As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Matthew 4:18-22, TNIV
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
Mark 1:16-20, TNIV
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Luke 5:1-11, TNIV
“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away...”
Matthew 13:47, 48, TNIV
Here are the Synoptic accounts of the calling of Jesus’ first disciples, along with a parable Jesus tells to describe the experience of the kingdom of heaven. I guess that we tend to read these descriptions as merely providing background – that these men were fishermen. But God breathes life into all Scripture, transforming it into something useful for our instruction and, where necessary, rebuke, in order to train us. If we are to be fishers of people, we need to understand how to fish. At the moment, God is speaking to me about the importance of preparing our nets.
We tend to fish for people like this: individual Christians fishing for one good fish at a time. We look for conversion. But conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit, not the Church. The satan – the accuser – is more than happy for us to strive to see conversions, because it gives him a stick with which to beat us: how are you doing with that? The call of the Church is to make disciples. Paul describes this process in this way: imitate me, as I imitate Christ. Not, persuade you that the resurrection is the most logical explanation for the birth of the church (it isn’t logical, it defies logic, and it is gloriously true), and tell you to worship Jesus in church on a Sunday morning; but, invite you to experience how life within the kingdom of heaven differs from the ways of the world, and challenge you to respond. In other words, discipleship is embodied, holistic, communal. And that requires not a line but a net.
Each one of us who have entered into the kingdom is, in effect, a knot in the net by which we scoop up all kinds of fish/people, good and bad.
And so we must pay attention to preparing our net – which includes mending tears between knots, and washing out debris entangled between knots. That is, we need to know the particular gifts and calling of those alongside us, say in our local congregation, so that we work as a net; and we need to attend to those things that tear us apart, such as disagreement or disappointment or competition. Fish will quickly identify a tear in the net and escape: those who are scooped-up into the kingdom by us will quickly identify tears between us, and be lost.
When I meet someone in need of pastoral support, I need to know who I can introduce them to – and in particular if pastoral support is not my strength, or if it is and I am nearing my capacity (that is, if the net is in danger of breaking at the point where I am the knot). When I meet someone who needs a good introduction to/grounding in the faith, I need to know who I can introduce them to...To mix biblical analogies, this is the different parts of the Body of Christ each playing their differentiated-but-connected role.
As someone who has recently come into a new context, I do not know the net I have been sewn-into. It needs to be my priority to identify the gifts and calling of those around me, in order that the net is prepared, so that it will be fit for purpose. The lake is teeming with fish.