Mobilization Lessons from the Life of Jesus

by Mark Stebbins

In our mobilization, we must have the right foundation laid through depth in God’s word, prayer, and time with people.

One of the most fascinating passages documenting Jesus’ call for his followers is the detailed dramatic short found in John 1:35-51. John brings us in close to see the captivating relational dynamics at work at the genesis of Jesus’ movement of men. Although not a comprehensive account of all the methods Jesus employed in mobilization, it is illustrative of powerful insights into how he started the movement. Also not intended to set a normative pattern for mobilization, it nonetheless offers stunning principles to be harvested for mobilization throughout the ages.

The rapid-fire action shows the mobilizing of three sets of men by four individuals employing seven distinct initiatives. God is orchestrating their movement, using remarkably similar principles to successfully gather those he wanted. This compact account has motion in several directions like popcorn popping, with corresponding revelations occurring like camera bulbs flashing to those aspiring to be Christ followers. Let’s peek inside to see how the Lord blended spiritual, social, and organizational wisdom in his recruitment of followers to glean some powerful insights for our own ministries of mobilizing men into mission.

Spiritual Wisdom for Mobilization
Jesus knew, as we now do, that it is the Father who moves people for his purposes. He had already prayed much about the selection of followers and had unshakable conviction in his Father’s promises to draw and thrust laborers into his harvest fields. He had also previously been with those he called, relating to them and discerning their spirits. Upon that foundation, and implicit in this passage, Jesus mobilized by faith and prayer—being spiritually sensitized to God’s will for these men.  

In our mobilization, we must have the right foundation laid through depth in God’s word, prayer, and time with people. These pillars give us the confidence and servant hearts needed toward those being raised up and sent by God in his time and way into global harvests. Is this foundation in us?

Enhancing this spiritual dimension to his mobilizing, Jesus prophesied about Peter and Nathanael in John 1, attracting them to the purposes of God for them as he spoke truths about them. In this way, Jesus mobilized by envisioning—casting vision about people’s lives that served to recruit them (vs. 42, 50-51).  

In our mobilizing, we need to engage similar personal prophesying, calling out the treasure of gifting and destiny God has placed in each candidate. We should activate imagination and hope in others, envisioning his plans and promises to work with these ordinary people in supernatural ways. Like Jesus, we can picture and project a bright future for them. This also creates a buzz of excitement, anticipation, and wonder as we all watch together what God does in moving them forward.

In dealing with potential recruits, Jesus also met them at their point of need by showing them how they could access closeness and fuller potential with God. In this passage, Jesus told the two and Nathanael that they would gain unique revelations into the things of God, giving them unprecedented spiritual insights. Jesus mobilized by spiritual resourcing—sharing access to God for those curious or longing for him (vs. 38-39, 49-50). Resourcing men and women spiritually to be vibrant disciples of Christ is a vital part of our work in mission mobilization. We must help them stay God-focused and God-fueled as God-followers. It is step one in nurturing the call of God in their lives, and creates an environment of empowerment for them to own their journey.  Mission mobilization is first and foremost a spiritual work!

Social Wisdom for Mobilization
It is vital to observe how Jesus positioned himself at busy social crossroads of recruitable people to win them. He knew where to fish for men: near John the Baptist. Jesus mobilized by social networking—going to social intersections and creating new relational traffic. Note the instances in John 1 of “finding” and “telling,” coupled with the instances of “coming” and “seeing” (vs. 39, 41, 43-44, 46). Culturally relevant social networking is bustling in several directions through natural social groupings and relational networks. A new group and following begins to naturally emerge. Revelations, curiosity, wonder, and exploration are all bundled together virally and leveraged into a symphony of relational mobilization.  

Jesus mobilized by leveraging the influence of others—allowing leaders and peers to mobilize those near them. Jesus worked with the affinity groups on hand, including followers of John the Baptist (vs. 35-37), family members (vs. 40-41), and hometown friends (v. 45). Deferring to existing relationships, he allowed the endorsement of leaders and the cultivation of opinion leaders within relational clusters to multiply his movement through them. We need to graciously, but intentionally insert ourselves into natural networks to become valued alongsiders, strategic coaches, generous resourcers, and attentive guides.  

