I would like to begin by quoting a Scripture from Matthew 4:18-20. It says, “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two bothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fisherman. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.”
I noticed something in particular about this passage right away. Namely, that there was an immediacy surrounding the entire situation. Scripture says these men were fishermen, and we know that this occupation was fairly stable in first century Palestine. But as soon as Jesus recruited them, it appears they left what they knew at the drop of a hat. It would be similar to you and I deciding to leave a cushy job with the government maybe, and then cleaning out our desks and following a strange man into the wilderness to spread the Gospel message.
The fact remains that they responded to God’s call, despite the fear and uncertainty that must have been present. The Bible also says in other areas of the New Testament, that sheep know their Shepherd’s voice. In this metaphor, Jesus is the good shepherd and his followers are the sheep. Simon Peter and Andrew knew and trusted God’s voice when they were called.
Would we do the same? Would we leave the comfort of what we know to serve God in this unabashed sort of way? Or if we are getting down to basics, the question really becomes: do we know His voice well enough to demonstrate the same immediacy that Peter and Andrew did? That’s a tough call.
I believe that to be fishers of men (and women) often equates to evangelism. This means going out into the world and talking about Jesus to other people. Now this can be stressful of course, not only for the person doing the teaching, but also for those listening! Have you ever been trapped in an elevator for example, with someone who made you feel uncomfortable? I think this is the feeling we get when evangelism goes poorly. The recipient cannot wait for the doors to open and the ride to be over. We must be careful with the methods we choose to employ.
If we are preparing to fish for souls, then it follows we must check our nets as well. Make sure they are strong and will hold whatever God sends into them. We must make sure our nets are accomplishing something for the Kingdom of Heaven. Are they pointing people to Jesus, or are they simply catching and ensnaring people with no further purpose in mind? The stakes are high on this one.
A ministry colleague of mine is known for giving the following formula in an effort to test whether or not our fishing nets hold up. He says you can simply ask the question, ‘we do X so that Y will happen.’ It reminds me of one of those algebra equations I had to work through from my high school days. Remember having to solve for X in math class?
I will give two examples quickly to help illustrate the point. We do worship service each Sunday morning, so that people can give back to God each week. Or how about this example...we hold community dinners occasionally, so that people know the love of Christ through the ministry of local food outreach. We do X, so that Y will occur. And “Y” had better be getting us closer to God.
The point is, that if you test a ministry with this formula, and you cannot narrow down how X and Y gets someone closer to Jesus, then you need to re-think your ministry. It has failed the formula exam.
Now I think it goes without saying unfortunately, that these dead ministries do exist. From time to time, you will visit a church (or maybe you have one of these ministries in your own church) where you cannot account for X and Y — and neither can the people running the ministry! They are often programs that were set up years and years ago by people who may no longer be at the church, but they fill some type of tradition or provide a little piece of comfort for a handful of congregants. But they are not drawing people closer to Jesus. In fact, they may be doing the exact opposite.
People tend to think of these ministries the same way a toddler thinks about one of his or her toys. “It’s mine”, you may hear them say, “... and no one can take it away from me or change it in any way.” The impetus is placed on the leader or the program itself, and not God.
I often hear about a famous story that transpired in a church years ago, where the leadership team was charged with deciding what color to paint the walls of the fellowship hall. Some wanted to leave them white, others wanted blue, still others wanted light green. No agreement could be reached, so they called in a mediator; someone with no dog in the hunt. Someone who could be unbiased and simply help them reach a decision.
By the end of the two-hour mediation, not only could no one solve for X and Y, but one woman was actually heard to say, “This decision has nothing to do with God anyway!” A hush fell upon the entire group ... the truth had come out.
I am hoping the meeting took a sharp U-turn after that declaration. The point is that weak nets don’t usually yield many fish. We must keep God at the center of whatever it is we are doing.
Now all of this discussion begs the question ‘how then do we evangelize successfully?’ I think this is an important thing to think about. Many have pondered whether or not there is a magic formula, or a certain book we can follow, etc. But in my experience (both personal and as an observer), the most effective strategy appears to be offering a personal invitation. Bite the bullet, swallow your pride, and simply ask your friend if they would like to come to church with you some time. You won’t keel over with embarrassment, it will be okay.
And I might also add, an invitation every once in a while is enough - not over and over again every time you see them (remember the uncomfortable feeling in the elevator)?
In truth, I was caught in a similar net years ago. When I was much younger, I remember entering into a time in my life where I often felt lost. I felt like there had to be something better out there, or up there, or whatever. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Sound familiar? The existential search for meaning is something that affects everyone at different stages of their life I think.
During this time, one of my wife’s friends happened to extend an invitation to us for a small group that met once a week in her home. I didn’t know anyone else in that group, and I had no idea what their church was like. But it was literally a case of right time, right place, and right personal invitation. We began attending the small group, and within four years I was helping to fill the pulpit when the pastor was gone on vacation.
It’s amazing what God can do with our nets when we are prayerful and courageous enough to leave the stability and comfort of our bubble, and step out to follow Jesus. We may in fact end up being fishers of men. Our arms get stronger from casting and hauling in nets full of fish.
Keep testing what you are doing in your life and at your church. Keep applying the X and Y formula. Is your ministry catching anyone? If so, is it pointing people toward a Holy and loving God? Or are you arguing about what color to paint the fellowship hall walls?
There is an old saying I like quite a bit. I cannot find the original author, but I’ve heard it a number of times. It makes use of a marine life metaphor, so it fits with all this talk about nets and fishing. It goes something like this: if churches can be thought of as aquariums, then we are to be fishers of men, not keepers of the aquarium.
Maintaining and running a church and its associated ministries is important, but not if you cannot solve for X. Not if you aren’t pointing people toward God. We must leave the safety of the aquarium from time to time. Keep inviting people, keep sewing strong nets, and keep fishing. And remember always, ultimately you and I don’t save people—God does. So don’t take it personally if the aquarium takes a while to become properly stocked. God often operates on a different time schedule than we do. So much the better for the fish.