In a pond near where I live there are two types of waterfowl: there are dabbling ducks, and there are goosanders. The dabbling ducks (mallards and a couple of domesticated spieces) on this pond are so called because they feed on or near the surface of the water, mostly on aquatic vegetation, small molluscs etc. And of course on whatever is thrown in for them by people who go along, usually with children, to “feed the ducks.” We commonly see these ducks “dabbling” as they upend in the water to feed. Goosanders are altogether different. Although still a type of duck, they belong to a group called “sawbills,” that have thinner beaks with serrated edges for catching and gripping fish. And not just tiddlers – a goosander will grapple with a trout or perch, or even a salmon, nearly as big as the bird itself.
Jesus has sent us, His disciples, out to “catch fish” – to be fishers of men, like Peter. We don’t need to be reminded of the story of Peter’s life, and the transformation that he underwent at Pentecost. We probably know his story best of all, because he tended to go for the “epic fail” rather than just the ordinary fail; but none of the disciples actually caught on to any of the Kingdom truths that Jesus was feeding them until the Holy Spirit brought all His words to life at Pentecost. For three years they had been dabbling ducks that understood nothing of catching fish. But when the Holy Spirit fell they were transformed into sawbilled goosanders, and they began fishing for men.
In a pond like this one, a significant portion of the dabblers’ diet is what is fed to them by local humans. You will probably see them congregating on one side of the pond, in the shallow water where they can get to the aquatic vegetation and where the food is thrown in. But here is the point: dabbling ducks do not grow into goosanders. It doesn’t matter how much, or how well, you feed them; to become goosanders equipped to catch fish they have to be transformed into sawbills, and only an encounter with the Holy Spirit can bring that about. Without people having that encounter you just have a pond full of dabblers. Jesus loves them of course, and loves to feed them, as we all do; but what He longs for even more is to see them continue their journey in the Spirit just as Peter and the rest of His original flock of dabblers did.
For some churches, it is a central platform of their ministry to create a current in the water that will lead all the dabblers out of the shallows and into the deeper waters where they can be transformed by the Holy Spirit. For others, the sawbills are there because they happened to fly in, or because they wandered over to the deep water on their own individual journey round the pond. For others still there might be large (or small) flocks of dabblers quacking and splashing, or maybe just sitting on the bank waiting for the food to arrive, but not a sawbill to be found. It is only one part of the church’s mission to put out good food that will attract the ducks. The other part is to lead every dabbler into the present power of the Holy Spirit, so that they become the sawbills that Jesus has called them to be.
I believe this is one of the Lord’s main priorities as He works on the overhaul of His church.