Networking as a Pastoral Priority

The work of fishers mending their nets provides a powerful metaphor for church maintenance.

by Joseph Castleberry

“If you need anything during the day, call the parsonage and leave a message with my wife. When I get home from fishing, I’ll return your call.”

So announced a pastor who apparently thought his ministry should take second place to his fishing hobby. As a young ministerial student visiting the church, I decided his priorities needed amending.

After more than 30 years of church ministry, I now believe the work of the pastor does involve fishing, though not the kind that requires a boat, bait, rod, and reel. As I explain in The Kingdom Net: Learning to Network Like Jesus, I see the church as the net (or network) God deploys to carry on Jesus’ mission of fishing for people. From that perspective, we should understand the pastoral ministry in terms of networking.

Networking often brings surprises and new opportunities for learning. At the 2013 General Council of the Assemblies of God, I attended an alumni meeting for Evangel University. Just as I entered, Danny Duvall — one of my era’s football heroes and a first-rate student — stepped up and greeted me. Danny, who currently pastors The Assembly in Cabot, Ark., has had a great career as an evangelist and pastor, and I felt pleased that he remembered me and had kept up with my ministry. As classmates, we ran in different circles and only had a few conversations, but after 30 years, we immediately reconnected as friends.

After teasing me about setting the curve on too many Greek exams as a student, Danny asked if I had discussed Paul’s use of the word katartizo in my book. He referenced Ephesians 4:12, which says God has given the church apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists “to equip his people for works of service.” Danny explained that katartizo refers to the mending of nets, and that Matthew 4:21 uses it to describe James and John mending their fishing nets. I had to confess that this little pearl from the Greek had escaped my attention. (Danny must have noticed that he had aced the real-life Greek test I had just flunked!)

The English translation suffices nicely to convey the meaning of Ephesians 4:12, but by not looking at the fishy connotation of the Greek original, I had lost the “net” work connection. Paul meant to imply that God gave pastors to serve as outfitters and menders of God’s fishing net. Our work keeps this spiritual net ready for use — ready for a catch.

The work of fishers mending their nets provides a powerful metaphor for church maintenance. Citing Pastor Jack Hayford, Danny pointed out that the main tasks of net maintenance after a day’s fishing include cleaning, mending, and folding. Those disciplines apply to managing church operations just as much as to fishing nets.

While the pastor’s networking role includes outreach into the world, pastoral networking begins inside the church. Good internal networking means pastors know the people in the congregation, including their skills and relationships outside the church. Leaders must recognize whose talents are compatible with those of others and who should participate on what teams.

As the church deploys its skills and relationships, network maintenance keeps the ministry going. This requires church leaders to exercise the same fishing net disciplines that Peter, James, and John applied to their nets.

Cleaning the Net

Cleaning removes weeds, sticks, bones, rocks and other detritus from nets. The smooth operation of churches requires regular cleaning just like fishing nets do. This discipline includes things like closing down ineffective programs. If people in the church labor at tasks that do not achieve much or attend services or meetings that have lost their edge, they not only grow discouraged, but they waste time that could be spent on bringing in new people or building strong relationships among members.

Most churches are good at starting new activities, but many do a poor job of shutting them down. We would not dream of allowing the entryway of our churches to get cluttered up with boxes, outdated literature, and props from last year’s Christmas program. Likewise, we should keep the calendar of church activities tidied up and clutter-free. Just as a wise chef cleans the kitchen and its equipment throughout the cooking process, pastors and church leaders should constantly clean up programs (and facilities) to make and keep them ready for use.

Mending the Net

Mending nets repairs the torn places to keep fish from slipping away. Similarly, leaders must address strained and broken relationships in the church before precious souls are lost.

In Philippians 4:2, Paul pleads with Euodia and Syntyche to settle their disagreement. He calls on his pastoral colleague to help the quarreling women patch up their ruptured relationship.

Paul understood that when church workers fight, people get hurt. Young believers and seekers get disillusioned and leave, and unbelievers stand off with their suspicions confirmed.

The best approach to avoid broken relationships in the church focuses on the establishment of solid relationships and communication. If church duties are the only interaction workers share, their relationships remain shallow and easily breakable. But even in the most tightly-woven communities, relationships can suffer tears (in both pronunciations of that word).

Wise leaders recognize that effective teams require more than just skill training. Our relationships must go beyond the work itself, making truly personal connections. Giving team members opportunities to bond through playing, sharing, and praying in small groups, as well as traveling together, goes a long way toward creating opportunities to repair small tears and reconcile hurts before they grow into irreparable rifts.

Sometimes relational breakdowns require a meeting with a pastor to achieve reconciliation. Wisdom counsels that certain people should never even start working together because their personalities and gifts do not mesh. In such cases, the best relationships maintain enough distance to keep mutual admiration alive.

Folding the Net

The final step in maintaining fishing nets is folding (i.e., preparing the nets for easy deployment on the next fishing session). Churches also require “folding,” or in more familiar terms, planning for future ministry. Just as nets are folded after a day’s fishing, pastors should meet with teams regularly after events or during the course of ministry to assess the performance of their ministry and plan for more effectiveness in the future.

Unfortunately, churches often do not know how to go about evaluating their work. Leaders starting new programs should plan not only the activities these ministries will pursue, but also procedures for determining how well they work. Assessing our performance improves our practice and keeps morale high as we celebrate good practices and quickly change poor ones.

As pastors maintain the Kingdom net — cleaning, mending, and folding it for service — they keep God’s people ready for the work of the ministry, enhancing their performance as people-fishers for the Kingdom.