Nov. 30, 2009
One of the best known descriptions of Jesus inviting persons to join him in mission is found in Mark 1:16-18:
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
From these verses (and those also in Matthew 4:18-20) come the most popular image for evangelism: fishers of men. People wear little gold fish hooks on their coats and have “Gone Fishin’!” on their bumpers or t-shirts. This has always seemed somehow off to me for two reasons.
First, who wants to be caught on a hook or entrapped in a net? Just how does this communicate God’s gracious love to someone? If I wasn’t already a follower of Jesus Christ, I don’t think that I’d respond well to a bunch of people who wanted to “catch me” for Jesus. Doesn’t extending the radical hospitality of God in this fashion objectify (as in de-humanize) people? “There’s a new one; what sort of bait should we use to reel her in?”
The second reason this metaphor for evangelism seems off-putting to me is that, well, I’ve never particularly enjoyed fishing. My Dad loved to fish; my son loves to go fishing, too. But while I enjoy being outside and on the water, I’ve always found fishing boring. (Probably, because I never seem to catch anything.) So, the thoughts of me giving my life to following Jesus in order to learn how to be a fisher of persons just doesn’t float my boat.
But what if we have been missing something critical in this passage? What if Jesus never intended fishing to become our main metaphor for evangelism? What if Jesus was only inviting Simon and Andrew to be “fishers of men” because that’s who they were — fishermen? Think about it. If Simon and Andrew had been carpenters, would Jesus have invited them to be “fishers of men” or might he have invited them to follow him and learn how to be “builders of the God Kingdom?” If they had been physicians, mightn’t Jesus have invited them to follow him and learn how to be “healers of people’s souls?” Or if they had been weavers, mightn’t Jesus have invited them to follow him and learn how to “weave people into God’s community of love?” Or if they had been mechanics, mightn’t he have invited them to follow him and learn how to “repair broken lives?” In short, I think Jesus invited Simon and Andrew to follow him and joined him in God’s work in a way that fit for them!
Now, if this is true, it suggests that Jesus calls us to follow him and join in God’s work in ways that fit who we are, too. We don’t have to become something or someone that we aren’t in order to follow him. Instead, he frees us to bring the best of who we are to him and offer it up as we join him in God’s work in the world. Whether you are a lawyer or an artist, a nurse or a stay-at-home parent, a teacher or a supervisor, a rocket scientist or a ditch digger, Jesus calls you to use the talents and strengths and knowledge and passions that we have to make the contribution to the God’s Kingdom that you alone can make. Imagine the freedom and purpose Jesus offers each of us by inviting us to join him by being who we are and investing this in blessing others?
So, if Jesus calls us to invest who we are in serving others, it also means we can (and should!) quit focusing on what we don’t have or who we aren’t as an excuse for not ministering to others. I don’t have to be as rich as someone else, or as smart or as winsome or as “successful” or as educated or as able to speak in public or as able to teach as anyone else in order to minister. In fact, focusing on what I don’t have is really just a way of avoiding my responsibility for making my contribution to what God is doing in the world. God has already equipped me to make the contribution that God wants me to make. Sure, I grow and learn as I follow Jesus, but that doesn’t mean I’m trying to be something or someone I’m not. It means that as I follow Jesus, as I offer up to him all that I am, I become more fully who God created me to be.
What if we quit making excuses and did these three things as disciples: “Be who you are. See what you have. Do what matters.” How would that free you from focusing on what you don’t have and free you to be a blessing to others?
Imagine if every person in your church followed Christ like that? What if every person heard Jesus inviting her or him to follow him being who they were and investing their amazing gifts and talents, skills and experiences, passions and knowledge to service others in His name? Imagine the impact that could have on people’s lives and on the community in which your congregation is located?
Many of these insights regarding Simon and Andrew’s call to become fisher of men come from, The Future Starts Now: The Renewable Organization for Faith-based Groups (Kelly A. Fryer, scribe for a whole team of persons. Chicago, Illinois: A Renewal Enterprise, Inc., 2009). The book can be found at www.arenewalenterprise.com.
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Office of Congregational Transformation