That is the theme for the Annual Meeting of the Great Rivers Region to be held in Mt. Vernon, on October 6-8. It is based on the great text from Hebrews: Jesus Christ—the same yesterday, today, and forever! The planning committee has taken the arbitrary entry into the 21st Century as a time to celebrate the constancy of Christ while looking to new opportunities of ministry.
One of our spiritual gyros as we cross into the unknown of the 21st Century has to be the words of Jesus Christ: You will be my witnesses, which reaffirms the commission make disciples!
Discipleship is, admittedly, a complex, life-long journey. But like all journeys, it begins with the first step. Unlike some journeys, it is not a journey we make alone, but a journey we are invited to join.
Christ first walked along the Sea of Galilee and invited fishermen to join him with a simple Follow me. The invitation is repeated to women and men throughout the Gospels. But that first invitation contains the hint of what will be happening along the journey: and I will make you fishers of humanity. Jesus deliberately “played” on the occupation of those who made a living from the fish in the lake, indicating the irony that in leaving the lake to journey with him, they will become fishers human beings.
As we “fish” this new “lake” called the 21st Century, what challenges might require our adaptation, while remaining bound to our calling in Christ?
I take my clues from an old fishing formula:
F + L + P = S
Fish (meaning species or type), plus location, plus presentation (type of lure and manner fishing), equals success. The three components on the left side of the equation are interrelated, but the breakdown allows us to focus.
Fish means simply to know your quarry. Bluegills are a great prospect in a farm pond, but you are unlikely to find any in the flats off Key West. A number 18 dry fly may attract a rainbow trout, but won’t particularly interest a channel catfish.
One of the great challenges for Christian fishers in the 21st Century will be to invest enough time and energy to understand our “quarry.” But, unlike sportfishing, Christian fishing calls us to love our “quarry,” because we are not just filling a cooler to get weight for a contest or food for the table. The changes in 21st Century culture will be such that only persons saturated with the love of Christ will be able to love others enough to get to know them and invite them to join the journey.
Location means not only the geography of the fishing hole, but also the seasonal and weather habits of the quarry. After ice-out, lake trout may be found very shallow, and even caught with a fly rod. Later in the Summer, those same fish may be 100 feet down! Success will depend on sophisticated sonar equipment and downriggers. If the fish are not where we are fishing, we are wasting our time. Those who spend a lot of time fishing know that 90% of the water in a lake is unproductive.
For Christian fishers, this means we must spend as much time understanding our location as well as the biological habits of our quarry. The opportunities that God has placed at one doorstep probably are not the same as those for another church. Don’t worry about using the same fishing style and lures of another, regardless of how “successful” they may be. Instead, study the nearby “fishing hole” to discover the most effective way to fish.
Presentation means the lure selection and the manner it is used to attract fish. To fish for muskies, we might choose a wooden bait 12 inches long, and do a high-speed troll around the lake. Such a presentation will not impress crappies. For them, we might choose tiny jigs tipped with a minnow, under a bobber using a cane pole.
The Apostle Paul wrote: I have become all things to all men so that by al possible means I might save some. (1 Cor 9:22) He was talking about “presentation,” and was following the model of Christ, who perfectly matched presentation of the same Gospel (The Kingdom of God is at hand…repent!) to a variety of persons and settings.
Gospel presentation has varied throughout the history of Christianity. House churches have been extraordinarily effective in China. There was an era of great mass evangelism in the United States. When I was growing up, we had four weeks of revival in August. Later, Sunday night became the “evangelistic service” of the church. Today, it looks like worship on Sunday morning is becoming a major entry point for many people.
Lastly, success is a “caught” fish. This is probably the most troublesome part of the analogy. Christ expects us to fish, but I can’t find a hard-and-fast promise that we will catch fish. We will be held accountable for the “fishing,” but not the “catching.”
Having said that, the question is: Are we fishing?
One of the great propensities of those who fish, like myself, is to gather an obscene collection of gear. I would be embarrassed to tell you how many fishing rods I have; or how many lures; or the pile of fishing magazines; or the videos…. Lots of stuff! And I went fishing three times last year.
Don’t confuse (or substitute) the collecting of tools with actually fishing.
© American Baptist Churches
of the Great Rivers Region
Permission to copy for noncommercial use is granted