Lately, I find myself thinking about Zebedee. A minor New Testament character, Zebedee appears only when James and John abandon him and his hired hands on his fishing boat as they leave to follow Jesus (Mark 1:19-20). Zebedee never shows up again, though his name recurs repeatedly in association both with James and John and with their mother, his wife, Salome (Mark 15:40).

As a Roman-era Jewish patriarch, Zebedee’s authority over his family was absolute. Additionally, as an employer of others Zebedee likely had greater means, status, and influence than many in his trade. So when James and John respond “immediately” to follow Jesus, I think it’s important we give Zebedee his due.

Zebedee could have said, “No.”

He could have declared it nonsense that James and John should turn their backs on the secure fishing enterprise he, and perhaps his father, had assembled, and simply refused to let them go follow the man on the seashore. What then?

Then James and John would not have formed part of Jesus’ innermost circle of friends. James would not be distinguished as first of the twelve to be martyred (Acts 12:2), and John’s name would not be associated with twenty per cent of the New Testament writings (Gospel, Letters, and Apocalypse of John). Perhaps Salome, one of the women who cared for Jesus and was present at his crucifixion (Mark 15:40-41) also would not have become a disciple. We don’t know whether Zebedee himself followed Jesus, but he certainly empowered his family to affect the course of Christian history.

Zebedee seashore

So I find myself thinking about Zebedee today. Today, we are desperate for young leaders to continue the course of Christian history. Pre-COVID, we already faced a leadership crisis as our ‘Baby Boomers’ retire without equal numbers of trained young leaders to replace them and as sizeable quantities of young adults exit the church. Since COVID, we are watching leaders step out of ministry at an accelerated rate, expanding the leadership gap. Jesus still calls disciples today to abandon their fathers in the boat. And today, like Zebedee, we parents and ministry leaders are people of authority, status, and influence who face Zebedee’s challenge to oppose or to empower those hearing Jesus’ call.

Will we cling to common-sense securities, or will we encourage stepping out of the boat to follow the man on the seashore?

Jeromey Martini, President

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