Helping Others Escape Copycat Christianity

June 30, 2022

In my teen years, I spent five summers working as a lifeguard. In those five years, I only had to jump in the pool once to save someone.

The deep end of my hometown pool had four diving boards overlooking a large thirteen-foot-deep area. To ensure a kid was a strong enough swimmer for the deep end, they had to pass a swimming test by swimming the length of our 40-yard pool, then tread water for one minute.

One day, a seven-year-old boy asked to do the test. I walked to the edge of the swimming lanes with this kid and his friend and told him to swim to the other side. This kid started off strong, but as he reached the halfway point, he was no longer progressing. His arms were working hard, but he was basically treading water, wearing himself out.

So I dove in and quickly came up next to the kid who was still working as hard as ever. I put both my arms under him and gently picked him up. A surprised-yet-exhausted kid looked up at me, then looked around and realized he still had a long way to go to reach the other side. He was naturally disappointed, but also relieved I had arrived because he was completely worn out.

An Inconvenient Rescue

Helping Others Escape Copycat Christianity • Riverwood Church

But to be honest - I didn’t want to jump in the water. Because I had never had anyone fail the swimming test for me, I was unprepared to have to rescue the young boy. I was still wearing a t-shirt and had my eyeglasses on my face. I was being rather casual about the moment. So when I saw this kid struggling, I grumbled a bit in my heart. It felt inconvenient to me to have to dive in after this kid.

But how cruel it would have been to say, “Well, I've got a shirt on, and I hate wearing a wet shirt, so I can’t get in the water," or even "I don’t want to offend him by helping him out, so I’ll just let him keep struggling.” (If I had done that, I probably would be writing this from a jail cell where I would be residing for manslaughter.) Even though it was inconvenient, the right thing was to take off my t-shirt, hand my glasses to the kid’s friend, and shrug off my reluctance for the sake of this kid’s life.

Likewise, rescuing your fellow Christian friends or family members from Copycat Christianity will probably be a bit inconvenient and uncomfortable, and yet, if you love them, you’ll do what is right and invite them to have a conversation.

With Grace and Truth

Today, we conclude our series on Copycat Christianity. In this series, we’ve defined Copycat Christianity, discussed the dangers of it, talked about how to avoid becoming a copycat, and even considered how to proactively protect yourself from it. But what do you do when one of your Christian friends, family members, or fellow church members is trapped in Copycat Christianity?

You rescue them.

I believe God has given you two tools to help bring a loved one* out of Copycat Christianity:

The first tool is Grace.

This might be surprising. You’d think you should start with truth, since you are encouraging someone to not just be a duplicate of some celebrity Christian. However, I believe if you start with truth, you will put them on the defensive, which will start an argument.

So, begin with grace. After all, this is what God did for us. Romans 12:2 implies that we used to conform to the pattern of this world. Yet, while we sought to copy the sin-patterns of those around us, God gave us grace. So do likewise - give grace to your friend.

But as you begin a conversation, keep in mind: you can’t make your friends do or believe anything. (This is where my swimming-rescue metaphor breaks down.) You can’t force someone to stop being a copycat. So rather than try to rescue them with “here’s how you’re doing it wrong...”

  • ask questions
  • learn what they admire about the person they appear to be copying,
  • and be honest with yourself, realizing how you could fall into the same trap.

In other words, give them grace.

Your second tool: Truth

Please note: The tool of “Truth” doesn’t mean “your” truth, or proving how you are right and they are wrong. Rather, truth is about pointing them to Jesus and the truth of the gospel.

Helping Others Escape Copycat Christianity • Riverwood Church

So after affirming your love FOR your friend, share how much of what you currently see in them and hear from them seems to be the replication of some other Christ-follower rather than Christ Himself. Then gracefully remind them of the truth that God’s desire for them is that they become like Jesus, not just a famous pastor, successful author, or their grandma. The person they are emulating might be a very godly person, but encourage them to look beyond their earthly idol to the one who gave His life for them.

The Result of the Rescue

James 5:19-20 says…

My brothers [and sisters], if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

While your friend may not have completely "wandered from the truth," James helps us see that the kingdom will be better if you rescue your friend by helping him or her see that they aren't pursuing Jesus through the gospel, but rather a faded version of Him seen through the filter of their favorite Jesus-follower. Hopefully, they will have their eyes opened by the Holy Spirit, and like a struggling seven-year-old swimmer, they will be relieved you helped them be excited about Jesus first and foremost once again.

*Note: my article assumes your friend is a self-identifying follower of Jesus.

Erin Bird Lead Pastor - Riverwood Church

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