Jesus, Peter, Boat, Fish

Luke 5:1-11

Simon lived on the lake of Galilee in a town called Capernaum. He was a fisherman. It wasn’t a sport for him. It was his job, and it was hard work.

He and some friends had a couple of fishing boats and of course the boats had no motors. They probably had a simple sail and an oar with which to steer. Much of the time, the boat moved by people power. The boat wasn’t the Queen Mary, but it wasn’t dinghy either. I am exhausted after a few minutes on the rowing machine in the gym. Ancient fishermen must have been studs, but I’m sure they still came back to shore exhausted.

Now there were a couple of ways to fish from a boat.

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Leaders, Tasks and the Mission of Making Disciples

The Bible is nowhere near as interested in the abstractions of leadership theory as contemporary organizational theorists, but there may be some value in looking at the church through that lens.

I spent more more than a quarter century in an organization where mission accomplishment was central to all that we did. To plan operations, we learned to receive the mission, analyze the mission, restate the mission, develop and evaluate courses of action to accomplish the mission. Units of the organization trained repeatedly on their “mission-essential task list” (METL). Leaders led the organization using the principles of “mission command”.

Leaders lead organizations to accomplish their missions. Insofar as the church in the world shares the characteristics of all organizations, church leaders lead the church to accomplish its mission. The mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The UMC mission statement is a Wesleyan riff on Jesus’ “Great Commission” that closes the Gospel of Matthew.

Then Jesus came to [the eleven disciples] and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

The church needs its leaders to direct their energies and talents to accomplish that mission.

Having said that, I also need to frame the mission of the church within the mission of God. Before disciple-making is human work, it is God’s work. “I will build my church,” Jesus declared. All authority in heaven and earth belong to him, and he will be present with his church until he comes in glory at the end of the age. The Book of Acts portrays the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church as the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Gospel of John reminds us that the wind of God blows where it wills.

As a Wesleyan Christian, I also see this  work of God through the lens of the Wesleyan order of grace:

  • Prevenient Grace: God’s work to prepare his way in the human heart and open the way to repentance and faith.
  • Convincing Grace: God’s work to convince people of sin and lead them to repentance.
  • Justifying Grace: God’s work to deliver those who put their faith in Jesus from guilt and restore a right relationship with God.
  • Sanctifying Grace: God’s work to deliver those who put their faith in Jesus from the power of sin, restore the image of God and perfect believers in love

Within the Wesleyan framework, discipleship is always communal or social. Making, baptizing and teaching disciples is the work of the whole church, takes place within the church and unites people to the church. Discipleship is not a solitary endeavor or experience.

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I Will Build My Church

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.  (Matthew 16:13-20)

Jesus Takes Responsibility for Building the Church

“I will build my church.” These are the most important five words in Matthew 16:13-20. This passage announces the good news that Jesus is going to build a church that even the power of death (“the gates of hades”) cannot defeat. That’s the gospel in this passage.

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Whitfield, Wesley and a Rope of Sand

John Wesley was not the greatest preacher of his day. His occasional friend and sometime nemesis George Whitefield was that. “My brother Wesley acted wisely,” Whitefield said. “The souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in societies, and thus preserved the fruit of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand.” …. Wesley himself used the image to describe the Christianity against which his people reacted in eighteenth-century England: “Those who were desirous to save their souls were no longer a rope of sand, but clave to one another, and began to watch over each other in love. Societies were formed, and Christian discipline was introduced in all its branches.” …. There are no Whitefieldian societies now. But there are tens of millions of Wesleyan believers around the world.

Thus write Jason Byassee and L. Gregory Jones of Duke Divinity School in a 2009 article at First Things. The article focuses on Wesley as the inventor of what is now known as the micro-loan or the micro-credit movement. It begins, however, by describing the difference between John Wesley and George Whitfield’s approach to evangelism and discipleship.

The authors use the word “organize” to describe the secret of Wesley’s success. I would prefer to use the word “community.” Organization is a method; community is the product, and organizational leadership is not the only key to its existence.

 

A Great Commission Church

Matthew 28:16-20 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. (17) When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. (18) Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Go .. Make Disciples

Matthew’s story of Jesus culminates in what is often called the Great Commission: go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.

I was raised (for the first 14 years of my life) in a church that loved the Great Commission. Missionaries on furlough visited and told about their work. The women’s organization, the boys group and the girls group all focused on promoting and supporting the denomination’s missionaries. Sermons and special messages emphasized the call to the mission field. The name for the denominational budget emphasized the local church’s participation in sending and supporting missionaries. We also observed two great special offerings each year, one for what was then called foreign missions and one for what was then called home missions, each named after missionary heroines. Whatever else you might say about the church that nurtured me from birth, it loved the Great Commission.

All Christians that now exist are beneficiaries of the missionary and evangelistic efforts of those who preceded us. We are all the fruit of a chain reaction that began on the day of Pentecost and continues to this very day. Someone or some church made a disciple of Jesus Christ, who then went on to make other disciples through the church in which he or she participated, who then continued the propagation of the faith through the making of yet more disciples.

One of the things that I think I understand better now than when I was young is that the chain reaction involves churches, not just individuals. The growth of the church is not simply a matter of person A telling person B, who then tells person C. It is churches that make disciples. It is churches that send missionaries and evangelists. Individual Christians can play a wide variety of roles within the church so that this chain reaction can continue. We are at the current end of that chain of events, but I pray that the chain does not terminate with us.

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