Unbroken Nets

Unbroken Nets:  A Model for More Effective Leadership

Did you know that there were two miraculous catches of fish in the Bible?  Once at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and once at the end, the disciples obeyed Jesus and experienced a spectacular catch.  In both stories:

  • They had fished all night
  • Jesus instructed them to try again
  • After obeying Jesus, they had a great harvest of fish

This is where the similarities end – and of course I am intrigued by the differences, particularly because we see a great difference in the disciple’s success.   In the first instance – it is a rather painful experience for them all, ending with broken nets, boats that are almost submerged, and a somewhat embarrassed group of disciples.   In the second instance – everything seems to come together.  The Bible specifies that “the net did not break”.

In Luke 5:10, we find that this harvest of fish symbolized the bringing of men to Jesus.  “From now on you will catch men…”   I believe that Jesus is using these two miracles to show us how to more effectively influence men for Him.

I’ve been a pastor for 4 years now…  In these past few years, I must confess I have experienced some broken nets and sinking ships.   But this lesson isn’t just for pastors – it applies to any Christian in leadership.  Many of us can identify with the concept of broken nets.  We’ve heard Jesus’ call, and obeyed – but found that the results were almost bittersweet.   Sure – we witnessed a miracle – we experienced open doors.  But looking back, we wonder if you really did all that you should have.

Parents experience broken nets.   Teachers experience broken nets.   Anyone that follows God’s call will experience some regrets, and question whether we could have done something better.   Someone may be looking back on life today and saying, “It really shouldn’t be this hard, should it?”

But we’ve learned some valuable lessons in the process, and we can all have a More Effective Leadership in the coming years.   Let’s learn something from the discriples’ experiences:

A Model for Broken Nets – Luke 5:2-7

Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.  When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.”  And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.  So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.  Luke 5:3-7 (NKJV)

In Luke 5 – it is at the beginning of the disciples’ relationship with Jesus.  Their nets broke, their boats almost sank.  What are some of the factors that made this miracle less gratifying than the other?   As Christian leaders, what caution might we gain from the story?

The task required a major shift.

  • …in position – They had to go somewhere else to receive the miracle (“launch out into the deep”)
  • …in activity – They had already quit – given up – resigned to the fact that they would not get any fish that night  (“…saw two ships… the fishermen were gone out of them”)
  •  in thinking – Peter argued with Jesus…  “We’ve tried that before and it didn’t work…”

How far away from Jesus’ thinking am I?   When he asks me to do something, does it require a major shift?    Perhaps things haven’t happened like I expected, and I have already given up…  When I have not spent much time with Jesus, his calling will most likely require a major shift in my thinking.

Peter tried to do it by himself.

It was only after the nets began to break and he started losing fish that Peter asked for help from the disciples in the other boat.  What Christ wants to do in our lives is always more than we can handle on our own.   A key to successful leadership may be finding partners in the work before they are desparately needed!  I can’t be a lone ranger – it’s a sure way to sacrifice true influence.

They tried to contain the miracle.

The disciples tried to fill their boats with the fish.   This may sound natural – but there was a problem.  God was trying to give them more fish than their boats could hold!  Sometimes we may fall short of our potential for influence by trying to get everyone in our camp.    Sometimes this may be a matter of economics, sometimes a need for control, sometimes a need for affirmation…   But the simple fact of life is – the more closely I wield my influence, the fewer people I will be able to influence.

A Model for Unbroken Nets – John 21:3-11

Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We are going with you also.” They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.  But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?” They answered Him, “No.”  And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.  Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea.  But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from land, but about two hundred cubits), dragging the net with fish.  Then, as soon as they had come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid on it, and bread.  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”  Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.  John 21:3-11 (NKJV)

In John 21, the disciples have spent 3.5 years with Jesus.   This time, the nets didn’t break, and the boats didn’t sink.   As a matter of fact, there is no record of any issues at all, although it was the biggest catch of their lives, with measurable outcomes.  What may have made the difference, and what we learn?

The task required only a minor adjustment.

In this story – they were still fishing, even though they had caught nothing all night.    When Jesus asked them to do something, they didn’t have to start from a dead stop – they just implemented a change.   Notice that Jesus merely tells them to “cast their nets on the other side”.  They didn’t have to relocate – they were already very close to their miracle!

The more time a we have spent with Jesus, there is naturally less shifting required when He calls.   Unlike the first time – they did not have to shift their location, they did not have to shift in their activity, they did not have to shift in their thinking.   There was no argument – they just kept doing what they were already doing, but just in a slightly different direction.

Commitment:  I will not quit before the job is done.  And I will try to spend as much time with Jesus as possible, so that His calling doesn’t require so much of an adjustment in my day – or in my life.

They obeyed without argument.

In this story, there was no argument from Peter.  “Jesus said…  and so they cast”.

Commitment:  When Jesus speaks, my answer is always “Yes” – period.  I have decided that, even though I have no idea what He might ask.  His way is always best.

The disciples worked as a team.

Peter wasn’t show-boating this time…  He wasn’t trying to do it all himself.   As a matter of fact, as soon as he realized it was Jesus on the shore, he just dropped his net and swam to him as fast as he could.   When there was an opportunity for a refreshing encounter with Christ, Peter was able and willing to leave the work in the capable hands of his partners.   He knew they would do just fine without him.

Commitment: I will develop trusted ministry partnerships, so when I need refreshing, I know that the work will not fall apart while I run to Jesus.  

They did not try to contain the miracle.

The difference in their handling of the catch of fish in this story is remarkable.   Instead of trying to get the fish into their boats, they left the fish in the water, and simply drug the nets into shore.  Right to where Jesus was waiting.

Commitment:  I will do my best to lead people to Jesus, and not only to my church.  

May you experience miraculous influence in the coming year.  May your nets remain intact, may your ship stay afloat, and may you find yourself face-to-face with Jesus on the shore, with many fish in tow…

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