The Christian Angler’s Guide to Fishing
By Ken Horn
Aug. 12, 2012
Fishing is my favorite recreational pastime. I love to be in the outdoors, on the water, rod in hand. It’s a biblical occupation … sort of.
The Bible has a few things to say about fish and fishing. We all know of Jonah’s encounter with the “great fish” — one that would have been too big for fishermen to catch. Once, Jesus helped His hapless disciples fill their nets with more fish than they could handle. But perhaps the most important mention is when Jesus said to His disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19, NKJV).
I became a lifelong fisherman by following my dad’s lead. He loved fishing, and I grew to love it as we shared many father-son fishing outings, starting when I was 5 and only ending when he passed away.
My dad used to say, “In order to catch fish, you have to be smarter than the fish.” Ah, that’s sometimes a problem.
But every fisherman eventually catches something. There’s nothing quite like feeling a bass slam your crankbait or a steelhead smack your spinner. The excitement of a give-and-take battle with a large fish is something anglers live for.
Though the fishing in biblical times was done with nets, “fishing” to catch souls has numerous parallels to our modern form of angling.
Here are some things you must do to be a successful fisherman … or “to fish for people” (NIV) successfully.
Know the water
Any regular fisherman knows that one of the most important keys to productive fishing is local knowledge. When you fish the same body of water regularly, you eventually obtain that knowledge. When you head out of town and want to wet a line, the best thing you can do is get advice from a local … or watch how a local does it.
Churches used to be largely isolated cultures, cut off from the surrounding communities, except for the occasional outreach. People were expected to find those churches if they wanted to be saved. Evangelistic techniques were somewhat uniform and, thus, worked better in some locales than others.
Today, churches are targeting communities and specific cultures. They are doing a better job of getting to know their surroundings and putting that local knowledge to work. Where this is done, fishing for souls is usually good.
It also tells us why long-term pastorates and ministries generally produce more fruit.
Be patient ... and persistent
My dad was the most patient man I ever knew. It was extremely rare for him to ever show a glint of lost patience.
That extended to our fishing outings. He would linger at holes he knew should produce fish much longer than other fishermen. That extra time didn’t always yield fish, but it often did.
He would catch fish in places others said were “fished out” — because he persisted.
Those who fish for souls often quit too quickly. A true fisherman never lets a bad outing keep him from going back.
Fish where you can catch fish
Your best results usually come from fishing a “hot spot” — a more remote place that hasn’t seen a constant barrage of lures and bait.
But even the most heavily fished spots can yield fish. After evangelist Charles Finney’s revivals, upstate New York was considered a “burned-over district.” But the Laymen’s Revival that began with a small prayer meeting soon showed there were still many “fish” to catch.
Fish the runs
When fish run up rivers to spawn, the action can be spectacular. On the West Coast I enjoyed fishing salmon, steelhead, striped bass and American shad runs. In Missouri, I anticipate the massive spring run of white bass from lakes into tributaries.
Though “runs” cannot be predicted in a spiritual sense, there are clearly times when people are more susceptible to the message of the gospel. We need to learn to seize those times.
Use the right bait
Personal evangelism courses of the past frequently focused on this model when dealing with an unsaved person: First, win the person to yourself; then win them to Christ.
Not all have agreed with this approach, and it clearly doesn’t have to occur every time. However, it does seem to be the most effective approach in the long run. Preaching to someone cold is far inferior to earning the right to be heard.
Church planters now target specific types of people and use outreaches designed to appeal to them. Even larger churches do this with some small groups; they’re called affinity groups. People gather around common interests — like golf, hiking, photography or cooking — and unbelievers who share the specific interest are drawn into a nonthreatening environment where lifestyle evangelism is done through friendship.
What it means for our individual interactions is simply this: You are more likely to connect with someone and earn the right to be heard if you show yourself to be sincerely interested in the things that interest them.
Don’t scare the fish
From my earliest days of fishing alongside him, my dad taught me to approach a likely spot for trout cautiously and with a low profile.
Likewise, you don’t want to arrive quietly at your spot, then chunk a lure in the water the size of a garbage can lid and create a mini-tsunami. Fail in either way and the fish will scatter.
I’m convinced that heavy-handed witnessing techniques — while sometimes successful — have for the most part been scaring potential converts away for ages. Standing on a soapbox shouting, “Repent,” is a sure way to scatter all but the curious and cynical most of the time.
