How many of you have ever gone fishing? As Christians, Jesus calls us to be fishers of men.
As I read the Bible, especially the Book of Acts, it is clear to me that God desires His Church would grow. His desire is not that the church would stagnate, it is not that the church would plateau, it is not that the church would decline.
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Mark 1:14-20.
14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” He said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
16 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.17 “Come, follow Me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for men.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed Him.
19 When He had gone a little farther, He saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed Him.
We know from John’s gospel that this was not Jesus’ first encounter with these four men. Several months before, Jesus had already met them; and they had come to trust Him (John 1:35–49). This was not their initial call to faith and salvation; it was an initial call to discipleship.
Notice, Jesus said, “I will send you out to fish for men” (v. 17). He did not invite them to become spectators. Rather, He wanted them to join Him in proclaiming the Good News that the Kingdom of God is now at hand.
Jesus did not invent the term “fishers of men.” In that day, it was a common description of philosophers and other teachers who “captured men’s minds” through teaching and persuasion. They would “bait the hook” with their teachings and “catch” disciples.
So I ask you: Are you a fisher of men?
It has often been said the church is but one generation away from extinction – the point being that personal evangelism is God’s appointed remedy. Indeed, the church is in trouble. There is little urgency anymore to win the lost to Christ. There is no panic to redeem the souls of lost people. What happened to all the stories of people’s lives being changed, as they were in the book of Acts, where people joined the church every day (Acts 2:41-47)? Few people are changing anymore. They’re certainly not being saved every day. They are still just as disconnected, lost, and confused as they ever were.
As modern day disciples, Jesus calls us to be fishers of men. There has never been a more important time in history than now to help people understand the great things God is doing. He is gathering a people to Himself for His glory and honor, and He wants us to declare that message to the world.
Therefore, I want to share with you four fishing tips that will help you as you fish for men:
1. Good Fishermen Go Where The Fish Are Located
I once saw a funny picture about a guy fishing in a large pothole in the middle of the road. There was water in the hole, but he picked the wrong place to fish because there weren’t any fish there. You and I will never catch fish until we’re willing to leave our homes and go where the fish are.
The reason many fishermen have an empty net or hook is because they do not go where the fish are. Too many people try to fish by sitting in the boat with no pole and no net and expect the fish to come to them.
But it doesn’t work that way. We have to go to the fish.
People without Christ are not knocking down the doors of the church to get in. We have to go out after them. That’s why the Great Commission begins with the word, “GO.”
Let’s turn a few pages back in our Bibles to Matthew 28:18-20.
Jesus came to His disciples and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Jesus told His disciples to make more disciples as they preach, teach, and baptize. Today, Jesus is still commanding the church to make disciples for His Kingdom. His commission is worldwide and we are to go – whether it is next door or to another country – and make disciples. This is not an option, but a command to all who call Jesus “Lord.”
Lots of things never get done, but the Great Commission cannot be one of them! It is no secret that making disciples is the mission of the church. When we fail to make disciples the church fails to grow. Jesus began with a handful of disciples and turned the world upside down! He wants us to follow His example.
Christianity is a missionary faith. The very nature of God demands this, for God is love and God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Our Lord’s death on the cross was for the whole world. If we are the children of God and share His nature, then we will want to tell the good news to the lost world.
The term “disciples” was the most popular name for the early believers. Being a disciple meant more than simply being a convert or a church member. Apprentice might be an equivalent term. A disciple attached himself to a teacher, identified with him, learned from him, and lived with him. He learned, not simply by listening, but also by doing. Our Lord called twelve disciples and taught them, so they might be able to teach others (Mark 3:13).
A disciple, then, is one who has believed on Jesus Christ and expressed this faith by being baptized. He remains in the fellowship of believers, so that he might be taught the truths of the faith (Acts 2:41–47). He is then able to go out and win others and teach them. This was the pattern of the New Testament church (2 Tim. 2:1–2).
However, in many respects, we have departed from this pattern. In most churches, the congregation pays the pastor to preach, win the lost, and build up the saved—while the church members sit on the sidelines and simply function as spectators. How much faster our churches would grow, and how much stronger and happier our members would be, if each of us were discipling another believer. The only way a local church can “be fruitful and multiply” is with a systematic discipleship program. This is the responsibility of every believer and not just a small group who have been called to “Go.”
Jesus had opened the minds of His disciples to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:44–45). They knew what He wanted them to teach their converts. It is not enough to win people to the Savior; we must also teach them the Word of God. The Great Commission includes the careful discipling of new believers. Jesus is not satisfied with any hasty profession of faith. We are not called simply to evoke decisions, but to make disciples. And that is an altogether different assignment.
Making disciples involves Christian training. That is why I believe many activities at church need to be geared towards Bible study, at every level. There is to be basic Bible study, designed to help people understand the basic claims of Christ and to help them come to faith in Him. And there is to be more intense Bible study as well, which is designed to help Christians grow, mature, and develop deeper in the faith.
One of the reasons why children and youth are so vital to the life of the church is because they are ripe for the harvest. They have not become “set in their ways”. We need to focus on sharing the Gospel, especially with young people. Statistics show that 19 out of every 20 people who come to Christ do so before they reach the age of 24. Young people are especially receptive to the Gospel.
God wants His house to be full. We’re not talking about the church house, but the household of faith. There are thousands of people who are not yet in the Family of God, and God wants us to go after them and tell them the Good News about salvation in Christ.
