One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon... (Luke 5:1-3, NIV)
In my early years of youth ministry, I was inspired by the passion my friend Andrew had for effectively discipling the teens in his youth group. I could see the largeness of his heart for these adolescents as he described the multiple ways he sought to build genuine connection and trust over time. One of those connection-building practices involved frequent trips to Barnes & Noble. After having already discerned the unique interests of one of his new youth group attendees, Andrew would carve out time to browse magazines and Dummies Guides specifically related to the interests of that young person. He was looking for lingo to use in conversation, activities he himself might be willing to try with his youth, or questions to ask about things they were passionate about. He was being intentional to broaden his ability to develop connection points. Andrew was showing interest in his student's interests. Though he had a youth group to pastor, he showed interest in the individual. Beyond every program, his heart was set on the person.
My friend Andrew was simply taking his cues for personal ministry from the Master Himself. When we read the Gospels, we discover that while Jesus ministered to the multitudes, He seemed primarily invested in the few. Jesus loved people, not just numbers. He was intentional to come close to people through personal effort, intentional conversations, even at times drawing people away from the crowd in order to give individualized attention (cf. Mk. 6:31; 7:33; 8:23).
In Luke 5, we see a prime example of Jesus in multitude-ministry mode while keeping his radar up for individual discipleship. With crowds pressing in on him, entering a boat on the seashore can appear to be merely a practical necessity. But of the two boats available, Jesus stepped into "the one belonging to Simon" (v. 3). That wasn't an eenie-meenie-miney-mo kind of decision. That was calculated and intentional. Jesus saw in that fisherman a potential to be released, nets to be filled, and a life to be loved. By the end of the story, Simon Peter commits himself to a life of following Jesus wherever He leads (v. 11). While much can be said about all that Jesus did to prepare Peter for that kind of surrender, this point can't be missed: Jesus' first step in securing Simon's surrender was a step to enter his boat.
Before Peter committed to following Jesus for life, Jesus was committed to showing interest in Peter's life.
In ministry circles, the term "interest" is often used as a reference to an acquaintance or program attendee that is open to what we have to offer. But what if Jesus' model of ministry encourages us to be less concerned about gaining interests and more concerned about showing interest? For starters, if I adopted this as my primary approach, I think I would be less moved (up or down) by others' level of receptivity to to what I have to offer and more moved by a love for others, their needs, their passions, and what they have to offer. Ministry would be less about me and more about others.
Of course, we want our ministries to be successful. We want our church to be excellent and appealing. We want our friends, family, classmates, co-workers, neighbors, etc. to get into Jesus' boat and follow Him wherever He leads. But Jesus' way prescribes that we be intentional about getting into someone else's boat first. May we be the kind of people that show interest in individuals and the kind of church that is prioritizes personal effort with people beyond the public dynamics of our programs.