Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Fishing Teaches Us About Evangelism

There are lots of descriptions for evangelism; churches today use all sorts of words and phrases to convey the idea of sharing the good news. But perhaps the clearest, most descriptive phrase used is how Jesus described it. In Matthew 4:19 He called Peter and Andrew in this way: "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."

In a culture where fishing played a major role, this is was an incredibly descriptive phrase for Jesus to use. It would have brought an image immediately to mind. In the same way, most everyone in our culture is at least somewhat familiar with fishing. And so Jesus' description of evangelism is equally clear to us. When He links evangelism to fishing, the lights come on as it were. We get what He's talking about. In thinking about this illustration, I began to jot down a few of the things that fishing can teach us about evangelism. Jesus said He would make us fishers of men. In other words, there are similarities between fishing and evangelism; there are things we learn about evangelism from fishing. What are they?

First, we have to go to where the fish are. If you want to catch a fish, you have to go to where the fish are, right? It's ridiculous to expect the fish to come to you. In the same way, if we want be fishers of men that means we have to go to where the fish are. In Luke 14 Jesus told a story about a man who threw a big party. He invited all the usual folks but they all backed out. His response was to invite the folks who wouldn't normally be invited to a party; the people that society didn't value too highly. And in vs23 he told his servant, "Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled." Point is, he didn't sit back and wait for people to come to him--he went after them. In the same way, to be effective evangelists we have to go to where people are. To catch fish, you go to where the fish are; to catch sinners, you go to where the sinners are. Too many Christians have decided that they would never stoop to go to certain establishments; as a result the people in those establishments--people who are precious to God, people with eternal souls--those people don't hear the gospel. Jesus tells us to go to where the fish are, so to speak. Luke 19:10, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." The Son of Man didn't come to sit in a chair and wait for His subject to come kneel before Him. He came in pursuit of them. To catch fish, we have to go where the fish are.

Second, we have to use the right bait. Now here's where we sort of go off the rails a little bit in the church. When we hear "fishers of men" we think about how we fish today. We think about using the right bait, about using the right kind of lures; we fish over here and wait for a nibble, fish over there, etc. We talk about how to 'set the hook' in evangelistic events, all that good stuff. One problem; in Jesus' day they didn't use a rod and reel (despite the picture above). They used a net. So it's pointless to talk about the right kind of lure; that's not what Jesus is referring to at all. Churches waste all their time trying to figure out the right lure--we've got to have the coolest music, the hippest graphics, the flashiest website--all that is fine and dandy. But it won't save anybody. The bait we use is simple; the gospel of Jesus Christ. Romans 1:16 makes a staggering claim; "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power of God for salvation..." Consider the implications of that. The gospel--not the music, not the building, not the lights, not the cool shirt from Target with the cross on the shoulder that the ultra-relevant Pastor wears--none of that has any bearing on the saving of a soul. All that matters is the gospel. When we preach Jesus, lost people are saved. John 12:32, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself." Jesus promises that when He is lifted up, when He is crucified, He will use that message to draw men to Himself. When Jesus is lifted up, people are drawn to Him. By the way, "drawn to Him" sounds an awful lot like being caught in a net, doesn't it? Now don't misunderstand. I'm not against a church striving for relevance and modernity. I am against a church thinking that those things are necessary for the salvation of a soul. The gospel--the message of a crucified, resurrected, and coming again Jesus--that message is sufficient for the salvation of the lost.

Third, sometimes you won't catch anything. If you've fished very many times you know that there are times when you won't catch anything. Just the way that it works. But one thing I learned while fishing on farm ponds is this: where are they going to go? Think about it, if I go out fishing one afternoon and don't catch anything I don't have to get all upset about it. Where will the fish go? They aren't going to walk to another pond. I just have to be patient and keep fishing. In the same way, we need to understand that in evangelism, sometimes we won't catch anything. There are times when we preach the good news, share the gospel, just do the work of an evangelist--and nothing happens. And that's OK. Because saving them isn't our job, it's God's job. Our job is simply to cast the net of the gospel. It's the work of the Spirit to pull them to Himself. If someone refuses to hear the good news, don't despair. You'll get another chance with them.

Fourth, there's a mystery to catching fish. I love to fish with my dad. Nothing like spending time with him, talking, being encouraged, and catching fish. But at times it can be pretty frustrating fishing with him. He can cast to the exact same spot I did and while I didn't even get a bite, he'll catch the fish. I don't know how that works I just accept that there is a mystery to it. In the same way, we have to accept that there is a mystery to salvation. We can preach the gospel with all the eloquence in the world, present a clear plan of God's love and be completely rejected. Other times we can stumble and stammer, not thinking we're getting out a clear message at all--and God will use that to bring a sinner to repentance. There's a mystery to catching fish. And rather than trying to figure it all out, I choose to rest in the sovereignty of a God who loves me and gave Himself for me. A God who has chosen to set His affection on rebels and traitors and has guaranteed to His gospel will bring them to repentance.

Finally, anybody can catch a fish. Bill Dance can catch him some bass. Sometimes I think that guy could cast into a mud hole and pull out a seven pound bass. But you know what? I can catch a bass too. Maybe not as big, maybe not as frequently; but I can catch a fish. Know what else? Owen can catch a fish. I might have to help him cast, maybe help him reel it in; but if he gets that cricket in the water, the cork is going down. Here's the point; anybody can catch a fish. You don't have to be Bill Dance; and thankfully, you don't have to be Billy Graham either. The power isn't in the presentation or any of that stuff. The power is in the message. If we are faithful to preach the good news, and to live the good news; if we are faithful to take the opportunities God provides for us, we'll catch souls for the kingdom of God. Don't let what you perceive as your lack of abilities hinder you from being a fisher of men. Don't think you need a seminary degree to reach lost sinners. Share the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ and people will be saved.

Father, thank You for the gospel. Thank You for letting us take part in sharing that gospel with the world. Help us to be faithful to share it, to take every opportunity You give us to tell people about Jesus. Help us to clearly and passionately present Jesus to the world. And glorify Yourself through us. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Randy,

    I've just found your blog and notice your emphasis on evangelism. I wonder if you have seen my friend's page and resources about online evangelism, at