For it is by grace you have been saved...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Fishers of Men...No Bait Required

I never claimed to be the brightest knife in the drawer, or the sharpest bulb in the lamp, or whatever. Sometimes I can be a little slow on the uptake. I often figure things out, only to discover that everyone else around me has had it figured out for a long time. This may be one of those cases. But I’ll share anyway.

For years I’ve been bothered by the gimmick vs. gospel approach to ministry in general and evangelism in particular. It seems we don’t think God’s gospel is quite good enough to reach folks, so we have to come up with all kinds of gimmicks and gadgets to get them in the door, to keep their attention, etc.

I admit, there was a time that I fell prey to the temptation as well. I assumed church was boring for everyone, so I thought I had to find clever tricks and treats to throw into the sermons so folks would want to come back. Never mind that true believers should have the desire to come and worship a holy God in Spirit and in Truth regardless of how “entertaining” I made things. I’ve since repented.

Still, I’ve struggled with the conflict. I’ve cringed as I’ve seen event after event being planned, and the emphasis seems to always be: what can we do to draw ‘em in, and then we’ll hit ‘em with the gospel. (Side note: often the gospel is never introduced at all, just a warm fuzzy, followed by a random “ask Jesus into your heart” speech). I never fully grasped what the issue was, why folks treated ministry this way, etc. Recently, it hit me.

I attended a men’s event where the theme had to do with being “fishers of men.” And to be sure it drew a large crowd, there was a large giveaway of fishing paraphernalia: rods and reels, lures, etc. (Now, in interest of full disclosure I must add at this point that my youngest son came home with a brand new rod and reel. Pretty cool. But that’s not the reason we went…really.) And from a crowd standpoint, it must be considered a success. In fact, the attendance far exceeded the other “men’s event” things that have been held in which we just gathered to talk about being more godly men, sans giveaways. So it must be good, right?

But as I sat there looking at the racks of fishing rods lined up at the front, so that you were staring at them the entire time the speakers brought their messages, it suddenly hit me. This is our problem. We’ve got the wrong idea about what it means to be fishers of men.

Most of us, when we think of fishing, we envision a couple guys out in a boat or along a lake shore. We see them with their box full of lures and/or live bait. They cast their lines, and if after awhile they don’t have any success, they change the bait and go after it again. Fishing, in this context, is all about the bait. If the bait doesn’t work, change it and go at it again.

So, when we hear the phrase “fishers of men” we think of it in the same way. We have to throw out the right bait. And if the bait isn’t working, we change bait until we find something the fish likes, and then we hook ‘em. Hence, our gimmick and gadget approach to ministry and evangelism. It’s all about the bait. The gospel isn’t powerful enough on its own, we have to find the right bait people will respond to so we can hook ‘em.

And as I sat there looking at those rods, I suddenly realized…Jesus never picked up a fishing pole in his life (probably). The kind of fishing done by Peter and James and John as a profession had to do with casting nets. It was more about going to where the fish were and casting a net over them, rather than sitting back and hoping your bait would attract them.

There are obviously some similarities. You still have to study the fish, know where they are, etc. But one focuses on the bait, while the other is about casting the net and in large part trusting Providence to fill it. Even when the disciples had a bad night, Jesus took them out and made them cast the net again, and it filled to breaking, showing that He was Lord of the fishing nets.

In this case, it’s about keeping the nets mended and in good shape; keeping our life and doctrine pure as Scripture says. It’s about faithfully going out day after day, casting the net of the Gospel and trusting the results to God. It’s not a matter of teasing the fish in, tempting them with this or that bait until they bite. It’s about obediently casting the nets and letting the Lord of the sea fill them.

Jesus even told a parable about this kind of fishing. In Matthew 13 he tells of the Kingdom of God being like a net, thrown into the sea and gathering fish of every kind. His point there is that when we cast our nets, we will sometimes bring in both the good and the bad, and it’s up to God to sort them out. Still, this image is the fishing image Jesus has in mind when calling us to be “fishers of men.”

Now, maybe I’m making too much of this. Maybe I’m the one missing the point. Maybe I’m just sour because I didn’t win the big prize in the giveaway. (Which brings up another point: if I come for the “bait” and I don’t win, I leave disappointed. Is that how we want folks leaving church events…disappointed because they didn’t win the big prize?)

Or maybe everyone else has seen this long ago, and I’m the slow one once again. Whatever, I would just offer this plea to ministries everywhere: The Gospel is sufficient. Christ is sufficient. We don’t need to decorate it up just to get folks attention. Preach the Word, in season and out. I know that the bait draws bigger crowds sometimes. But we aren’t called to draw crowds. We are called to make disciples, teaching them to observe all that He commanded. Let’s be true fishers of men…no bait required.

(For an excellent sermon on how to become fishers of men, read this message from C. H. Spurgeon with that title: How To Become Fishers of Men.)


Gregg Metcalf said...

Excellent post brother! Many people leave services like you described disappointed and empty and then think that is what God is like or what Christianity is like. They feel used for our purposes many times and in fact we did use them. I abhor these types of so called evangelism.

Find the fish, throw out the nets and keep fishing until the Lord of the harvest fills the nets!

But, let me say, better late than never!

Lori said...

Yes, God's Word is sufficient. No gimmicks needed. Thank you for the pleasant word picture reminder.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the post, thanks!
Whenever we have a "flashy event," people show up, but they don't stay with us.

Scott said...

"people show up, but they don't stay with us."

That's the real problem isn't it? If we drag 'em in with flash, we keep having to out-flash ourselves to keep them!

keith mutangara said...

Interesting discussion.

I agree with you Scott that we;re not suppossed to create shows as bait. I think that we focus on the wrong bait. It's not about stuff. The bait given to us is Jesus Christ himself (John 12:32).
If our lives were a true reflection of Him who now dwells in us (love, patience, service, hospitality, kindness, integrity, confidence in the Lord, victory over sickness and all other oppressions of the enemy etc) men would be drawn to us (really Him) without having to spend on useless stuff that get's people excited but does nothing to change their lives.
People should be taught about love, how to love others genuinely; teach them of the authority they have in the Name of Jesus over sickness, demonic opressions and all the abilities of the enemy (Acts 3:16); teach them of the atonement, the complete work of the cross; teach them about worshipping God through service to others (and the list goes on)and you'll have men and women who walk around with bait inside of them shining to those whom the Spirit has made ready. Teach them that talk is cheap. They cant just stop at knowing about Christ, they have to start walking like Him.