Jimmy Brown trusts the Lord—and uses common sense—whenever he goes fishing, whether the fishing hole is filled with lake water or the silt of an undredged life.
“I had never realized the similarities between fishing, soul-winning, and pastoring,” said Brown, a former professional fishing guide on Kentucky Lake who has been pastor of Pilot Oak Baptist Church in western Kentucky since 2007.
Fishing may be fun; but it’s also “hard work . . . work you have to be persistent at,” he said.
Brown, who has a complete message on fishing that he often gives at outdoorsmens’ events and pastors’ conferences, has come to see numerous parallels between fishing for fish and fishing for people (see sidebar).
Evangelism and Discipleship
A rural church that averages about one hundred in Sunday morning worship, Pilot Oak Baptist Church baptized thirteen people in 2013, and eighteen the year before that, although the baptism total for 2014 was a bit lower.
“We have to take time to disciple those we win,” Brown said. “A lot of people like to fish, but don’t want to clean them,” he said. “I think that’s so wasteful. . . .
“If I reach people but don’t disciple them, what have I accomplished?” he asked. “When we win someone to the Lord, that’s when the hard work begins. We need to get them established in the faith so they become productive, reproducing Christians.”
For example, Brown said, suppose we “win twenty people to the Lord. . . . If I’m not taking time to disciple the hundred I have [in weekly worship] and the twenty we win, thirty will leave.”
There must be a balance between evangelism and discipleship, he said, noting that sometimes you have to refocus your energies in order to disciple those you’ve already evangelized.
You must disciple them in order to for them to have staying power and to experience longevity in your church’s outreach and growth, he said.
Brown has also challenged Graves County Baptist Association, of which Pilot Oak Baptist is a part, to greater missions efforts. Since Brown became captain of the missions and ministry team for the association last year, they’ve gone on the first associational mission trip that he’s aware of.
“I began to talk it up, and last year we went to Muskogee, Oklahoma,” Brown said. “We did construction and a VBS at the Murrow Children’s Home, led a backyard Bible club, surveyed for one church, and painted for another church,” he said. The team also did cleaning and organizational work at Bacone College, a liberal arts college originally established by the American Baptist Home Mission Society in 1880 to provide Christian education for Native Americans.
“This year we’ll be working with one of the Eastern Nebraska Baptist Association’s most recent church plants in Blair, and helping to strengthen some of their other plants,” Brown continued. “The more involved we get in doing missions, the stronger our churches here will become.”
Biblical stewardship is another aspect of discipleship Brown began teaching when he became pastor. For several years prior to his arrival, Pilot Oak had reduced its Cooperative Program missions giving to $1,000 per year.
Brown began reminding the church that the Cooperative Program is the way Southern Baptist churches work together to fulfill the Great Commission within the state convention, across North America, and around the world. He helped them see that the money they give to missions through the Cooperative Program extends Pilot Oak’s reach far beyond what the church could do on its own.
“The first meeting I had with the finance committee, I asked them if they thought people should tithe, and they all said yes,” Brown said. “Then I asked them, ‘Do you not think your church should tithe?’”
As the church prepared its 2009 budget, Brown led them to dedicate 3 percent of their undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, 2 percent to Graves County Baptist Association, and 5 percent for local benevolence, because “We need to minister to people in our community whether they’re members or not,” Brown said.
The CP percentage has increased a bit each year. Pilot Oak Baptist gave $1,000 in 2008. Five years later—in 2013—it gave $13,744 through CP and $22,257 in total Great Commission Giving, according the church’s Annual Church Profile report. Brown reported the church gave 19.5 percent of its income to some type of cooperative ministry in 2014 and has raised its 2015 CP budget projection to 5.5 percent of the church’s undesignated receipts.
Members also began giving generously to Southern Baptists’ seasonal missions offerings. Last year the church received a congratulatory letter from Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board.
“We were the top per capita giving church for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering in the entire Southern Baptist Convention,” Brown said. “We read it over and over and yep, that’s what it says.
“I told them, ‘You are to be commended, but don’t stop,’” the pastor continued. “They’re beginning to catch on about being Kingdom-focused.”
Last year, Pilot Oak bought a tool trailer to do construction missions, and has become known in its community as “the church that cares” because of its commitment to meeting local needs—whether it may be an unpaid electric bill, an empty cupboard and refrigerator, the need for a handicap ramp into someone’s house, or some other pressing need.
By identifying with the residents of its rural farming community and being ready to help when called upon, the members of Pilot Oak have become alert to seeing where God is at work and joining Him, Brown said, citing Henry Blackaby’s principle from Experiencing God.
“The biggest fish are in the deepest water,” he said. “You can catch them in shallow water, but if you want to persistently catch fish—or people—you have to go where they are, in the deep water of need.
“You’ve got to be willing to do whatever it takes to earn the right to tell them about Jesus,” Brown said. “You’ve got to invest in them.”
Just like in fishing, “it takes time, effort, energy, and you need to target your audience,” Brown said. But, “when you do it like the Lord wants you to do it, it’s not hard. . . .
“You’ve got to go out with the intention that we’re going to have fun; we’re going to fish all day, and at some time during the day we’re going to catch fish,” he said. “So just relax, fish, and enjoy it. God is going to give you fruits for your labor.”
Fishing for Souls and Fishing for Fish
- Identify the species of fish that live in the water where you’re fishing. It’s a waste of time to try and catch fish that aren’t there.
- Learn as much as you can about the water where you’ll be fishing before you start. Fish are found in different locations depending on the depth of the water, temperature, time of day, barometer, season, wind direction, and speed.
- You have to fish where the fish are if you want to catch them. Bigger fish tend to be in deeper water most of the time, although they will move into the shallow flats about sunset and back into deeper water about sunrise.
- Choose your tackle and bait according to what species of fish you’re going after.
- Put stakes, brush, and other structure in the water that will attract the fish.
- You can’t catch fish sitting in the house, so don’t let the elements keep you from fishing. You have to get out on the water despite the conditions and try as hard as you can if you want to catch fish.
- Fishermen tend to catch 90 percent of the fish in 10 percent of the time. Therefore, plan to make a day of it when you go fishing. You have no way of knowing which part of your fishing expedition is when they’re going to bite. Don’t give up and quit easily. Stay at it.
- Take the time to clean the fish you catch even if it means cutting your fishing time short. Fish that are caught and released are more difficult to catch in the future.
- Fishing is very rewarding if it is done right and very frustrating if it’s not.
And, just in case you missed it, when you read fish, think people. When you read water, think community. When you read species, think lifestyle. When you read locations, think where folks hang out. When you read deeper water, think of depth of need. When you read tackle and bait, think evangelistic approach. When you read structure, think of attractional outreach events the church can plan and implement. And when you read clean the fish, think discipleship.
Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for SBC LIFE and is a member of First Baptist Church in Pleasant Grove, Utah.