Christ’s Vision for the Church (11)
And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left theirnets and followed Him. Matthew 4.18-20
Peter, and the other three, were not only gathered by Christ to be his disciples, but were made apostles, or, at least, chosen with a view to the apostleship. It is, therefore, not merely a general call to faith, but a special call to a particular office, that is here described. The duties of instruction, I do admit, are not yet enjoined upon them; but still it is to prepare them for being instructors, that Christ receives and admits them into his family. This ought to be carefully weighed; for all are not commanded to leave their parents and their former occupation, and literally to follow Christ.
- John Calvin, comment on Luke 5.10 (parallel to Matthew 4.18-20)
Casting and using vision
Jesus was the Master vision-caster. His vision stuck. It attracted the multitudes, secured the commitment of His disciples, and guided the unfolding of the early days of the Church. The first Christians found Jesus’ vision for them so compelling and desirable that they allowed it to shape them into new people – “Christians” – and new communities that were turning the world upside-down.
The vision Jesus has cast for His Church is, indeed, compelling: The earthly dwelling place of God; a great nation of citizen/servants who are sharpened and deployed for righteousness; everywhere-penetrating agents of change who are wedded to Christ and stand like a glorious city on a hill; a people intimately, deeply, and fruitfully connected to Him, yielding spiritual fruit and wielding spiritual gifts and power in season and out; the very Body of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and individually, members of Him.
No wonder people were drawn to Christ and His Church! We can only wonder about how our churches might be different if this grand, compelling vision of Christ were the vision that church leaders and members were pursuing today.
We need to make Jesus’ vision of the Church our vision as well. And to do this, three disciplines are necessary, and are exemplified in Jesus’ call to His first disciples. We must cast the vision (“fishers of men”), lead people into the vision (“follow Me”), and help the people of God to embrace the vision of Jesus for themselves and their church (“I will make you”).
Let’s look more closely at each of these. In this installment we’ll focus on the work of casting vision, and, in our final installment in this series, we’ll consider how to lead people into Christ’s vision so that they own it and pursue it in all aspects of their lives.
Casting Christ’s vision
For Jesus, casting vision was not a matter of coming up with some catchy phrase which, once written and agreed on, would be put in a drawer and forgotten. Jesus cast vision in four ways, and He did so continuously.
First, Jesus cast vision in all His preaching and teaching. The recurrent references to the Kingdom of God, together with His consistent teaching about what this means for individuals and all His followers, must have become deeply embedded in the hearts and minds of His disciples. For Jesus, every teaching situation was an opportunity to remind His disciples of why He had come, what He intended for them, what to expect as they followed Him, and how to overcome obstacles blocking their path. Jesus preached and taught the vision of the Kingdom and righteousness of God continuously, and He called those who heard Him to make the pursuit of these their highest priority (Matt. 6.33).
Second, Jesus cast vision by His life. Jesus is the vision of the Church. We are to become like Him, individually and as local communities (Col. 1.28; Eph. 4.11-16). Jesus was always on display. People observed how He related to others. They listened as He spoke, marveled as He did works, trembled as He stood up to the powers-that-be, and rejoiced as He touched the sick, the lame, and the blind. Jesus showed people what they were to become, and the first Christians understood and adopted His way of life for themselves.
Third, Jesus cast vision by the way He engaged His followers. He didn’t coddle them. He made demands on them, and He didn’t apologize for what He expected. He knew His followers needed to be stretched, challenged, and transformed; they had to acquire new attitudes and aspirations, and to learn new skills; they must not be allowed to settle into some kind of status quo life of following Him. So He reproached them when necessary, chided and corrected them, put expectations on them which were beyond anything they believed they could do, and warned them that following Him would be costly rather than comfortable. By all these ways Jesus worked the vision He taught and lived into the lifestyles and expectations of those who came after Him.
Finally, Jesus cast vision by intentionally equipping a few leaders with more attention, focus, instruction, explanation, shaping, and demands than He did the multitudes that followed Him. And He commanded those few to do the same for others, so that His Church would always have visionary leaders to lead His people into His Kingdom and righteousness.
What about us?
Here’s the thing: You are always casting vision in your ministry. All your teaching and preaching casts vision. Your lifestyle casts vision. How you relate to the people you serve casts vision. Your work of disciple-making casts vision. You are always casting vision, and the people you serve are always looking to you to see what vision they should embrace.
The question is not whether you should cast vision, but what vision youare casting and will you cast in the days to come. And if that vision is not Christ’s vision for His Church, then you are leading that segment of the church entrusted to your care somewhere other than Christ intends. And this makes you a usurper and an untrustworthy shepherd of the Lord’s flock.
And none of us wants to be found in that category. Good intentions are no substitute for good shepherding – including casting vision – that follows the example of the Good Shepherd. If what you want for your church is not what Jesus wants, then, because He will not change His mind about this, perhaps you should consider changing yours.
“Here they proved that they were true sons of Abraham, because by a similar pattern they followed the Savior on hearing God’s voice. For they immediately gave up hope of material advantage that they might seek eternal rewards. They left behind their earthly father that they might have a heavenly Father, and hence not undeservedly were they chosen. So the Lord chose fishermen who in a better way of plying their fishing trade were converted from earthly to heavenly fishing, that they might catch the human race for salvation like fish from the deep waters of error, according to what the Lord himself said to them: ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’”
- Chromatius (fl. ca. 400 AD), Tractate on Matthew 16.2
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).