In a recent interview on NPR (which was pretty interesting by the way), pop-singer Katy Perry mentioned how she would rather be seen as an inspiration than a role model. She says, “A lot of people see me as a role model but I like to kind of turn that around and say, “I appreciate that but I’d like to be seen as an inspiration because a role model I think will fail ya.” I couldn’t tell kids when it’s time to try things or do things, that’s not my role.” This makes me wonder about the difference between being an inspiration or being a role model and if the choice is really as easy as Katy Perry suggests.
Merriam-Webster defines “inspiration” as the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions; the act of influencing or suggesting opinions and “role model” as a person whose behavior in a particular role is imitated by others.
There seems to be a clear difference. One is about influencing while the other is about emulating. One seems to free the influencer from certain expectations while the other creates accountability. If our goal is to simply inspire, than we are free to live our lives as we choose and if we happen to influence someone along the way, bonus. If we choose to be role models, we no longer live for ourselves but in service to others. We become acutely aware of others modeling their lives after ours.
I’m not convinced we have the ability to choose whether we are an inspiration or a role model. It seems to me that the moment another person views us as a role model, whether we like it or not, we serve in that role.
I think this is what led Paul to tell his readers to become imitators of him (1 Cor. 4:16) as he attempted to imitate Christ. Paul understood that he was a role model for other believers to emulate. From spending time reading the Gospels, I do not get the sense that Jesus intended to simply inspire people. Did he? Clearly, though it didn’t stop there. When Jesus says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48), he is not suggesting we should be inspired by him but rather that we should model our lives after his as he models himself after the Father. Jesus knew he was a role model, lived as a role model, and calls us to do the same.