By Todd Maurer
Every year for the last seven years, a group from my church has journeyed to Ontario, Canada on a summer retreat. One of our favorite activities in that picturesque setting is fishing for walleye pike. Our retreat host is Dave Elberfeld, a friend and fellow church leader. Dave is passionate about fishing. He knows where the fish can be found and how to catch them. His strategies are basic, but his methods are extremely successful. In Dave’s words, the secrets to successful walleye fishing are:
• Know what you are fishing for.• Go where the fish are biting.
• Never leave fish to find fish.
• Learn to think like a fish.
• Catch fish on their terms.
Luke 5 records how the disciples had fished all night, yet their nets remained empty. Jesus commanded them to put out into the deep water again and lower their nets for a catch. They obeyed and caught so many fish they had to call their fishing partners for assistance to avoid breaking their nets. The disciples were astonished at the catch. Peter fell at the feet of Jesus and cried, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” But Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will fish for people” (Luke 5:8-10).
The disciples were successful in their fishing endeavors because they were obedient to Jesus. Hudson Taylor said, “God’s work done God’s way will not lack God’s support.”
More Than One Hook
Trotline fishing involves using multiple hooks to catch many fish. Churches today use a variety of methods to attract seekers and increase their membership, including multiple services and a variety of worship styles (traditional, contemporary, classical, rap, country, and rock).
In Ontario our conversations center on worms, minnows, leeches, and jigs, with and without spinners: red, green, yellow, white, or black. Is it better before or after a rain, morning or evening, south wind or west wind?
Many churches offer coffee shops, cafes, food courts, gyms, and child care because we want to attract people who desire or need these services. The church is a community involved in building relationships. These services can certainly aid in bringing people together, where the message of salvation through Jesus Christ is shared.
No Other Plan
God has no other plan by which this world is to be saved except that we, followers of Christ in this world, become effective fishers of men. In The Purpose Driven Church (Zondervan, 2009), author Rick Warren suggests five avenues of church growth.
• Churches grow warmer through fellowship.
• Churches grow deeper through discipleship.
• Churches grow stronger through worship.
• Churches grow broader through ministry.
• Churches grow larger through evangelism.
Is your church practicing these five principles?
The church of Jesus Christ should be deeply committed to them. We will continue four of these practices for eternity in our heavenly home. The one we will not practice in Heaven is evangelism, for the obvious reason that in Heaven, everyone will be saved. So while we focus on all five practices, we must be diligent and resourceful in the work of evangelism, for time is running short.
Our methods for winning the lost may change, but our message must never change. Jesus’ priority must become our priority. A wise man said, “All progress is change, but not all change is progress.” Still, there can be no progress without change.
Loving the Lost
Though we may intellectually accept Christ’s words about the church’s mission, the church’s policies and initiatives do not always reflect the heart of Christ’s message. Today, many are content to know they are saved, but do not seem to care about the salvation of their family members, work associates, neighbors, or good friends. While the Great Commission commands that we “go to all the world,” we often forget that the world is also our neighborhood, community, state, and country. The challenges of building personal relationships are at the core of our unwillingness to “go,” especially to those we know personally.
My wife and I live in small-town America, population 12,500. Thirty-two years ago, we began our first ministry here and subsequently moved away. Eight years ago, we moved back. Though the population numbers have remained the same, much has changed in the ways these people “do” everyday life. Some have traded their big, open front porches for back porches hidden by privacy fences. Thirty years ago, people came home from work, parked in their driveways, and talked to their neighbors. Today they press their garage door openers and drive inside without one word spoken to anyone. Answering machines screen calls. People often prefer e-mail over face-to-face or voice-to-voice conversations. The craze includes computers, Blackberries, iPods, iPads, iPhones, and Facebook. An unannounced knock on a church visitor’s door the week after their visit will most likely not be appreciated or welcomed. Clearly we need updated methods of evangelism if we are to reach the un-churched in our communities today.
Back to the Master Fisherman
Dave, my fishing friend and fellow Christ follower, has studied the intricacies of the lake he fishes in Ontario. He fishes morning holes and evening holes. He knows places where fish hide when they aren’t biting. He knows where and when they hang out and how to catch them.
Fish are not always at the most convenient places, and they sometimes aren’t interested in what we have to offer. Still, fish are creatures of habit, and if you persevere, you will find them. If you adjust your approach, they often re-engage and you snag them.
Fish are a lot like people. Even today, in the church of the 21st century, a new prospect might visit your gathering because he has been personally invited by a friend or knows someone who attends. As a result, he feels comfortable visiting. We may have only one opportunity to reach him. We need a strong strategy along with our best effort. We must understand what attracts the people we seek.
If we want to bring people to the Lord, we must be familiar with God’s plan and committed to it. We must skillfully use the resources God has given us from the beginning.
It begins with Disciple Making
We often use the words method and message when talking about evangelism. The methods we once used to evangelize are probably not as effective as they once were. Still, we must share the same message of salvation through Christ, and we must be effective and accurate in the telling of God’s story.
I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20, New Living Translation).
• We have the command: “Go.”
• We know where: “Into all the world.”
• We know what to do: “Teach.”
• We know what to teach: “The Word of God.”
• We know what this action will produce: “The salvation of their souls.”
• We have the promise of God: “He will be with us always.”
So, what hinders our progress? There are so few disciples who will go.
Often we don’t go because we don’t know. Sadly, many Christians are ignorant of God’s Word.
The first principle every Christ follower should know is this: “We are God’s plan; he has no Plan B.” If we are unwilling to become Christ’s ambassadors, Christ’s disciples, his hands and feet, then we may as well say to the world, “Your salvation is not important to me.” We must be intentional and passionate. We must have a sense of urgency. You may be the only Jesus someone ever sees.
Todd Mauer is minister at Crossroads Christian Church in Washington Court House, Ohio.
Questions we must ask ourselves:
• In what ways does my church shows its passion about winning the lost?
• How might my church’s methods of evangelism become more meaningful to new generations?
• How might my church better equip its members to share their faith?
• Am I prepared and willing to go? Am I ready to have my comfort zone stretched to lead people for Christ with new methods?