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 


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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Office of Congregational Transformation

Posted by Jeff Stiggins in Getting Started

6 Responses to “What if you don’t like fishing?”

  1. Jorge Acevedo on November 30th, 2009 3:28 pm


    I still like the fishing metaphor of Jesus for evangelism. We tend to think of fishing in 21st century terms. It’s a hobby or something we get around to. In the first century fishing was more like A&E’s “Deadliest Catch.” It was life or death. You catch or you do not eat. If the church got this serious about evangelism, how might that change the Jesus movement in America?

    Max Lucado in his study bible wrote this. I love it:

    When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.

    When energy intended to be used outside is used inside, the result is explosive. Instead of casting nets, we cast stones. Instead of extending helping hands, we point accusing fingers. Instead of being fishers of the lost, we become critics of the saved. Rather than helping the hurting, we hurt the helpers.

    The result? Church Scrooges. “Bah, humbug” spirituality. Beady eyes searching for warts on others while ignoring the wart on the nose below. Crooked fingers that bypass strengths and point out weaknesses.

    Split churches. Poor testimonies. Broken hearts. Legalistic wars.

    And, sadly, poor go unfed, confused go uncounseled, and lost go unreached.

    When those who are called to fish don’t fish, they fight.

    But note the other side of this fish tale: When those who are called to fish, fish – they flourish!

    Nothing handles a case of gripes like an afternoon service project. Nothing restores perspective better than a visit to a hospital ward. Nothing unites soldiers better than a common task.

    Leave soldiers inside the barracks with no time on the front line and see what happens to their attitude. The soldiers will invent things to complain about. Bunks will be too hard. Food will be too cold. Leadership will be too tough. The company will be too stale. Yet place those same soldiers in the trench and let them duck a few bullets, and what was a boring barracks will seem like a haven. The beds will feel great. The food will be almost ideal. The leadership will be courageous. The company will be exciting.

    When those who are called to fish, fish – they will flourish.

  2. Terrance S. Jones on November 30th, 2009 10:16 pm

    Dear Dr. Jeff,
    This is a timely an espesially appropriate reminder of what I have known but put on the back burner. I have been fighting and fighting against going into a Pastoral role and leading a church because of the things I didn’t like or in this light, things such as talents, I didn’t have to deal with what that type of organization would require: thoughts of Pastors being next to Saints, dealing fairly and peacefully with someone I would rather blow out of the room with words of discouragement of the worst I idea that had ever come across my desk and etc. I have however, in this entire year witnessed God’s showing me of another way; to do what he wants with the tools he built into me already. He wants me to reach people who are not included in many of our messages, clubs, financial circles nor social ones for that matter. He has slowly removed from by back burdens that I put there to stop me from doing what he wanted. I happen to like fishing and yeah I’m fairly decent at catching them even using an old bamboo cane and worms or even corn. I identify so well with Moses and Jonah and sometimes Job in wanting to cry, “look what I have lost,” or “no not me God. I’m not worthy.” or “No way God. They’ll crush me there. I’m heading the other way.” Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m shaking in my boots when I forget who is giving the orders and knowledge of his supreme strength, but I have now a serious scope of people that need to know Our Father has not forgotten them. He made them afterall! I don’t know too many artists that forget their own creations and I dare say God’s omniscient memory of knowing us before we were yet born lend itself to Him forgetting these people. I have been fingered as an Evangelist by God, “The Hit Man” Holy Spirit and am working in the direction of planning and then when I have no idea of how to complete something, giving it up to him. I am now in a state where prayers and miracles uplift me and build bridges. I thank you for your outlook on such a subject. I myself know not of which particular way I am to incorporate them into The Kingdom’s activities but simply hope to share my talents to show how even the meanest of people and lowest means are used by God in his work upon this earth. Thank you and God Bless.
    Terrance S. Jones

  3. kelly fryer on December 1st, 2009 12:42 am


    I’m glad you found these ideas from our new book, “The Future Starts Nows,” helpful! This story about Jesus’ call to the disciples has been key for us as we’ve developed “The Renewable Organization” – a post-missional, post-modern approach to life, work, and ministry.

    At the heart of this approach are those three principles: Be who you are. See what you have. Do what matters.

    Thanks for sharing it on your great blog!

    - Kelly

  4. Lisa Degrenia on December 1st, 2009 8:34 am

    I appreciate the idea that God gives each of us specific gifts and environments from which we share the Good News. It reminds us of the sacredness found in every aspect of life and the ambassador found in every follower of Jesus.

    This idea also works well with Romans 12:4, our calling to be “one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function.”

    Thanks for sharing this good word with us Jeff.

  5. Wayne Hemmerich on December 1st, 2009 10:21 am

    To Terrance Jones,
    May God Bless His ministry through you, Terrance. It sounds like you’re trusting that God will work through your weaknesses and not what you perceive to be your strengths. God Bless you.

  6. Lynn Sangster on December 1st, 2009 12:15 pm

    As a confirmed “worm-a-phobic” non-fisherman myself, I really appreciated your thoughts on this topic, Jeff. As our church moves to expand our evangelistic outreach, it’s a wonderful reminder that there are numerous avenues (10,000 doors!) through which we can invite people to meet Christ and become “disciples for the transformation of the world.” That’s such an exciting and challenging vision that we all need to focus our time and energies and talents to work toward the goal.

    As I’ve seen people come to membership at First UMC after attending such wide-ranging events as car shows, concerts, kids camps and funeral receptions, I’ve come to realize that evangelism isn’t so much about “hooking and reeling” as it is about accepting and loving, in whatever ways God has uniquely gifted us.

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