impersonate (im-për-së-nāt) v – to assume or act the character of someone else.
True confession: I’ve been ordained for 35 years and have served churches in four different countries; but there are still times when I feel I’m not really a pastor, just impersonating one. Funerals, some hospital visits, discussions with ultra-conservative Christians—these seem to demand an uncomfortable persona I must adapt which doesn’t feel natural, more like I’m just going through the motions, acting like someone else. I do this for the right reasons (at least, that’s what I tell myself), because what others expect of their pastor is important. It’s like what Paul says about eating meat sacrificed to idols; I do not want to be a stumbling block to anyone who might be of “weaker conscience.” So, in certain situations, I act according to expectations, even if it isn’t really me.
I think this is more than an occupational hazard. It might be something every Christian occasionally falls prey to: impersonating “a real Christian,” trying to fit the stereotype expected by others.
“Remember WWJD: What Would Jesus Do? Did those bracelets intimidate you as much as they did me? How could we ever be expected to do what Jesus would do?! Pretty unrealistic. When I was a kid, I had this Sunday School teacher who was always admonishing us: “Would Jesus act like that?” “If Jesus were here, would you say those words?” We were taught things would be different things if Christ was in the room. It didn’t seem like it would be a lot of fun, and we couldn’t be ourselves.
Let me suggest we should never try to impersonate Jesus. We can’t pull it off. However, we should make every effort to personate him in the world around us. Instead of trying to be someone we aren’t, we should embody Christ’s presence wherever we happen to be. Don’t try to be like Jesus. Let Jesus be in us! Paul writes, “For God who says, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ” [2 Corinthians 4:6]. No impersonation, no pretending required. We are exactly who we are—earthen vessels that, bearing Christ, glow with God’s all-surpassing love shining within.
I like the way Leonard Sweet puts it. “When we stop impersonating and start personating Christ, we inhabit the name we’ve inherited—‘little Christs’ (Christ-ians) sent into the world for ministry and mission, steadfast in faith, passionate in love, imperishable in hope.”
Jesus commanded us that we should see him “in the least of these”—the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the homeless. When we do so, something absolutely wonderful occurs: those we encounter see him in us! There’s nothing impersonating or impersonal about that at all.