Fisherman or Fishermen? Considering the Church’s Corporate Mission
When Jesus said in Matthew 4:19, “I will make you fishers of men,” do you picture an individual sitting on the edge of a pier with a rod and reel? Or do you imagine a group of fishermen leaning over the side of a boat, each one holding their part of a large net?
More importantly, which kind of fishing came to the disciples’ minds?
YOU OR Y’ALL?
Western Christians often imagine the individual on the pier. Why? First, translators often flatten the distinction between second-person singular and second-person plural pronouns—between “you” and “you all.” Matthew 4:19 uses the second-person plural pronoun. So Jesus’ words could be translated, “I will make you all fishers of men.” The change is slight, but significant.
But translation isn’t the only explanation. We also have to consider the cultural intuitions of those raised in the West. Might some of us occasionally read our own individualistic presuppositions into the Bible? It’s certainly possible.
Scores of mission texts in the New Testament employ those same plural pronouns. For example, Acts 1:8 could rightly be, “You all are witnesses.” Jesus’ earlier declaration should be, “You all are the light of the world “(Matt. 5:14).. First–century believers hearing those texts—and many others—would’ve assumed mission to be a corporate undertaking. Therefore, rather than choosing to evangelize alone, they engaged in the church’s mission together.
Of course, these implications concerning the mission of the church proceed from the nature of the church. What the church is inevitably what the church does. The God who saves individuals by faith alone does not save them to be alone. Nor does he save them that they might fulfill his mission alone, as some evangelistic silo.
I recognize that all might sound highly theoretical, but let me attempt to demonstrate the practicality of this corporate mission. It’s possible that without theological categories for it, you’re already doing evangelism with others.
I remember the first time one of my own children reached the age to attend Vacation Bible School. Admittedly, because a boy I named now wore one of the nametags, my missiological antennas were heightened.
Here’s what I remember. During those few days of VBS, a number of fellow church members enthusiastically greeted the kids as they entered the building. Other volunteers worked security. A few gracious saints watched babies so husbands and wives spend time with the kids. One of those wives skillfully taught the children songs about how Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Meanwhile, other church members prepared chicken strips and handed out Capri–Suns. Thankfully, a young couple thought of creative ways those kids could burn off some sugar outside playing games. And each night, my fellow elder Chris—one of my son’s favorite adults—taught all the children about a King who’d come.
This group of men and women gladly used their time, their energy, and their gifts to get the gospel before this group of children, one of whom came home with me each night eager to return the next. While my wife and I certainly retain the primary responsibility to teach that young man the gospel, some of my dearest brothers and sisters in Christ joined us that week.
At times, we’re so concerned about those not in our gatherings that we neglect those whom God walks through the door every week. In our setting, about 30% of our weekly attenders have yet to publicly profess faith in Christ. Most of those 30% also happen to be young enough to attend a Vacation Bible School or our weekly children’s classes. And every Sunday, as one volunteer greets at the front door, someone else changes diapers so yet another person can teach 4th graders the glories of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Whether we realize it or not, corporate evangelism happens throughout our churches week after week. From children’s ministry to youth group, this discipline shows up in nearly everything we do.
For example, consider that neighbor or co-worker you’ve been evangelizing. Perhaps ask your small group or a few friends at church to join you in praying for him or her. Then, the next time you go to a park, attend a ballgame, or decide to grill out, invite them to come along. Your brothers and sisters in Christ have already linked arms in praying. Now that name has a face. Corporate evangelism is that easy! And while you’re at the park or in the backyard, pray that those relationships within the body of Christ might be an attractive display of how God’s grace has transformed your—excuse me—you all’s life.
The mission of the church is in fact the mission of the church. Rather than merely being one person casting from a pier, it’s a host of men and women holding their part of the net.