Over the past couple of years, I’ve established what my retirement hobby will be. My golf swing looks like I’m trying to dig a hole to Kathmandu, and sports cars don’t really rev my engine so I’ve taken up fishing. I’ve always enjoyed fishing, but over the past couple of years I’ve taken it from the “oh yay I caught a fish!” level to the “spending way too much time in Cabela’s comparing different colors of soft baits” level.
If you fish, you know about the absurd diversity of lures, rigs, and equipment that go along with the hobby. If you don’t fish, you need only see a supersized Bass Pro Shop to get an idea. While I go in to buy some soft plastic bait to set up in a Carolina rig so I can fish for bass in grassy ponds, another guy is buying deep-diving crankbaits to fish for pike in a rocky lake. Take the party to saltwater, and you’ve got a whole ‘nother set of lures, hooks, reels and rods to consider.
Once you’ve got your bait situation figured out, all you have to do is determine how and when to use it. The time of day, time of year, weather, water temperature, water depth, atmospheric air pressure, different kinds of habitat present, and the habits of the different game fish species are all things to consider before you even pick out your lure.
Even if you line up all the different factors and pick out a perfect lure, there’s no guarantee you’ll be where the fish are. Even if you are where the fish happen to be, they may just blow right past your meticulously calculated setup for absolutely no logical reason. Fishing has excellent potential to be as infuriating as it is relaxing.
So while I was fishing at my parent’s pond the other day, it struck me that Jesus got his start evangelizing by using a fishing reference, and it’s a pretty darn good metaphor for how we should evangelize in our own lives.
The beginning of the earthly ministry of Jesus takes place in Matthew 4, where he also invents the “sermon illustration” that’s a staple for modern pastors. In case you were wondering whom to thank for having to hear 19 stories about your pastor’s teenage daughter or his interactions with folks at the hardware store, now you know.
On a slightly more serious note, Jesus establishes a good precedent for how to relate to people when we evangelize. Notice Jesus did not say “Follow Me, and I will make you disciples of the Lord so you may go out and show others how to have a relationship with Me so they may live with Me in eternity.”
Jesus makes an effort to relate to fisherman in their own element, and you see that throughout His ministry. When He is asked theologically significant questions, he responds with stories that use elements of that culture so those listening can make connections more easily. He didn’t look to overwhelm them with eternal knowledge and theological muscle (which He could have easily done). He met folks where they were in life.
Just like no certain type of bait is going to catch every kind of fish, there’s no one right way to evangelize to people. I’m not suggesting that evangelism is a baited hook that we use to reel people in, but that we can tailor our approach to being “fishers of men” to certain people and situations and make an effort to be relatable.
When one thinks of evangelism and sharing the Gospel, we often picture early images of Billy Graham leading masses of people. That’s not particularly helpful to those of us who don’t happen to be Mr. Graham. Leading rallies and proclaiming the Gospel in front of huge crowds is an overwhelming, and, quite frankly, scary, prospect for most of us to imagine.
Instead, we can focus on customizing evangelism to everyone we encounter. Just like assessing the water temperature of a pond, we can see specific situations people find themselves in that would make them more welcoming to certain approaches or messages. You can then pick out your approach— anything from helping with a practical need, being a source of advice, or simply being a friend.
And just like fishing, you could set up everything perfectly in your eyes, and they will completely disregard it. At that moment, we’re reminded that it’s not really us doing the fishing.
Do your best to relate to people based on where they are to bring them closer to God. Use the gifts you have to evangelize to those you encounter in everyday life. You don’t need to pull in a whole school, just focus on making a difference in one life.
Just remember that God has a much bigger tackle box than you do.
Click here to learn more about evangelism at Stonebriar Community Church.