Fishing is one of my favorite hobbies. I’m not very good at it but I love being on the water casting lures in hopes of landing a monster fish. Fishing is a challenge for me because I am the poster child for ADHD, which is a lot of fun as an adult. When I was younger my father would take me fishing. That was always an adventure with an ADHD pre-teen. I turned fishing into a full-contact sport. My dad had to wear a helmet for fear of catching a lure in his head. After about five minutes I would get distracted and start playing with the lures or picking up the fish we caught and making them talk to my dad. “Please put me back in the water.” Weird.
I think that’s why I love the biblical analogy of fishing for evangelism. I can wrap my brain around that particular example. We often use this analogy in ministry but I think we have the wrong idea of what Jesus was trying to say. It’s important to read it within the context it is written.
It’s interesting how we read the Bible: we sometimes filter everything through our own worldview, our own culture, our own life-setting. This can even happen over simple interpretive issues—like Jesus’ analogy of fishing. Even though Matthew 4:18-22 is easy to understand, we still miss the point because we try to squeeze it into our current culture and worldview. We think fishing and instantly see a fishing pole, reel, line, and hook.
This wasn’t the kind of fishing envisioned in Matthew 4. Jesus is talking about net-fishing. Read the text. It says they were “casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen)” (v. 18), “they left their nets” (v. 20), “mending their nets” (v. 21). Luke 5:2 tells us they were “washing their nets.” No doubt, the ancient world knew of line-fishing as well (cf. Matt 17:24-27). But that is not what was envisioned in the imagery of “fishing for men.”
The nets they used were circular and had weights around the perimeter. I lived in south Mississippi when I served as an Air Force Nurse. I would rather be called a Combat Medic. Net fishing was a popular hobby for many who lived along the gulf coast. One of my neighbors introduced me to the sport. He was from Louisiana which means he knew about all things fishing. You could go down to the boat docks and catch a cooler full of shrimp. I’m talking jumbo shrimp. The kind that would make Forrest Gump smile. There is an art to casting the net. You have to actually put one of the perimeter weights in your mouth and throw the net so that it opens completely before it lands in the water. The weights cause the net to slowly sink to the bottom, trapping everything in its path. The key is to remember to release the perimeter weight from your mouth. My neighbor’s wife was with us on our first net casting adventure. She was a natural. As she was demonstrating how to cast the net, she forgot rule #1; don’t forget to release the weight from your mouth. As she cast the net, forgetting rule #1, it ripped her front teeth from her mouth and hurled them into the gulf of Mexico. I was so shocked that I just stood there speechless. Her husband looked over at her now toothless face and immediately commented, “Don’t worry baby. Now you look like the rest of the women in my family.” Creepy. I think I heard a banjo playing in the distance.
The imagery of using a lure and a line (and waiting for the fish to strike!) is foreign to this text. Jesus is not speaking about finesse (as in fly fishing), or using the right kind of bait. The imagery has nothing to do with “hooking” the unbeliever with the gospel. Further, the picture is not individualistic: the point is not one person being reeled in at a time. All of this has to do with line-fishing, but this is not the picture seen in this text. He is talking about net fishing. Two totally different perspectives.
If we see this analogy as line fishing we can get the idea that our role is to do something that attracts our “target” to the ministries we lead. In other words, we create the means by which people become attracted to Christ. I think this is why we get so wrapped up in the bells and whistles of ministry. Using the fishing analogy we try to create the right bait to attract the “fish” to our church communities. If we use the right bait, they are attracted and we catch them. If not, we look around at the bait others are using and pull that from our tackle box and give her a try. I think something gets lost in the process. Ministries become more about the right bait than the people they are trying to reach. The bait becomes a means unto itself while our world continues to move away from church and Christianity. We do like to brag about the number of fish in our cooler. Right?
If we read this text within the context it is presented we get a whole new perspective of what God is trying to say. When Jesus tells these young fisher dudes that “they will be fishers of men” he is speaking within the context of net fishing. He is essentially saying, “You are the net.” He’s not telling them, now go out there and think of something that will attract people to me and once they get in the boat I will bash them in the head with the truth. He is saying, you are now part of me. We’re in this together. We are the net. All of us, everyone that follows Christ is part of this net. We are cast out by God into our world. We are the net where we live, work, and play. It’s not about creating something at our places of worship that will attract people to God. It’s about followers being the net in their world every day.
I love what Adrian Rogers says about Christians as the net. He says, “Have you ever thought about what a net is? It’s just a bunch of holes tied together. Furthermore, do you know what a hole is? It’s a nothing. And that’s exactly what we are— a bunch of nothings. But if you take a bunch of nothings and tie them together, they are powerful.” He surmises that we are a bunch of nothings redeemed by Christ, all connected by His blood. If we are in Christ we are the net. It’s not about creating the right bait to attract people to our ministries, it’s about us being the net in the world. In one story Jesus tells them when and where to cast their nets. They objected because it wasn’t the “right time of day.” Reluctantly they obeyed but they must have laughed on the inside. After all, they are the professional fisher dudes. They knew a better way. Right? Wrong answer. The result of obeying Christ was a catch that their boats could not contain. They did it His way and when He said to do it and the result was a massive fish fry.
If we get to wrapped up in doing ministry our way, in our time, and with our techniques, we can miss this obvious principle from God. He is telling us where and when to put down our nets in Matthew 28. He is showing us how to fish in such a way as to fill our coolers. This isn’t a marketing technique. This isn’t a hip how-to book with a cool cover, or another conference with the latest trends. How much of this stuff do we need to understand this basic principle from God? How many ways can we repackage the same techniques to finally get a basic biblical truth?
It’s just about Jesus telling us to put out our nets. Put them out now. The world desperately need for Christians to finally be the net. All of us, all tied together through the blood of Christ, going into our workplaces, schools, homes, community, world, being the net. We should stop spending so much time, energy, and resources on the latest “bait” or on things we perceive will attract people Jesus loves. Can we finally wake up and realize this really isn’t impacting the majority of our culture for Christ? They recognize the bait of gimmicks and superficial evangelistic techniques and are avoiding them in record numbers. Meanwhile church leaders are googling to find a different bait that seems to be working for someone else.
We are the net. We. All of us who follow Christ. Every member of the body. In Matthew 28, Jesus is casting us out to a lost world. We are to spread out into our communities, where we live, and be the hands and feet of our Savior. The time to teach this to our church communities is now. The time to release the net into your corner of the world was yesterday. Be the net. It’s what a lost world is waiting for and desperately needs.