You can’t catch fish in the desert.
My maternal grandparents lived near the seashore. I recall making the hour and a half drive from our house to theirs with regularity as a child. When visiting their home, we’d often go to the beach. If you’re looking for fish, the beach is a good place to be!
I remember one particular day that my grandfather and I went to the beach. I cannot recall if it was just he and I, or if our entire family was there. To be honest, I can’t recall if he went fishing often. But I do recall him fishing once. I can still picture him standing by the shore, the rod stuck into some sort of a holder and the line out in the water. The thing I remember most clearly was that I was very, very bored. I wasn’t fishing.
When you’re NOT fishing, just watching, fishing can get pretty boring rather quickly. I ended up wandering around the area, playing in the sand. Bored.
It’s funny, I have absolutely no recollection of my grandfather ever teaching me anything about fishing. I just remember him fishing. Alone. I don’t think my dad ever fished with him. I’m almost certain my mom ever fished with him. Actually, I can’t picture anyone ever fishing with him. Perhaps as a result, I don’t know of anyone in our family who’s an avid fisherman today. It just sort of died out with my grandfather.
If you’re fishing for fish as a hobby, that’s not a big deal. But if fishing is the lifeblood of your family, if it is the very reason for your existence and your livelihood; it is a very big deal indeed. In that case, it is vitally important that everyone learn to fish. It is critical that everyone learn the rules of how to fish well, that all are trained to fish.
Many churches today are like my grandfather and I. There’s one old guy who’s out “fishing” for souls, and a whole bunch of people playing in the sand, very bored and doing nothing of any value or importance. When Jesus told His disciples that He was going to teach them to fish for men, he was speaking to a group for whom fishing was their life. Capernaum was a fishing village, and most people had some connection to its fishing activity. You don’t need a fishing village if nobody is fishing. You don’t need a church if no one is fishing for people.
As followers of Jesus, our lives are supposed to be attractive, dynamic examples of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When people meet us, our character ought to make them want to get to know us better even before they know why. As they get to know us more and more, we are supposed to let them know the WHY is Jesus; and that should make them want Him. And once they know Him and have given themselves to Him, we are supposed to teach them to fish, too. We are people fishers.
Somewhere along the way in my travels I remember hearing three rules for fishing and thinking that they made great sense for people fisher, too. It may be that they were presented that way, but if so I’ve forgotten that part. But I do remember the three rules. Here they are, fellow people-fishers.
RULE ONE: GO WHERE THE FISH ARE
You can’t catch fish if there are no fish where you are; and fish will not come to you. If your goal is to catch them, you need to go to them.
We build nice buildings, announce our service times, open our doors and shout “Here we are, you lucky people!!” And they stay away in droves. We are supposed to go to them. I wrote a whimsical book entitled “Come On: Examining The Scriptures Calling Unbelievers To Come To Church.” In it I purport to list all of the scriptures that invite unbelievers to come to church. The majority of the book is topic headers over empty pages. There ARE NO SCRIPTURES that tell unbelievers to come to church! Jesus commanded US to GO!!! And there are plenty of biblical examples of Jesus GOING TO THE PEOPLE to share His message.
RULE TWO: USE BAIT THE FISH LIKE
Dangling bare barbed steel hooks in the water won’t attract fish. They don’t like steel. As people-fishers, we need to use “bait” that will be attractive. A few weeks ago I attended a heavy metal and blues concert put on by a cool hip priest who was intentionally going where the fish were and using bait they liked. I’ve seen “people fishing expeditions” organized around holidays that looked like Christmas villages, free BBQ’s, races, bike give aways, and a host of other activities. All organized by good people-fishers using bait the fish like.
Different people like different things, so we need to do a lot of different things!
I don’t often wear my clerical collar when I’m not involved in a church function. But when I travel, I love to wear a simple black clergy shirt with a large silver shepherd’s cross. And often people will come up to me in the airport and ask me to pray for them. I have ordained friends who would never consider wearing a “shirt with a backwards collar” — but no one comes up to them and asks for prayer, either. Is this the ONLY way?? Of course not! Just using different bait.
RULE THREE: DON’T SCARE THE FISH
Our conversation (and our manner of living) ought to be gracious and attractive. The fruit of following Jesus is supposed to be clearly seen in us. People are starving for true love. They are drawn to it. It is great bait. If you’re filled with joy and peace in a world that has none it will draw people to you, not scare them away. Patience is perhaps the chief characteristic of every fisherman no matter whether you’re out for tuna or flounder (BIG fish or smaller ones). Kindness and goodness scare no one. Faithfulness, being consistent and living a bait-filled life day after day will draw people to you; and therefore draw them to Him. Gentleness is needed as they explore faith and embrace it.
Self-control is key, as well; because going where the fish are will often put you in places where the enemy has also set out his bait. Don’t bite his hook!!
Our churches are neither museums (preserving history) nor hospitals (healing the sick and wounded). Though some teaching and healing will come about as a result of our work, it is not the chief focus. Our core call is clear. We are people-fishers who are called to train everyone who joins us to follow Him and become people-fishers, too.
OK! I’m done writing.
I’m going fishing!