Commercial fishing

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Modern day fisherman on the Sea of Galilee

While we were in Mongolia a few years back, I had a dream which over has had a profound effect on my thinking.  In the dream I was handing a small group of people a book.  “It’s about how to be a commercial fisherman,”  I told them.  The only other thing I remember about the dream was telling them that the important principle was to fish where Jesus told them.

This dream seemed to be more than a post pizza (or in the case of Mongolia, mutton) dream and it started me thinking.  For Peter, Andrew, James and John, who were all commercial fishermen, when Jesus told them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” they would have understood this in the context of commercial fishing.  They would not have thought hook and line (ie one fish at a time), they would have assumed fishing nets catching large numbers of fish.

I started investigating the different Scriptures on fishing in the Gospels.  More about that later.

Shortly after this we went to India and one of the people we were with works with fishermen on the coast of India.  So I asked him about how they fish.  (These would be primitive fishermen, probably very little different from fishermen in Jesus’ day.) He told me that they have different kinds of nets depending on the circumstances and what they are trying to catch.  They have a funnel net which is the kind of net they use when they don’t have boats.  They also have a drag net which is maybe 800 to 900 yards long for when they have more than one boat. There are actually several different kinds of nets that are used.

So what does it mean to be a commercial fisherman in the context of Jesus’ comments to his disciples?

More to follow.

Is Christianity in the USA in crisis?

I was brought up in the UK–a post-Christian culture. To be honest, there are advantages to such a situation. Where there is even mild persecution (ridicule) it produces a different standard of disciple. There’s a cost to becoming a follower of Jesus, and those who do so have counted that cost.

I watched the UK slide from being a “Christian” nation to its current status where maybe less than 2% of the population are committed Christians. When I was a child, most of the country still found it acceptable to attend church. By the time I arrived at medical school, certainly within academia, Christians were put down and their views (“You really believe the Bible is true?!”) ridiculed. Christians in the media were consistently made fun of and displayed as ineffective “wimps.” Now, with notable exceptions, church has ceased to be relevant in any way within the culture.

This country is already well down that slippery slope.

  • In America, 3,500-4,000 churches close their doors each year. Balanced against this is the number of church starts. From 2000 to 2005, there was a net growth of 303 churches per year (closures combined with new church starts.) This sounds great until you realize that we need to gain 3,205 per year just to keep up with population growth. We are less “churched” now than we’ve ever been.
  • Historically, between 5 percent and 10 percent of Americans say they have no religious affiliation. That number has skyrocketed to between 30 percent and 40 percent among younger Americans.
  • Christianity within secular academic circles is consistently mocked. We have friends who teach within the university system, and they tread a very fine line in order to hold their positions if they are known as believers.

We are probably only a generation away from being where Europe is now.

Are we in crisis, and is there anything we can do about it?

 

What’s in a name? Simple church

Why the term, “simple church”?

We love the story that gave the title to our book,The Rabbit and the Elephant, now republished in paperback as Small Is Big!: Unleashing the Big Impact of Intentionally Small Churches. It goes like this:

Imagine you take two elephants, for our purposes, a male and a female, and you lock them in a small room with plenty of food and water. You leave them there for three years. At the end of that time, when you open the door, what comes out? Three elephants. mom, dad and baby.

Now instead of two elephants, imagine you put two rabbits into the room. At the end of three years, when you open the door, you’d better run for your life, because millions of rabbits will explode out of the door.

The moral of the story is that something small and simple multiplies faster than something large and complex. (Yes, I know, I studied medicine. A rabbit is just as complex as an elephant at a cellular level. Think of a bacterium if you prefer. “The Bacterium and the Elephant” just isn’t as catchy.)

Our son, Tim, produced a great promo video for us that illustrates the concept.

The Rabbit and the Elephant from simplechurch.com on Vimeo.

I remember when the name, “simple church” first came up. A group of house church pioneers back in the early 2000’s used to get together semi-regularly and we often discussed the need for simplicity. A couple of them (including John White who now runs the Luke 10 community) started using the term “simple church” and somehow it caught on!

Simplicity is essential if we want to see multiplication. Simple things multiply; complex things break down.

What we model is crucial. If we demonstrate by example a talk or a sermon, we’ve stopped multiplication dead in its tracks. Most people fear public speaking more than death by fire or drowning, so very few new disciples would ever dare to start a church if they thought they had to give a talk. The same is true for “professional worship.” If an accomplished musician always leads the worship, people will think they cannot multiply without a musician. (Don’t get me wrong, I love beautiful worship music and (some) inspiring talks. But they don’t belong in a simple church context.)

The same is true with prayer. A sentence or two prayer with everyone praying several times is more effective in terms of getting people to pray than one person giving an eloquent five minute sermon prayer. A potluck meal is easier to reproduce than one person cooking a gourmet meal each week.

