June 2005 Issue
I Need to Know About Evangelism I Learned Fishing
by Bill Brown
And Jesus, walking by the Sea of
Galilee, saw two brothers; Simon called Peter, and Andrew his
brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.
Then He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers
of men." ~ Matthew 4:18-19
Serving as a professor of evangelism and North American church
planting involves considerable travel. And my students are not
surprised to see me arriving in their town with fly rod in hand.
People may think that I love to fish; actually I am doing research.
In a previous article I explained how I had learned many truths
about sin from fishing, but fishing contains more lessons than
just those on sin. After all, everything I need to know about
evangelism I learned fishing. Here are several theological insights
from my field research.
You have to know what you
want to catch and where they are.
I have caught everything from trout the size of minnows to
halibut over 200 pounds on rod and reel. I am preparing for a
trip to Venezuela to visit my brother. We will be in Los Roques,
one of the premier bone fishing areas in the world. The fly fishing
for bones, tarpons, and permit is phenomenal, but I would not
go there to catch a rainbow trout.
Recently, the Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health
examined approximately 30 percent of all Southern Baptist congregations
which are considered "growing" churches. The research
found that 1,409 churches in the "growing" category
reported no baptisms in 2003. In reality, they are "growing"
by transferring membership instead of evangelism.
I have a livewell on my boat. When I catch a fish and put it
in the livewell I do not spend the rest of my day dropping lures
into the livewell to catch it again. The research reveals that
many churches have not decided who they want to catch dissatisfied
church attenders or the lost and therefore, churches are
not going where the lost may be found.
What I want to catch determines
the equipment and techniques to use.
For years I fished either commercially or to stock the freezer.
A lot has changed. Now, I fish for pleasure. I don't mind casting
a fly all day and releasing the catch. One thing has not changed
I fish to catch fish. I am not about to show up on a trout
stream with a halibut pole or on a halibut boat with a fly rod.
I am sure that many of the 1,409 "growing" churches
are puzzled by their lack of baptisms. They are doing something
to grow. They intend to grow. They just are not reaching the lost.
They are using fly rods for halibut.
There have been tremendous debates concerning the most effective
church model for evangelism. Purpose Driven, Program, House, Seeker
Driven, and Cell church models all have their proponents. In reality,
there are only two types of churches: The "Come and See"
and the "Go, Show, and Tell." As long as our evangelism
rests on getting people into our buildings, all we are doing is
moving fish from one livewell to another. The "Come and See"
church depends on music, presentations, programs, and the weekly
production often called "worship." The majority of what
is done for "evangelism" in those churches fails to
attract the lost, which explains why 92 percent of our baptisms
are "biological," children within the church.
The "Go, Show, and Tell" church understands that
Sundays are for edifying the body of believers and preparing them
to go back into a lost and dying world to show the love of Christ
in random and intentional acts of service and love while looking
for opportunities to share their faith as the Holy Spirit leads.
Instead of spending our time crafting another "relevant"
message or figuring out how to get another live camel on stage
in our Christmas pageant, we need to start mobilizing our people
to do as the Great Commission commands and "GO." No
one would call the pet store owner a fisherman even though he
nets fish all day long, and we should not call attracting churched
people evangelism. We need to go where the lost gather and use
the methods Jesus used. We need to love and serve the lost.
You don't catch a fish on
Berner's Bay in October is fishermen's heaven. The water levels
drop in the Gilkey and Antler rivers creating oxbow lakes of crystal
clear water two to three feet deep. You can walk the gravel bars
sight casting to prowling silver salmon and dense schools of Dolly
Varden trout. The silvers are typically fifteen pounds and hit
like Jaws. There were days when I caught a fish on every cast.
But that is Alaska; fishing reality is more like the Smith River
in January. On a recent trip, the air and water temperatures hovered
in the high thirties, and I spent all day looking for fish. The
last cast of the day I hooked one. As they say, "That's why
it is called 'fishing' instead of 'catching.'" A good fisherman
knows his fish's habitat, foods, patterns, and the appropriate
gear, but even then he will often cast hundreds of times to catch
one fish. I think Jesus called fishermen as disciples because
fishermen don't quit. That day on the Smith River, I focused on
each cast, working to gently place the fly, mending the line to
have the perfect drift, and watching for any indication of interest.
I constantly changed flies looking for something that would provoke
a strike. Fishing is work which requires an attitude of anticipation.
There is always an expectation the fish will bite, if not today
One of the toughest witnessing methods has to be door-to-door.
I take seminary students on mission trips several times a year
and do door-to-door. Some places are tougher than others; New
England and Las Vegas are different than North Carolina and parts
of Florida. However, over the years the statistics remain fairly
constant. If you talk to one hundred people, one will accept Christ.
I try to put it in perspective during the trip orientation by
asking, "Are you willing to knock on one hundred doors to
lead one person to Christ? Or knock on two hundred so another
team can lead two to the Lord?" Jesus said the good shepherd
leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the one who is lost. You
don't lead someone to Christ at every home, but that's fishing
for men. We have had much higher success ratios with servanthood
evangelism projects like car washes and yard work, but even then
it is still fishing.
A good fisherman has a variety
Successful commercial salmon fishing requires a multitude of
lures and baits. I preferred hoochies (rubber squid shaped lures)
and herring. Some friends preferred spoons, some plugs. No matter
what our favored lure was, we had all the other types in case
they were the hot gear that day. I usually start out fly fishing
with the pattern that has been the best producer in the past but
have gone through a whole fly box before finding the one that
fish were hitting. That's fishing.
I like door-to-door as the cheapest means to contact every
home in a community, but it is not the only lure in the box, neither
is FAITH, NET, Seeker Sensitive services, or even Servanthood
Evangelism. As fishers of men, we need to spend enough time with
the fish that we are able to determine which lure to use to catch
their souls. The more lures at our disposal, the better equipped
we are to meet the lost at their point of need and be able to
present Christ in a cogent, compelling manner. Unlike fishing,
our catch will be blessed for eternity instead of being fried.
The hard work begins after
the landing the fish, but God isn't into catch and release.
I am a fisherman that doesn't like to eat fish. There are a
few types of fish I enjoy, very few. Therefore, I have no problem
with catch and release. I have cleaned enough fish for a lifetime.
Once I spent eighteen hours cleaning several thousand pounds of
halibut after a commercial opening. The crew had already worked
thirty-six hours with only two or three hours of sleep, but we
could not rest until the catch was processed. Fishing for men
involves hard work, most of which begins at conversion. Sadly,
most of our institutional focus is on conversion. We have succeeded
when the person "asks Jesus into my heart," or "walks
the aisle." Church records reflect the sad truth that Southern
Baptist churches cannot locate half of their members. Commercial
salmon trollers take care of their catch. Since the fish are sold
whole for top-dollar, buyers deduct for every cut or gaff mark
that is out of place. You have to take care of your catch. Jesus
has called each of us to be fishers of men requiring us to be
as concerned about discipleship as evangelism. The world is teeming
with lost souls needing to be caught and taught by the transforming
message of Christ. Get fishing!
William E. Brown, Ph.D., is associate professor
of Evangelism and Church Planting and Nehemiah Project director
at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North
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