We’re still in the Season of Easter, the season of reflecting on the resurrection encounters. One such account is found in John 21, and this account illustrates the process of leading and following.
Before his death, Jesus appointed Simon Peter as leader within the group of disciples, the one on whom Jesus would build his church. So Simon Peter is the leader here, and he decides that he is going to do something: he is going to go out to fish. He announces his plan to six others, and they agree to go with him. Here we have a small illustration of the first stage of leadership: one person decides to do something, and a group of others agree to go with them, with their decision - to be led.
They fish all night out on the lake, and catch nothing. Here we have a small illustration of the second stage of leadership: being in the boat with those you lead, when nothing is going to plan; not looking for a way out, another new decision; but encouraging, reminding those who have followed what it was they followed for, being with them through the night of hard work for no return; holding out vision, and grace.
The story continues. Dawn breaks, and Jesus is stood on the shore. He directs them to throw their net on the right side of the boat, and they are unable to haul it in because it was so full of fish. And Simon Peter jumps out of the boat, and swims ashore. Here we have a small illustration of the third stage of leadership: get out of the boat and let others take on responsibility; but don’t abandon them – return, to help them process what they have done.
We also see a key lesson in relation to moving from the second to the third stage: while the leader must get alongside those they lead in the second stage – and this is the time when loyalty is won – the thing that will bring people out of that stage is external to the ability of the leader. In short, the move out from hard work for no return into breakthrough takes place when something happens that is a miracle; when the kingdom of heaven breaks in to our experience.
Jesus serves up breakfast, and then he takes Simon Peter for a one-to-one chat. Jesus, as Simon Peter’s leader moves from the third stage, to the fourth stage: he hands over his life-work to Simon Peter, and moves on to a new role (sitting at the right hand of our Father in heaven, interceding for us). But we also see a small illustration of the fourth stage of leadership in Simon Peter’s relationship with John, who has followed them along the beach at a distance: where God calls someone we lead on, to lead in their own right, we need to release them; to not compare ourselves against them, either favourably (with pride) or unfavourably (with jealousy).
[with thanks to Mark Carey for ‘decides’ ‘agrees’ and ‘directs’]