2. Good Fishermen Understand How Fish Behave
One of my favorite episodes of the “Andy Griffith Show” is about fishing. It was one of the earlier episodes. Opie was a little boy and Aunt Bee came to visit on a trial basis. She was trying desperately to fit in, so Opie would like her. She agreed to go fishing with Andy and Opie. She didn’t know much about fishing because she was holding her bait a few feet above the surface of the water. When Opie pointed it out, Andy was quick to give an answer that saved Aunt Bee any embarrassment. He explained to Opie that Aunt Bee was such a good fisherman that she was fishing for “flying fish.” That satisfied Opie, but it was obvious Aunt Bee did not understand how fish act.
If you and I are going to reach people for Christ, we must understand their world. We need to study their culture without buying into it. You don’t have to become a fish to understand how a fish acts. You don’t have to become a lost person to understand them either.
That means we should intentionally make friends with people who don’t know Jesus. The sad truth is the longer a person follows Christ the fewer friends they have who need Jesus. That’s only natural. We want to hang around other Christians. We want to be with those of like-mind and like-faith.
But Jesus was a friend of sinners. He spent time eating and fellowship with the worst of the worst. The Jewish leaders criticized Him for eating with sinners, but Jesus responded that only sick people need a doctor. The Jewish leaders were sick; they just wouldn’t admit it.
We must never forget Jesus wasn’t really talking about catching fish. He was actually talking about capturing people who are lost and bringing them into a saving relationship with Him. It’s not politically correct to talk about unbelievers dying and going to hell. But Jesus Himself said He came to seek and to save that which was lost.
One of the most difficult questions many Christians fear being asked by a lost person is this: “What about all those people who never heard about Jesus? What about those people who have never had a chance? How can God send them to hell?” But these questions arise from a faulty understanding of why people go to hell. People don’t go to hell because God wants them to, they go to hell because they deserve to. All of us are sinners and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 3:23).
But the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus died for our sins! He acted as our Substitute. He paid the penalty for our sins, so we could be forgiven in Him (Rom. 6:23). This is a free gift from God that has been extended to you and me… if we choose to accept it.
3. Good Fishermen Use a Variety of Strategies
Many things have changed in the two thousand years since Jesus ascended into heaven, but don’t be fooled by all the changes in our world. The most prominent things have stayed the same: people are still born with a sinful nature, they still rebel against God, and they are still helpless to save themselves. The message that God loves us and sent His Son, Jesus, to save us has not changed. It is timeless and applies to everyone. The methods we employ to share it may have changed, the language we use to communicate it may have changed, the customs surrounding our worship and singing may have changed, but the message is still the same.
When most people think of evangelism, they think about Billy Graham. For more than sixty years, he preached huge crusades around the world. He shared the Gospel with more people than any person in history. He spoke to millions of people! When it comes to fishing for men, Billy Graham has cast a huge net and has caught thousands of fish for Jesus.
That intimidates most of us and we say, “I’m no Billy Graham.” That’s ok. No two people are alike, so there is no single approach to evangelism that will work for each us. Different people need different approaches. The same strategy won’t work for everyone.
That’s exactly what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9, “I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some” (v. 22). It is unfortunate that the phrase “all things to all men” has been used and abused by the world and made to mean what Paul did not intend for it to mean. Paul was not a chameleon who changed his message with each new situation. Nor was Paul a compromiser who adjusted his message to please his audience. He was an ambassador, not a politician!
Not all of us may be able to discuss the finer points of theology, but like the blind man, we can say, “I once was blind, but now I see.”
4. Good Fishermen Are Patient If They Don’t Catch Fish Immediately
If they don’t catch fish after the first few tries, they don’t load up and go home. They may move to another spot or try different bait, but they’re going to keep on fishing.
When you’re fishing, patience isn’t just a virtue; it’s a necessity. Not too many fish are going to jump into your boat. A fish is easily spooked and will try to get away. A person without Jesus may often resist and even resent your attempt to share Christ with them. That’s okay. Love them anyway. Keep showing them God’s love. Keep praying for them. God’s grace can still change that person’s heart into one that is open and receptive to Him.
I’m not going to ask if you’ve ever led a person to Christ. Instead, a better question is, “Have you ever initiated a spiritual conversation with someone?” If you don’t ever go fishing, for sure, you’ll never catch fish.
Sometimes you might go fishing and you don’t catch a thing, but it’s still called fishing because you went to where the fish are and you wet your hook. You tried. God won’t ask you how many fish you’ve caught. He’s more interested in how many times you’ve gone fishing. He judges us on our obedience. Our job is to share the Gospel, whether anyone accepts Christ or not. The results are up to God. I once saw a sign in front of a church that said: “Fishers of men. You catch ‘em and Jesus will clean them.”
While speaking in London, evangelist D. L. Moody was approached by a British companion who wanted to know the secret of Moody’s success in leading people to Christ. Moody directed the man to his hotel window and asked, “What do you see?” The man looked down on the square and reported a view of crowded streets. Moody suggested he look again. This time the man mentioned seeing people – men, women, and children. Moody then directed him to look a third time. The man became frustrated that he was not seeing what Moody wanted him to see. Finally, the great evangelist came to the window with watery eyes and said, “I see people going to hell without Jesus. Until you see people like that, you will not lead them to Christ.”
What kind of witness are you? When God calls you into account someday, for the stewardship of the gospel, when He asks you to tell Him how you handled the most precious and powerful gift He ever placed in the hands of humanity, what will you say?
If we are to be conformed to the image of Christ, if we are going to advance and mature in the faith, we must have a heart for the lost.
Beloved, remember who you are in Christ. You are a fisher of men!
*I preached the above message this past Sunday at Calvary Baptist Church.