Saturday, November 22, 2008

Keepers of the Aquarium, or Fishers of Men?

A church in our area has a catchy slogan that appears in their bulletin, on their letterhead, and in all promotional materials they use. That slogan is, "Knowing Him and making Him Known". One might call it, "Ecclesiology 101." It's a catchy phrase, yet one that simply states the commission we have received from our Lord. As Jesus walked the shores of Galilee, he saw a couple of brothers and their fishing partners cleaning their nets after a long night's work on the sea. "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men", he said, and that's exactly what they did. They spent the next three years "Knowing Him" and the remainder of their lives, "Making Him Known". In light of the Grace of God which we have received, can we do any less?

The Great Commission carries two implications. The first is the conscious decision and effort to go, and tell the Good News of Jesus Christ to every people group on the planet. It requires planning, prayer, commitment, focus, and financing, to carry out the missionary enterprise. This is the mandate of Christ, and it must be our mission until He returns. The other implication, however, is not nearly as involved, or expensive, but it is just as intentional. That idea is to share the Gospel "as we are going". Whereas every Christian cannot purposely go to the ends of the earth, we are always going somewhere. The question is, as we are going – are we telling?

It is interesting to me that several times during Jesus' earthly ministry, often after He had performed some great miracle, he charged the witnesses to "tell no one". Yet after His resurrection, the message immediately changed to "Go and Tell". It was given to Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb. It was shared with Peter at breakfast by the sea in John 21. It was broadcast to Jesus' disciples as recorded in each Gospel, and emphasized in Acts 1:8, just before Jesus lifted off from the Mount of Olives. Christ's followers have the mandate to go fishing – not for seafood, but for men and women and boys and girls. Sadly, the church culture that has come about in the 20th Century is one that has found us being more "keepers of the aquarium" rather than "fishers of men".

Jimmy Kretzer, and old friend and former coworker of mine, is a serious fisherman. He knows every lake, creek, pond, river, and water hole in several states. He took me with him on my very first fishing expedition about 28 years ago on beautiful Lake Cumberland in south central Kentucky. I was impressed with Jimmy's boat, his fishing equipment, depth finder, tackle box, and most of all, his understanding of how to fish. He explained fishing to me in the most simple of terms.

"To catch fish", Jimmy drawled, "You've got to know where the fish are - and go there. Fish won't come to you."


"To catch fish", he continued, "You need the right equipment"


"Furthermore, you have to think like a fish to understand what they do, why they do it, and what kind of bait they'll go for."

I understand.

"When they take the bait, set the hook and reel them in."

Got it.

"Oh yes, one other thing", he said. "Always remember that fish don't especially want to be caught. You have to lure them."

That homey advice made sense to me then, as I watched Jimmy go about doing what he loved best and reeling in the crappie, red eye, and largemouth bass from the waters of Lake Cumberland. It makes sense to me as a pastor, too, when we apply the same truths to the task before us in fishing for men.

If we are going to be fishers of men, we must go to where the people are. And they are all around us. Every pastor knows that one of the greatest obstacles in evangelism is the "Field of Dreams" concept that is lodged in the minds of so many of our church members. Kevin Costner's character in that movie heard the voice in the cornfield whispering, "If you build it, they will come". Now that may work for baseball fields in Iowa, but that is not how Jesus told us to grow His Kingdom. While the open invitation to everyone is "Come and see", He specifically tells we believers to "Go and tell!" The Field of Dreams concept is a big factor in why so many of our churches are dead or dying. We must take the Gospel where the people are.

In taking the Gospel to the people, we must understand the mindset of lost people. Why do they do what they do? What is important to them? Why? How can we bring the message of abundant life to folks who already think they have a pretty good life? Outdated methods may have to be retooled to make the Gospel Message relevant to the various cultures around us. The message never changes, but the methods of sharing that message must be adapted to the type of "fish" we are attempting to catch. So many of us are wrapped up in our familiar comfortable "church culture", while never realizing that the vast majority of our neighbors are foreign to that culture. We must engage them where THEY are.

The most effective lure I have found is the message of love and grace. It brings peace, joy and contentment. Lost people are bound for eternal separation from God. This is a fact. Those fish won't just "jump into the boat" because we preach hell. Hell IS real, and that fact should give us a sense of urgency when we realize that millions are heading that way at breakneck speed. However, when I came to know Christ, it wasn't just due to the fear of eternity lost, but I was drawn to Him by the message of His love for me - His total sacrifice on my behalf. His message of grace, love, forgiveness, and eternal life, broke my heart and brought me to Jesus. That message can go out in mass meetings, and in various ways. I have found that the message is best received when we build a personal relationship with the lost person, gain their confidence, giving our own personal testimony, and sharing the Gospel message from scripture. Rick Warren has said, "They don't care how much we know until they know how much we care".

Since most of us know all of this, why are we not sharing Jesus? We gather in our "Holy Huddles" on Sunday morning, (Knowing Him), but so rarely are we intentionally telling the Good News (Making Him Known) to those around us. Bill Fay has said that the greatest sin in the church today is the sin of silence. His statistics show that in any given year only 10 percent of professing Christians will actually share the Gospel with one lost person. Fay's premise is that we are afraid. Not that we are ashamed of Christ. Not that we want to keep the Good News a secret, but because we are afraid. Some are afraid that they might not be able to answer questions that might come up in sharing Jesus with others. Others fear that they don't know enough scripture to be an effective witness. Many are afraid that they might go out on that limb and share Christ, but that the hearer may reject their message. Then what?

The fears are real and the resulting guilt we feel from the "sin of silence" is great.

We believers must come to a realization that "success" or "failure" in witnessing is not in our hands. Our responsibility is to "Go and Tell". The Holy Spirit is responsible for the rest of the transaction. When we share Jesus, we have done what we should do. We have succeeded.

At Westmoreland Baptist Church, every Sunday night in January, we will be going through the discipleship training course, "Share Jesus Without Fear". Our goal is to see our folks be more bold in opportunities to witness to the life changing power of Jesus Christ. Those who are in this area are invited to attend. There is no cost to you, but your time. If you can't attend our training, the information is available at and you can purchase the materials yourself. We are going to make a conscious effort to remove the "sin of silence" from among God's people.

It's time to go fishing. Will you join us?

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