At the same time, we should exercise strategic emotional intelligence to permit the responsive to help lead and influence their companions. Our mobilization capacity is built by allowing candidates to usher one another along on the road to kingdom service.  

As Jesus engaged informally with men, he also invited them to be with him. He took two to his house for a day. He seamlessly took handoffs from others as he encouraged men to come along.  Jesus mobilized by relational invitations—boldly and persuasively inviting men to join him as he naturally related to them (vs. 38-39, 43). He gave personal attention and invitations to individuals. His calling was gracious, inspiring, and crystal-clear. Men felt wanted and included as friends and followers. Mobilizers must pull the trigger on inviting candidates into action, including assignments, events, travel, training, and service opportunities, once they have gained credibility and trust in relationship.

Organizational Wisdom for Mobilization
Jesus mobilized by having a workable structure for his mission—a relational scaffolding with plans for engaging his candidates toward desired outcomes. His focus was not on headquarters, cubicles, or meeting rooms. (Can I hear an amen?) Invitations to join him served as simple on ramps.  

In today’s terminology, we could say that Jesus had culturally relevant marketing, HR functions, and ongoing training and development programs. Likewise, we need understandable, integrated, and relevant messages and processes for recruitable audiences that lead into effectively connecting candidates with us and the nations. John 1:35-51 inaugurates and hints at this coming master plan of Jesus.  

Jesus clearly created anticipation that there would be a niche for those who would follow him.  Jesus mobilized by making room for followers—creating space and assuring men of placement opportunities ahead (vs. 39, 42-43, 51). He inspired anticipation about future roles with promises to become fishers of men. We who mobilize are opportunity designers and promoters, seeking custom fits for those seeking kingdom contributions. Tailoring platforms for candidates to “try on” is consistent with the approach of Jesus in John 1, as he infused a sense of discovery, destiny, and place for others with him. Jesus modeled a spirit and practice of accommodating candidates to fit them into fruitful assignments.

Possibly the most profound technique in our Lord’s mobilizing is the ways that he utilized his reputation as Messiah to move people. Jesus mobilized by delivering on what was promised—leading to a journey with him that met (and exceeded) his followers’ expectations. Jesus was the promised Messiah and he generously gave to them out of this reality (vs. 36, 41, 45, 49).

It is imperative that we understand and respond to the expectations that we generate for others.  Monitoring feedback and attention to detail in serving inquirers will win their hearts. Our personal or agency reputation turns sour if we disappoint those who contact us. Conversely, over-delivering on what we explicitly or implicitly promise further enhances both God’s reputation and ours, and delights the candidates we serve. Let’s make sure our press and promotions don’t outpace what we can realistically deliver.

The wisdom from above is pure, peaceful, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere. It will require close imitation of the wisdom modeled by Jesus for successful mobilization and recruitment of mission candidates. Our ability to receive, process, and serve candidates well correlates with how thoroughly we employ this wisdom. Our ability to follow in his steps in mobilizing the next generation of harvest workers will make a huge difference in their viability for a productive future, no matter which agency they may join.  

Let’s make sure that those we are mobilizing never feel like they are being misguided, mismanaged, marginalized, or neglected. There needs to be organizational and leadership consensus that a healthy mobilization model is a priority worth spending on and working toward.  To help move people effectively for God, we will need to keep asking for spiritual, social, and organizational wisdom that comes from on high. As we move forward in our individual arenas for advancing the gospel of the kingdom, may he multiply both the harvest from our labors and the laborers to help us work the fields, all for his glory.


Mark Stebbins has worked for thirty-five years with The Navigators, including eleven in Africa and sixteen in mission mobilization. He is Western director and national missions coordinator for the U.S. Collegiate Navigators and serves as Mobilization Consultant with MissioNexus.

EMQ, Vol. 50, No. 2, pp. 188-192. Copyright © 2014 Billy Graham Center.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.

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