The terms, simple church, organic church and house church are used by most people interchangeably. Each term describes a different facet of what goes on. I looked at the term “house church” in the last post.

(Simple church, when used in the house/simple/organic church context isn’t to be confused with the book, Simple Church by Rainer and Geiger which is about designing a simple process of discipleship within any church structure.)

Multiplication tools: passing it on

Does your simple/organic church have an impact beyond the gathering? There’s a simple tool to help with that.

Sharing 

Photo Credit: Kalexanderson (Creative Commons)

In the interactive Bible study pattern that we most frequently use and teach to others, four symbols help people share around the passage:

  1. A question mark: do you have any questions about what this verse says?
  2. A lightbulb: this verse brings understanding either about the passage, or about something going on in your own life. The light has come on.
  3. An arrow: God is speaking to you directly through this verse and there’s something you need to do about it
  4. An ear: who do you know who needs to hear what has been shared?

It’s this last symbol that helps to create an impact beyong the gathering. When each person is accountable, not only to apply what they have learned in their own lives but also to pass  it on  to someone outside the group, the influence of the group spreads. When the person they share it with is a not-yet-believer, there is the opportunity to multiply.

We retain only 5% of what we hear, but 90% of what we teach on to others. This practice therefore, not only spreads the message, it also helps people to retain what they have learned.

 

 

A key multiplication tool: accountability

Accountability can make you do some crazy things.

Two weeks ago, the church that meets in our home discussed accountability. In order to make it practical, I challenged everyone to try and pray with someone, preferably who doesn't know the Lord, during the week, and said that we would report back the next time we came together.

Big mistake! Having challenged everyone, I now needed to live up to it too. Since I live the life of a writer, most of my time is spent with just me and my computer. There was no obvious situation where I would come across someone new, so I brainstormed.

I put an ad on Craigslist. "Do you need prayer?": no response.

I responded to some tweets that said, "I need prayer" or "I need God": no response.

Finally, a couple of days before we were due to meet again, I received a sales call from someone at an online pet pharmacy. Our dogs needed some more flea and tick meds, so I placed my order. The lady at the other end was just saying goodbye when I interrupted her.

"Before you leave, is there anything I can pray for you. I believe that God answers prayer."

She broke down. She told me something I could pray about and I prayed for over the phone. It turned out she was a Christian. As we said goodbye, she said, "I'll never forget you!"

When our group came back together, everyone had a story of how they had deliberately prayed for someone. No one they approached had refused prayer; everyone was very grateful.

Would we have done it without the knowledge that we would be asked to report back? I don't think I would have done so. Accountability is a key tool in multiplication.

Practical activity: Give your group a challenge. Maybe challenge them to pray with someone, or to tell their story to a not-yet-believer. The important thing is that you follow up with it.

Multiplication tools: good invitations and better invitations

There are good invitations, but if you want to see multiplication, there might be better ones:

Invitation
Photo credit: Tracy Hunter (Creative Commons)

You've shared your story, using it as a bridge to a presentation of the good news of the Kingdom. What now?  

It's unusual for someone to say, "How can I become a Christian?" They are much more likely to respond to a specific suggestion from you. Hopefully you've made clear the cost of following Jesus when you shared to good news with them. You could say, "Would you like to invite Jesus into your life," but it might be better to ask, "Are you ready to surrender your life to Jesus?" The one might lead to a decision, the other to a disciple. 

Then teach the new disciple how to share his/her story with his friends and family, inviting them to become Jesus followers too. 

Do you ask the new believer to come with you to church?

There might be a better way. How about, "Do you have any friends who might be interested in learning more about Jesus too? Could we get together with them?"

If you invite someone to come to church with you, whether legacy or house church, you may miss out on the opportunity to reach their oikos, or circle of influence. The slow way to multiply is to add people to your group until it is big enough to multiply into two. The faster way is to start with an existing community and watch them become a church as a group together. So better to meet with the new disciple's existing circle of influence within their familiar environment.

Suggested activity: Would the people in your church know how to pray with someone to become a Christian? Have them practice this skill with each other.

 

 

A rock or a hammer? Tools for church multiplication

In a carpentry project, it is possible to use a rock to bang in a nail, but it's much easier to use a hammer–a tool designed for the purpose. 

Hammer

Photo credit: herzogbr (Creative Commons)

There are movements around the world that are seeing literally millions of people becoming disciples of Jesus. Much of what they do is very similar to the things we do in many of the simple/organic churches in this country. But there are a few things that the average simple church here is not doing. Some of these may be key to seeing multiplication.

Next week, I plan to start a series of posts that look at some of the proven tools for effective disciple making and church multiplication.