Much has been written on growing healthy leaders who can in turn grow healthy churches. It seems an obvious concern but in my experience many Christian leaders do not really see it as part of their brief; church growth is something for the specialist or the traveling evangelist. Too many appear called to maintenance rather than mission.
Jesus, knowing His earthly ministry would be limited to three years, had to recruit a team who could be trained and trusted to continue His work after He returned to heaven. This was no easy task given that His message had to be proclaimed to “all nations.”
What intrigues us today is that Jesus did not approach academia and recruit their brightest and best scholars but chose ordinary working men ‒ “unlearned and ignorant” as one old translation of Acts 3:14 calls them, although the NIV renders this verse “unschooled , ordinary men” which I think is kinder and more accurate.
Much has been made of the fact that at least four of the disciples were fishermen and commentators have not always been generous to them ‒ common, poor, untrained, impulsive and simple are just some unflattering comments that come to mind. But Jesus recognized their potential and was able to develop in these men a servant heart, obedience, humility, compassion and faithfulness which was to make them such an outstanding group of apostles and evangelists.
Or did He?
These spiritual qualities are of course vital for every Christian whatever their calling or vocation but they are not in themselves the attributes that create leaders who can grow churches. So we must return to the fishermen and consider what it was that made them successful as fishermen.
- They were tough, capable of hard work.
- Courageous, knowing the sudden storms on Lake Galilee could be treacherous.
- They had to manage fear, aware of the life-threatening situations they could be in.
- They would be savvy, understanding where the fish would be in the shifting tides and changing seasons.
- The Gospels describe James and John as Simon’s partners ‒ partners in a business enterprise.
- They had raised money to buy their boats and nets.
- They had to take their product to market, deal with competition and negotiate with wholesalers.
- And above all, it was necessary to make a profit to pay wages and invest in new equipment.
These fishermen had many fine qualities and were undoubtedly of good character but they were above all else ‒ entrepreneurs. I believe Jesus recognized that these were the attributes that not only made them good fishermen but would also make them good fishers of men.
So how do we assess candidates for church leadership? Qualifications, experience, evidence of spiritual growth ‒ of course, yes to all of that, but do we ever ask if they could manage a successful business, and more to the point, build one from scratch?
A few years ago I was involved in church mission in a country that was hostile to its Christian minority. The young people were enthusiastic and after rudimentary training in the pastor’s home were sent out to the city center to hand out literature, engage with people and invite them to a home group. I was horrified! Wasn’t this dangerous? I asked. The pastor agreed it was and admitted that it was not unusual to be arrested and imprisoned and sometimes beaten. Then he added ‒ if they want to be church leaders they have to show they can build a church!
I am sure it is not without coincidence that this model has produced one of the fastest growing churches in that region. It bears little resemblance to how we would consider mission in the West. We don’t live under that shadow of persecution but we are being enveloped by spiritual darkness as people increasingly live their lives without reference to God. More than ever we need healthy leaders who have the courage and resourcefulness of the fishermen, people who have an instinct for growth and people who can make a healthy profit ‒ for the Kingdom of God.