Two fishermen tell one tale

Southern Cross: People Matter

People Matter was a regular column by Phillip Jensen in Southern Cross, the monthly magazine of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.

Originally Published:
Jensen, P 'Two fishermen tell one tale'. Southern Cross, December 1999.

Tagged: ministry work

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“Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”—Matthew 4:22

“I should have been a minister,” Bill muttered, “or at least a missionary.”

He was a successful engineer, nearing retirement. I had only just met him, after the morning church meeting. I was the visitor who knew no-one and he was the lonely person with no-one to talk to. So we shared our loneliness in the crowd.

It was the sad, self-deprecatory fashion with which he spoke that alerted me to the strength of his emotions—feelings of bitter disappointment and failure.

“My youth leader wanted me to offer myself. But he wanted everybody to be a missionary. In that group you were nobody unless you were a missionary or a minister.”

“Did you disobey God then—by not being a minister?” I inquired.

“Oh, no,” he responded matter of factly, “just the group and my leader.”

“Yet you remained in Christian fellowship?”

“Yes, I’ve been too busy running youth groups and camps, with the home groups and church committee to fall out of fellowship.”

“All that and running a successful business?”

“God has looked after the business. I have had really interesting work and worthwhile tasks”

“And yet you feel like you should have been a minister?”

“Well I’m not really on the front line of the gospel, am I? I could have done more. It was not living God’s best. Choosing engineering was the default for those who could not make the grade as ministers.”

It is sad that such a fine Christian man as Bill, misunderstood the nature of his life’s work, to say nothing of his wonderful Christian ministries. Yet, I recently came across ‘John’, who seemed to have the opposite problem.

“A minister!” he exploded, “what a waste! What we need are more capable Christians making their mark in the business world.” John’s son had told him of his desire to leave the business world to go into theological college.

“I did not raise my son and put him through university to be a drop-out pastor running some broken down parish full of old women and cups of tea!”

“Are all pastors drop outs?” I asked. “Or are you just worried that your son would be a drop out?”

“All pastors are drop outs—they cannot make a go of it in the real world and so go into the ministry. I have never met one I could respect.”

“And the church is not worth serving?” I asked.

“They’re all so badly run. If they were more like the business world it would soon make a difference.”

“What would you do?” I gingerly inquired.

“We do not put up with with such inefficiency and such mismanagement. We would sack the lot and get first rate operators into the job.”

He needed a whipping post for his anger and I was it for the night.

Bill and John seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. Yet both had the same, common problem: a false view of the place of ministry and work. Faced with leaving fishing nets to fish for men: Bill thought only paid ministry was fully Christian; John thought that paid ministry was less than fully human. Ministry is not about payment, nor is it about being worthwhile as a Christian or a human.