One of the men who most influenced my young Christian life was a man named John Wimber. Wimber, as you may remember, was the founder of the Vineyard Church and he had a soft spot for us Anglicans. I did not know him but my then rector did and so I came into contact with both his preaching and his writings. The “tell” and “show” nature of his ministry was very attractive to me – and remains so.
One of Wimber’s greatest gifts was making the gospel understandable and then helping us ordinary, every-day kind of Christians (through his teachings, encouragement and model of ministry) believe that we really had a part to play in the ongoing unfolding of God’s kingdom. I have in my files any number of his stories and illustrations. One particular story he told about fishing and evangelism remains a favorite. Wimber wrote:
In 1990 Larry Shaw was trying out a new outboard propeller on Ohio’s West Branch Reservoir when he saw a huge muskie just below the surface. Shaw motored over to it, and cast toward it several times with no luck before the fish disappeared. About a half hour later Shaw returned to the cove where he had first spotted the big muskie. And wouldn’t you know, it was back! Shaw turned on the trolling motor and crept closer to the big fish. Suddenly, the muskie started swimming toward the boat.
Shaw quickly put on a leather glove and stuck his arm into the water, grabbing the monster just behind the gills. The muskie started splashing and fighting to escape but Shaw held on. It was quite a fight, but with the help of a nearby fisherman he was able to get the fish into his boat.
The muskie weighed in just a bit over 53 pounds. If Larry Shaw had caught the fish with a rod and reel, it would have broken the then record for the largest muskie ever caught in Ohio. When reporters asked him about the fish, Shaw said, “I was in the right place at the right time, and I was fool enough to grab it.”
That’s a good description of evangelism: being in the right place at the right time, and being fool enough to share the good news of salvation found in Jesus Christ.
In Matthew 4 (v.19) we read of Jesus’ call to his soon-to-be disciples; an invitation to be fishers of men and women. When Jesus used metaphors like fishing his listeners heard what he was saying in a very different way than we do in our Western world. For most of us fishing is a hobby – a recreational diversion from the business of our everyday lives. I am a casual fisherman. And so when I come home empty-handed (more often than not) I am still content for having spent a day on the water.
Jesus issued that first invitation to join his fishing expedition to Peter, Andrew, James and John. Fishing was not a pastime for these men. If they failed to catch fish they did not eat. Fishing was their livelihood. Repeated failure was not an option. As fishermen these men would have learned how to adapt their fishing technique to variety of situations. Was it sunny or overcast? Calm or windy? What was the time of year? What kind of fish were they fishing for? Some fish are very quick to respond. Some fish, especially the older, larger, ones had learned the fishermen’s tricks and were more wary and elusive. When Jesus said to them that they would be fishers of men He spoke in a language they understood.
How does this apply to you? To your church? Well, what are the trends in your community? What kinds of people are moving into your neighborhood? What are the challenges they face? What are their aspirations? We live in the South and in many of our communities there remains a strong residual of the Christian faith within our culture. But folks who live in Asheville, Raleigh and Charlotte face unique situations that those of us in the Outer Banks, midlands, lowcountry or upstate do not face (and vice-versa). Good fishermen know how to read their environment. They know what bait the fish are hitting on. They are aware of their presentation.
Friends, Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples. Are you going where the “fish” are, or are you waiting for them to come to you?