Mending Nets: Being Fishers of People during Lock-Down
Illustration: detail from “Mending the Nets,” an 1881 painting by Winslow Homer (1836–1910) at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
What can first-century fishers teach us about twenty-first-century crises?
When Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” (Mark 1:17, NRSV), he likely expected these fishers to carry some analogy of their professional practices into their discipleship. Not every first-century fishing practice had an apt kingdom analogy, was mentioned in scripture, or had equal bearing on discipleship. But I think that we have undervalued one prominent practice in the Gospels—mending nets.
Generally, Jesus’ first followers were not rod-and-reel fishers. Most images of fishing in the Gospels portray drag-net fishing—from a boat or from land (Matthew 4:18–22, 13:47–50; Mark 1:16–20; Luke 5:2–7; John 21:3–11). Yet, there is the odd (in more ways than one) story about the fish with a coin in its mouth caught by Peter’s hook (Matthew 17:24–27).
Vocationally, Andrew, Peter, James, and John were drag-net fishers. A few Gospel episodes portray them actively fishing, but we also see them performing other job-related tasks. When Jesus called them, James and John were with their father and other servants “mending the nets” (Mark 1:19).
Why spend your time, energy, and money on such an activity? It does not yield a direct benefit—that is, no fish were being caught while they were mending their nets. But, a net is only as effective as its largest gap. In discipleship, both bonds and gaps are interpersonal and, even before COVID-19, many bonds had become weak and some gaps had become pretty large. Mending the nets of disciple-making means that corps prioritize the following practices:
- Connecting soldiers with one another for mutual encouragement and missional accountability. “Consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
- Building and reinforcing local leadership (e.g., local officers and corps councils). Affirming and trusting the ministries and gifts of fellow soldiers (1 Corinthians 12:12–31).
- Focusing meetings, calls, and other contacts on strengthening Christian bonds for the sake of shared disciple-making mission. We need each other (Ecclesiastes 4:7–12).
During his 2017 address at New Room, J.D. Walt underscored the meaning of network—the knots that interconnect the cords of a net, holding it together for the sake of catching fish. Jesus’ first disciples were knowledgeable and skillful fishers—disciple-making disciples in-the-making.
A net is only as effective as its largest gap.
Jesus was able to obtain fish without his disciples’ nets (John 6:9–11, 21:9–14), yet he called them. This fact is at the same time humbling and wondrous—God chooses to use his people to accomplish his work.
Many of us miss gathering for worship, service, and other things we used to do together. Some day, we will be able to meet again, but the present crisis causes us to ask What will we do when we meet? People answer that question differently—hugs, tears, cartwheels, deep gratitude and worship.
Phil Needham (retired Commissioner) refers to The Salvation Army as a missional community—a label that might apply to the entire church (see Community in Mission: A Salvationist Ecclesiology; London: International Headquarters, 1987). Do we gather as a missional community? Is our aim missional holiness?
If a corps is a gathering of people for the sake of mission (remember, “corps” used to be called “mission stations”), then equipping soldiers—both formally enrolled and friends sympathetic to our mission—for all dimensions of disciple-making mission is our critical business. It may have been longer than we realize since we have gathered as a missional community. And now it is time to mend our nets.
COVID-19 brings a grim awakening but also an opportunity for much-needed missional preparation. Think of “gearing up” and “equipping” as it relates to fishing, disciple-making, and soldiership—all apt metaphors for the Army’s main business.
Discipleship for disciple-making is as essential as ever and, thank God, the technology is readily available to facilitate an awakening of discipleship in our corps. Gathering a corps council regularly (even remotely, even weekly) is as mission-critical as ever. As a community in mission, we need to learn from one another. How will you and your corps mend the nets? How else are you being fishers of people in your corps?
by Isaiah Allen
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