Monday, May 26, 2008

"Effective" Fishing

“Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19).

Depth finders, sonar, tackle boxes, scented lures, graphite poles, and bass boats that cost more than the homes affordable for low-income Americans: this is what some associate with “fishing.” Then there are those who would sit on a grassy bank under a willow with a bamboo pole and a can of worms. Is one fisherman more effective than the other -- or are both reliant upon some factor which cannot be humanly controlled?

By comparison, what about those would-be fishers of men (Mt. 4:19)? When some think about evangelism programs, they instantly picture congregations paying thousands of dollars in church growth consultant fees, printed materials, video production and projection equipment, and all the rest. The intent is that they will be better fishers of men with all the extras — as though fish are happier to be caught by high-tech fishermen than by a bumpkin with a bamboo pole.

But is this a reliance on men rather than on God? Is this suggesting that the effective means for evangelism are not located in the means of grace but in motivational, manipulative methods? In fishing, the setting of goals is arbitrary and not in itself conducive to a better catch. In fact, it may be more conducive to disappointment and discouragement.

The equipment-laden fisher may set the goal: “I’m going to catch ten fish today.” The other goes out without any goals, just for the joy of fishing. On that day, the former nets five and the latter nets four. Is the former better off for having set a goal? Did the goal -- and his counting -- make him a more effective fisherman? Or did it merely lead to disappointment because he only caught half of his goal?

Some of these "fishers of men" are intent on using a huge dragnet, like mass telephoning. It doesn’t matter if nonrespondents have been irritated by the inconvenient interruption of just one more phone solicitation. For the sake of the gospel, it is worth irritating such people, just as it’s okay to kill a few stray dolphins in nets intended for a profitable catch of tuna.

The disciples had fished all night when the Lord came to them (Jn 21). They were trying to be as effective as they possibly could. Was their failure to catch fish the result of their being ineffective or inept fishermen? The catching of fish was not in their effectiveness, but in what was given by their Lord. Just so, talk about “effective” evangelism is not gospel talk. The establishing of goals is not essentially gospel work. We are not concerned with being effective—we are happy to receive whatever the Lord causes to be gathered in through simple means that are meet, right and salutary in the joy of gospel fishing.

With a bit of imagination, what has been said of fishermen can also be said of farmers. A farmer can only plant and fertilize. But unless the Lord gives the increase, all his investment comes to naught. Oh yes, there are farmers who take pride in their ability to get more bushels per acre than their neighbors—and pastors who take pride in having more converts than their neighbors. How pleasing is such pride before the Lord? Sometimes in spite of himself, the farmer has an abundant crop—and the farmer with all his fertilizers and insecticides, soil sampling, up-to-date tractors and combines and irrigation equipment can go bust.

Whatever the imagery, our delight as fishers of men or sowers of the gospel does not rest in effective means but in gracious means, not in our effectiveness but on our heavenly Father’s graciousness for the sake of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

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