JOHN 21:1-5 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered.
After all the disorientation that came from all the disruption that came from Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Pete and the boys try to return to Normal… And this is not rod-and-reel crappie fishing to help them relax for a couple hours amidst a stressful season–in a rowboat with their feet up while sipping an ice tea and watching their bobber gently drift in the wind. Nope. This is a return to hard-core commercial fishing–hence, why they were “fishing all night.”
But we can relate, right? All of us who are called to lead in ministry in this season can resonate. We all want to get back to “Normal” from all the disorientation and disruption created by COVID. “Normal” feels like sitting in your favorite couch wearing your favorite slippers watching your favorite show sipping your favorite coffee out of your favorite mug. Normal is predictable, familiar, comfortable. We’ve all daydreamed of returning to normal ministry—a packed auditorium without masks, full volunteer rosters, overflowing classrooms, jammed small groups… Normal Ministry. We like “Normal.” Normal Ministry is what got us to where we are and all the growth that has come with it! So the GREAT TEMPTATION in this season is to want to return back to “Normal.” And the GREAT TENSION every church is facing these days is to do whatever we have to do to get back to familiar, predictable. “Normal” has a deep groove and gravity that’s hard to escape.
The only problem is: Jesus is calling us BEYOND NORMAL—away from “Normal” to “New.” And New is always uncomfortable, unpredictable, stretching, and even scary.
Again, notice how Pete and his buds felt this same disequilibrium: After the 3 years of disruption from Jesus’ life and death, in their disorientation, the disciples desperately try to return to “Normal”—fishing. But, much to their annoyance, they find out that “normal” just doesn’t work anymore. And Jesus’ question hilariously accentuates their failure–“Haven’t you guys caught anything after fishing all night?!” Every failed fisherman knows how it would feel to field that leading question. It makes me smile. They fished all night and caught… zip. In other words, “Normal” is busted. “Normal” is now a thing of the past. They need to move BEYOND Normal. And, of course, this was Jesus’ plan all along.
[Quick Aside: did you notice how it said that the disciples “did not realize that it was Jesus”? That fascinates me. I wonder how much of what we’re experiencing of the current cage-rattling crises of ministry in this COVID season is Jesus Himself deliberately trying to free us from models of ministry that are busted, broken, no longer effective. In our pain, it may be easy to blame all our frustration and failure and loss of momentum on a microscopic virus called COVID. But is it possible that Jesus is using the virus to lovingly infect and kill-off ineffective mindsets and models of ministry? Think about it.]
That’s why Jesus shows up on shore that morning. He came to give His followers a holy RESET. And His visit is sorta like spiritual smelling salts to them. Because Jesus’ appearance is not a call to RETURN to “NORMAL” ministry. It’s a RESET to a “NEW” ministry—ministry in a new chapter of redemptive history, ministry filled with danger, risk, uncomfortable stretching, failure, ridicule, long-hours, more danger and more risk… but NEW ministry with Him, NEW ministry by the power of the Holy Spirit, NEW ministry meant to start a redemptive movement that Jesus ignited with His own resurrection. It’s natural to wish for normal. It’s supernatural to work for new.
So, in the midst of all the disruption, disappointment, and discouragement of this COVID era, and as we embark upon the gift of the incredible tool of time to reflect, reorient, and reset ourselves, with our growing, deepening, strengthening teams, and with the confidence that Jesus is on the other side of this storm standing on shore, calling us over to be closer to Himself, let’s hit RESET—not to return to “Normal,” not to go “fishing,” but to find the fresh, to spark the “New.”
It’s easy to wish for NORMAL; it’s hard to work for NEW.
Let’s commit to taking the hard path together—with Jesus and with each other. Let’s find NEW ways of doing new kinds of ministry to find new levels of impact and new harvests of fruit in a new era of ministry.
No more fishing. It’s time to find the fresh… with Him. Because Jesus is calling us beyond Normal to New.