Flannel Board Fishers of Men: How Understanding Discipleship Effects Ministry Vision.

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By Jim Richman

When I started in ministry, I wanted a peaceful scene that drew you into a walk to the fishing hole.  I thought it was what holiness looked like. My inexperienced and naive understanding of true discipleship, caused a major struggle with pastoral vision. I was disillusioned, and in a continuous stalemate with reality. I couldn’t seem to reconcile the “Mayberry” picture with the real-time daily battle of the hungry sea around me. As the conflicts grew more intense, the harder it was to find my way.

   When Jesus called his first disciples, they were fishing. I think it’s safe to say these men would have laughed in confusion at the Sunday school flannel-board cut outs that represent them. They weren’t sneaking away from work to try out a new farm pond on “their time”.  They were the equivalent of the first century A.D. “Deadliest Catch” cast. Junky boats, beat up nets, and we can assume, all the grit and vulgarity that goes along with it. The Biblical account tells us that it was as simple as Jesus walking up to them and saying, “Follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of  men.” and they did. They dropped their nets and followed. I guess that just goes to show how “lucrative” and “enjoyable” the fishing business was.

What they didn’t know was that the journey they were about to go on would be more intense and life-altering than any fishing story from the past they could ever tell. They would be with Jesus through the healings, the demonic possession, death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension. Then, after pentecost, they would be at the proverbial “helm” as the Holy Spirit worked through them to begin the New Testament Church. Finally, as so many who live the ocean life will tell you, the ocean had its way. The tide of sin and hatred toward God sent these men to their graves.

How do we reconcile these two wildly contrasting narratives? One preaches a life of meekness and solitude while the other presents a life of danger and death. With each narrative comes a depiction, or at least a perception, of the gospel. One says, “Believe on Jesus and your life will be peaceful and together.” This implies that all the suffering you deal with currently will “cease like Jesus calming the stormy sea.” The other camp says, “Take up your cross”, implying most certainly physical and spiritual pain and death. It seems like a massive contradiction of ideas.

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In order to sort through these things, we need to understand, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, that “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” See the implications here? First, follow Jesus by responding to his call, then, give your whole life. That will not change until Jesus returns for his bride. Your sin and the sin that exists in the world, wants one thing, you…dead. If we refuse Jesus’ salvation sin has already won. We are already “dead in our transgressions and sins.”  If we are in Jesus, while “death” doesn’t mean eternal hell, it does mean being rendered completely ineffective with regard to evangelism and growth. Certainly not aligned to the will of God.

Jesus called the first disciples onto a boat that was their only hope on a sea that wanted nothing less than to swallow them entirely forever. The reality was, there would be no separate, peaceful, smooth sailing sea just because Jesus called them out.

What about enjoying this life?

There’s no doubt that God allows us peaceful moments. They are the morning coffee, sunrise or sunset times of life that feel almost like heaven. When we have “Mayberry” moments in this life, it is God’s blessing of love. A reprieve. We should always be thankful and enjoy it. We should live the life that Jesus gave us to its fullest, but as the savvy fisherman knows, there will be another storm.

The moments of reprieve do not excuse, or release us from the realities of the presence of sin and how it is to be dealt with. That’s where we are to die to ourselves. Yes, it means self-denial. It means the daily clash with temptation, that we are to put on God’s full armor and fight relentlessly against.

I had no idea how my perception of ministry, even Christianity, would change over time. I am learning to appreciate and use the slow seasons of life for rest and rejuvenation. But I do love the feeling when ministry suddenly becomes alive and busy in my life.  What’s so great about being called to be a “fisher of men”? We can actually find joy in both of these scenarios. We can truly appreciate and absorb the moments of calm water, but also find the same joy when life seems to be going at full throttle. Why? Because of Jesus. When he said, “Peace be still” the same men he called away from the fishing nets suddenly realized that Jesus quite literally had authority over everything. There’s the peace. There’s the confidence. There’s the joy in the adventure, even when it hurts.

Jesus has authority over every part of our life. Smooth moments and turbulent alike are perfectly within his control. That’s what we can depend on when he calls us onto the waves. Clarity comes from truth. Clear vision is a product of believing the truth. Jesus has shown us that he is the truth.  It makes being faithful worth the fight in every storm. 

How has God adjusted your understanding of being a “Fisher of Men”? 

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