This reflection is not intended to be a definitive statement about Discipleship, but just some thoughts that occurred incidentally, while studying the Gospels. It is “off the cuff” as it were, and so should be meditated on, before conclusions are too strongly drawn.
As we think about church leadership, what do we tend to think of? Pastor’s from seminary? Rev’d Doctor’s from the Universities? Should we look for imports from another place, or the most successful business people in the congregation? What did Jesus do?
1) Multiplication of Ministry
Jesus knew that it was important to multiply his ministry quickly. He needed more leaders.
Jesus chose the twelve, “so that they could be with him and that he could send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14).
After some time with him, he sent them out into the towns and villages that he would visit as forerunners.
Who were they? They were, as one book labels them Twelve Ordinary Men. But they were also a pretty diverse crowd. Matthew was a Tax Collector (Roman puppet and extorter of Jews), Simon was a Zealot (radical anti Roman Jewish political movement). Other’s were fishermen, and so on.
Peter and John seemed to have some wealth and standing. Peter’s ‘home’ in Capernaum is a significant one. John was able to have communications with the High Priest’s court, during the trial of Jesus.
In fact, despite popular thought, they were a fairly competent lot. The Tax Collector would be educated in business, multi-lingual (Arabic, Greek and smattering of Latin, and probably some Hebrew), the Business owners similarly, so.
They were also all Galileans. Galilee was kind of the working man’s area. The rough and tumble, Alberta, or Texas of ancient Israel. The intellectual elite in Jerusalem certainly looked down on them, as unlettered men. But that did not mean they were “uneducated” in the real world.
2) Specification of Ministry
Despite the fact that there were 12, Jesus really focused in on a smaller group. Peter, James and John (not Peter, Paul and Mary as some are want to think today!).
This intimate group saw far more than the others, including the transfiguration. They alone advanced with him to pray in the Gardene of Gethsemene. Special tests (Peter’s Denial, James the 1st Martyr etc) and special commissions (Feed My sheep-Peter, Care for my Mother-John etc) are focused on these men.
We see this imitated by Paul, who by some estimates had 35 people he labeled “Fellow workers” in his letters. Yet we chiefly associate him with his close companions, Timothy, Luke, Barnabus etc. He didn’t give special tasks to Priscilla ands Aquilla, but he did to Timothy and Titus.
3) Intimacy of Ministry
One more step is intriguing. It was actually a surprising recognition (which I know I have heard before, but never gave much thought) to consider the relationships between the core disciples.
James and John, where the Sons of Salome, whom most scholars believe to be Mary (the mother of Jesus) sister. In other words, Jesus was cousins with two of his inner circle. This makes sense, when at the cross, Jesus asks John to take care of his aunt.
Further, Peter was a business partner with James and John in the fishing industry. Probably this implies another familial relationship, or at least a close intimacy.
Jesus simply didn’t tenure for resumes, no he went with those he trusted! Interestingly, we all know Peter as Mr. impulsive/aggressive, (think of the sword at the Garden), but James and John were labeled by Jesus, “the sons of thunder”. He picked the aggressive and hardnosed, loyal relatives to surround him in his trusted inner circle. Remember the his forerunner John the Baptist, was also a cousin, and amongst the other disciples a number were related.
Andrew, for example was the brother of Peter (cf. Matt 10:2). Further, According to John 1:44, “Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter.” They must have known each other. Philip immediately went out and recruited Nathaniel ““Nathanael” may be the personal name of Bartholomew (Bar-Tholomaios, “son of Tholomaios”), who is linked with Philip in all three Synoptic lists of apostles” (ESV study Bible). The parallel to Andrew and Peter, and this link, likely implies that they were brothers, or cousins.
So we basically have the cousins and business partners from Western Galilee, getting organized around Jesus.
We often see that families and friends for the nucleus of significant movements. Think of Franklin and Billy Graham, or Charles Spurgeon, his Uncle, and sons all pasturing at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, or Jonathan Edwards, who served as assistant pastor to his maternal grandfather, before taking over in Northampton.