There are exceptions. Sometimes pulling a noisy buzz-bait across the surface elicits a strike from a prowling largemouth. And people under conviction can indeed be reached by a more direct approach.
But the Bible is not intended to be used as a bludgeon. Yes, the Bible is the sword of the Spirit, but that sword penetrates the spiritual life of the individual. Approach the unsaved with sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and you are on the right track.
When casting, always look behind you
All sorts of snags await your back cast. Forget where you are and you’ll soon be in an embarrassing and time-consuming position. I have tangled with tree limbs and such far more often than I wish to admit. But I never make that mistake when I’m paying attention to what’s behind me.
The apostle Paul said, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27, NKJV). Disciplining oneself means paying attention, and watching behind you for the subtle attacks of the enemy that can come even when we are pursuing souls for Christ.
The more time you spend on the water, the more fish you will catch
Why do some people catch more fish than others? It’s not always because they are better fishermen. Often it’s because they spend more time fishing. It’s simple mathematics. The more chances you afford yourself, the more fish you are going to catch.
Why do some people win more souls than others? Same reason. They simply spend more time thinking about the lost and looking for opportunities to win them.
Unfortunately, the converse is also true. If you spend more time doing it, you will fail more. That’s never bothered me. It’s still an opportunity to be outside enjoying the fresh air and God’s creation. My dad used to proclaim the value of just being able to say we went fishing. “If we catch fish, it’s a bonus.” (Plus, he would say, “That’s why they call it ‘fishing,’ not ‘catching.’”)
The metaphor breaks down here with fishing for souls. In fishing, you either catch something or you don’t. When you’re pursuing souls you become part of a process. You may have a successful outing without ever seeing a visible “catch.” Paul said there is planting and watering that Christians participate in prior to reaping (1 Corinthians 3:6,7).
Practice catch and release
You don’t need to keep what you catch.
A few years after I left home and had been fishing on my own, I was cleaning fish after a particularly successful outing when a thought came to me. I don’t like cleaning fish, and I really don’t like to eat fish that much. Why am I doing this? After that I started catch and release.
It’s more important to catch souls than to build the size of your church. It’s about the catching, not the keeping. “Seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33) — not yours or your church’s. I heard former General Superintendent Thomas Trask say it many times: “It’s not about the Assemblies of God; it’s about the kingdom of God.” If someone gets saved in your church but ends up in another good, Bible-teaching congregation, there is still one more soul in God’s kingdom. It’s about souls — not building impressive statistics.
Watch your step
Because my dad and I hiked through forests, on deer paths, and along the remote portions of rivers to get to areas less fished, there were certain things he taught me to watch out for: poison oak, sharp branches or thorns in the underbrush, rattlesnakes … and moving rocks.
As I reached my teen years and became more adept at making my way across a rugged landscape, I became more self-confident — and less careful. Frequently I would bound across an open space onto a neighboring boulder. My dad cautioned me against it. “Son, test the rocks before you put your full weight on them,” he said. “Even the big rocks move.”
I ignored his advice — until I learned the lesson the hard way. Negotiating a bank slightly above the riverside, I found myself with a choice: Take some extra time to go around on the bank, or leap onto a large boulder a short distance in front of me. I chose the latter. And when I landed, I felt this gigantic rock quiver slightly before it gave way and precipitated me unceremoniously into the water. I was just pulling my drenched form from the water’s edge when my dad emerged from the safe, longer way. “Even the big rocks move,” he reminded me, a twinkle in his eye.
I have seen Christians throw their whole weight spiritually upon some big-name ministers. And when the big name fell, these disciples landed hard. The greatest saints have flaws. Every rock will fail us but Jesus, the Solid Rock. He’s the only Rock we can have faith to leap upon with our full weight. No one should ever lose out with God because a man or woman fails.
When fishing for souls, if you are tempted to throw more dependence upon a “giant of the faith” than upon Christ, remember that even the big rocks move. If you have your weight on Jesus, when a big rock falls, you won’t fall with it.
Even though I’m a fishing enthusiast, I’m not a big fan of fishing shows on television, and I have a limited attention span for fishing magazines. I’d rather be doing it — out there fishing. Spiritually, we often reverse things. We spend more time watching and reading about witnessing for Christ than doing it.
Determine not to do that. This last bit of advice is by far the most important. Learn what you can, but there’s a point at which you just need to get out there and go fishing! And Jesus promised to make you “fishers of men.”
KEN HORN is editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.
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