An Excerpt from “7 Things That Can Cripple Your Church”
In Luke 5, we are introduced to a group of fishermen named Peter, James and John. These guys busted their hump the night before, casting nets and caught nothing. Frustrated and tired, morning came and they began cleaning their nets to head home. Suddenly this guy named Jesus comes on the scene and borrows Peter’s boat and uses it for a pulpit. Afterwards, he tells Peter to go out into the deep and cast his nets. Peter must have looked confused (because you don’t net fish in the daytime or in deep waters). Nevertheless, Jesus said, “Let down your nets for a catch.” Peter, still frustrated, agreed. End result? A ton of fish.
As the story goes on, Peter realizes Jesus is something special; he falls to his knees, trembling. I love what Jesus says next: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Basically Jesus said, “Your occupation as a fisherman isn’t going to change; but what you catch will change.” In other words, Jesus called us to catch people with the net of the gospel. I know there are good churches, who have good intentions and really want to see people come to Jesus. Yet at the end of each year, they can only celebrate a few conversions and fewer baptisms. Poor theology and lack of discipleship can slow down spiritual and numerical growth; but there’s something else that’s crippling the local church; it’s the lack of fishing skills. Yeah, I know that sounds weird. However, I’m pretty sure if Jesus used fishing as one of His first analogies to talk about evangelism, so can we.
I believe Jesus used the fishing analogy because there are principles that translate into the church; principles that can help us keep paralysis out of our mission of catching people with the gospel. In the days of Jesus, the local fishermen used nets. In Kentucky where I live, we seldom fish with nets, but give us a creek bank, a fishing pole and a box of night crawlers and we’ll catch fish all day long!
Although American fishing differs from the days of Jesus, the concept is the same. Here are three things that will help your church become a fisher of men.
One of the biggest mistakes churches make is fishing in the wrong places. A good fisherman knows how to fish. If he’s after crappie, he’ll likely fish around some underwater stumps, because that’s where crappie lay eggs. If he’s after catfish, he’ll have his bait on the bottom, because that’s where catfish hang out. Evangelism doesn’t start on a corporate level, it starts on an individual level. Christ-followers must learn where to fish to catch people who are far away from God. We have to be intentional about hanging
out where unsaved people are.
Yes, I know, the religious will put three nails in you for it, but in case you haven’t noticed, religious people aren’t catching souls for Jesus.
If you were to ask the average Christian, “How many unchurched friends do you have?” Most would say, “I know a lot of unchurched people!” Others would say, “I have unchurched friends that I see at the gym all the time.” Yet, I think there is a difference in having a friend and simply being friendly to the guy at the gym. The law of religion basically tells us not to associate ourselves with “sinners.” Religion has taught us to surround ourselves with other Christians and shun those who aren’t Christians. Of course, there are boundaries, and the Holy Spirit is great at letting us know what they are.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes a letter concerning a church member who was having an open sexual relationship with one of his father’s wives (it took a while to get polygamy out of some of the early churches). Paul tells them to throw this man out of the church because of his lack of repentance (1 Cor. 5:1-5); and they did. I love what Paul says next. He identifies the fishing hole. He writes, “When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin, but I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not supposed to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with them”
(1 Cor. 5:9-11, NLT).
Paul teaches us that we should disassociate ourselves with anyone who claims to follow Jesus, yet lives a lifestyle that’s opposite (and might I add there is a path to restoration for such people; read Paul’s letter regarding this same man in 2 Cor. 2:5-11). However, he also teaches us that we are not to disassociate ourselves with unbelievers who have sinful lifestyles. He said we would have to leave the world to do that, and Jesus said the world is the mission field (Matt. 9:37,13:38); that’s our fishing hole. Too often, we think isolation from the world is a sign of holiness; it’s actually a sign of religion. It’s poor fishing. Fishing in the right place requires you to go into the places of your community and city and engage people with God’s love, make friends and build relationships. By doing so, you’ll earn the permission to speak into their lives and when the time is right, the Holy Spirit will nudge you to share the gospel.
