept to explain to people. But it is simply leadership by example. I think this applies to men especially. If men were leading their wives and families by example, instead of abusing their authority, I doubt we would have seen the rise of feminism.

  2. Nice article Peter! I’m reminded of what I heard at a training day on discipleship. “To get big you have to get small, invest 1-1 bible reading and prayer so see real growth”
    Thanks again

  3. Thanks Peter! that is a helpful reminder. I suppose it ultimately comes from Jesus too! and his understanding of servant leadership. A leader is never meant to be one who is distant from the people he leads but down in the dirt with them.

    Praise be to Jesus for not considering equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing. smile May our attitude be like this too!

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