A Baptist minister, Gene Wilks, asked the pointed question, “Are we a ‘warehouse church’ or a ‘factory church’?” Warehouse churches are in the business of seeking out ready-made Christians, while factory churches take the raw material of unbelievers and make disciples.
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:18, 19)
Peter, Andrew, James, and John had a successful fishing business. Galilee was famous for bottling a highly prized fish sauce that probably was exported to Jerusalem and the palace of the high priest (John 18:15). Their successful operation employed many men (Mark 1:20), so what compelled the apostles to leave it all behind and follow Jesus?
Perhaps it was selfish ambition. They knew Jesus was the Messiah, and they wanted places in his kingdom.
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:21, 22)
On another occasion:
Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:27, 28)
I don’t believe selfish ambition is the answer. As Christians, we derive so much from our occupations. “I’m an engineer!” “I’m a businessman.” “I’m a doctor!” A great job is one we would gladly do even if we weren’t paid to do it, but to become a fisher of men means we have become agents of God. The Lord has called us.
Notice the process. “Follow me.” First, we must surrender our will, and then Jesus will empower us. Do you remember the story of Simon Peter standing waist-deep in fish?
Jesus had been teaching the crowd from the bow of Peter’s boat while the fishermen cleaned their nets. Afterward, Jesus invited Peter to go fishing. The big man must have smiled skeptically and replied, “We toiled all night and took nothing!” In other words, “You’re a pretty good preacher, and I like what you have to say, but I’m a professional fisherman, and now is not the time to fish.”
Jesus didn’t argue, but those eyes – can you see Jesus’ eyes? Peter continued, “But at your word, I will let down the nets.” You know the rest of the story. “And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 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.” Follow the story through Peter’s eyes. There is nothing as exciting for a fisherman than “Fish on!” Can you see the water boiling with fish as they haul in the nets? Can you feel the excitement as the fish pour into the boat? Now the boat is about to sink! It’s so full of wiggling, leaping, wet flopping fish, Peter shouts for his partners to launch their boats and help.
Where is Jesus in all this? I picture him still sitting in the bow, watching and smiling, surrounded by silver fish. Then their eyes meet – those amazing eyes again – and Peter’s world changes. His heart is laid bare. “He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’”
It was the flash of understanding. Jesus is Immanuel – “God is with us.” That is the calling! God is real, and he invites us to become his agents: fishers of men. It begins when we, like Peter, realize we are in the presence of God.
And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:10, 11)