The weekend service can also be a place to reach the unchurched. Obviously, the weekend service is not a natural place to catch souls for Jesus, because unchurched people normally don’t wake up Sunday morning with a desire to hear singing and preaching. However, with the right invite, culture, attraction and mission, the weekend can become a strategic place to fish. Over the years, there has been the argument whether the church should be missional or attractional or both. Personally I believe the church should be both.
Today there are a lot of pastors and leaders who ask the question, “Why should the church be attractional?” Many would say churches who are attractional are sinful; they are accused of putting on a “weekend show” or entertaining people. Unfortunately, there are churches who put more energy into entertainment than inspiration, but that doesn’t mean we should abort everything that appeals to people. I mean, people are who we’re trying to reach, right? To say churches should not be attractional is like saying the best way to fish is without a lure. To catch fish, you have to have something to lure them to the hook. One of my favorite lures is a spinner bait called the “Rooster Tail.” Rooster Tails come in bright colors; the tail part is soft, hair-like material with a three-pronged hook underneath. In the water, the spinning metal and the bright colors attracts fish, especially bass, from the deep dark waters. They chase it, they bite it, and they’re hooked.
If you want to catch unchurched people at your weekend service, there has to be an attractional aspect to lure them out of the dark places of their life. Many churches in America have moved towards a postmodern style, most have not. If we are going to catch new generation people, we have to use the right bait. Old school ideologies, dry services, and trying to preach in Old English may lure the religious, but it’s not luring those who are far away from God. Your building, preaching style, dress style, worship style, children’s ministry, etc., should be attractive to the people of today and tomorrow’s generation. If your church is attractive only to the religious, your chances of catching souls on the weekend are few. Again, I know there are some churches who go way over the edge; they care more about impressing people with the light show than inspiring people with the gospel. However, when you look at attraction as part of the overall strategy, it changes everything.
Fishing strategies always begin with using the right lure and fishing in the right place. Depending on what you’re fishing for, both the lure and the location will change. However, there is one thing that will never change, and that is the hook. Regardless of what kind of rod and reel you use or what kind of lure… without the hook, you’ll never reel one in. Our buildings, lights and worship styles are the attractional pieces; they can lure people in who are far away from God. Yet, the attraction is pointless if there is no missional piece.
When a church lacks the mission, it’s the same as fishing without a hook. Fancy lighting, loud music, and casual dress codes will not save people; it may lure them to your building, but you’ll never catch their soul for Christ. When it comes to the church, there is only one hook: the gospel. Our attractional strategies should always change in order to remain relevant and reach the unchurched, but our message can never change. According to Jesus, the Great Commission has two basic parts: preach the gospel and make disciples. Engaging people with the gospel of Jesus Christ is the first part of the mission and making disciples is the second part. Anytime our attractional pieces get in the way of either of these, they need to go. The gospel and making disciples are non-negotiable.
Never let anything stand in the way of the gospel. Without it, you’ll never catch people for Jesus. I have spoken at several conferences around the country and in doing so, I discovered a new thought floating around out there in the church planting world. The thought is, “If we play cool music on a cool stage and preach in a cool way while wearing a cool shirt, I’ll reach everyone in my city!” First of all, you probably won’t. Secondly, even if you did, without gospel-centered intentionality and disciple-making strategies, you’re no different than the guy who fishes all day using the coolest, newest fishing pole and lures… without a hook.
Chad coaches for the Unstuck Group and serves as the executive pastor at Eagle Heights Church in Somerset, KY. Previously, Chad served as the lead pastor for sixteen years in a town of 2,000 people, where he grew a church from 60 to 500 people. He also has led strategic planning sessions for rural pastors through the Center of Rural Church Advancement at Nebraska Christian College in Omaha.
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