The difference between fishing and catching

3/24/2020

The difference between fishing and catching
 
Fishing is easy, that’s why anybody can do it!
 
Catching fish is a lot harder than fishing because it requires patience, knowledge, skills, adaptability, planning, preparedness, and, unless you are Jesus, a bit of luck.
 
I like what Denzel Washington said in a speech to students at Dillard University, “Luck is when an opportunity comes along and you’re prepared for it.” Just a quick side note: Denzel is a preacher’s kid and Dillard is a United Methodist School.
 
Denzel opened his speech by encouraging the students to “put God first.” Jesus’ teaching model was to offer nuggets of wisdom and advice and then to model how each teaching should be actualized. He often turned his disciples loose to practice what he had taught. Catching fish is a lot more than simply being lucky. It involves being prepared and then listening to the Holy Spirit’s promptings for direction and guidance.
 
Catching is not difficult if we follow the lessons that Jesus taught. Jesus calls us to follow him and he has promised that we would be successful if we just take on his character and nature and emulate his behavior.
 
You have heard me say, “Anybody can fish, I’m going catching!” Catching is not difficult if we follow the lessons that Jesus taught. Jesus guarantees that if we follow his example, we will catch fish.
 
Here are my top five keys to catching fish. Today I will talk a bit more about each one:
 

  1. Fish where the fish are at.
 
As I travel around the country I am amazed at the number of churches, especially United Methodist churches, that are in areas that once were thriving and alive with people. Folks have become so attached to their church buildings that they have failed to keep up with the transitions that were taking place around them. In some cases, the only thing left in the community is the church. Most of those churches are trying to catch fish where there are no fish.
I understand that members want to hold on because the place was once a productive “honey hole” and they do not want to abandon it. I get it, but it may be time to do a reassessment and to find another place to invest the resources that are being used to keep the doors open in non-productive waters.
 
One of the potentially positive lessons that we might learn during this COVID-19 pandemic is that the church is NOT the building.
 
  1. Fish where the fish are biting.
 
Aunt Thelma could see the fish swimming around, but they were not biting. In her frustration, she took out her pistol, the one she carried because she was afraid of snakes, and started firing into the water shouting, “bite dog-gone-it, bite!”
 
I’m pretty sure, based on what Willie has told me, alcohol had a lot to do with her frustrated response.
 
Being where the fish are not biting can be frustrating. The answer, however, is not to take it out on the fish. Fish have vulnerable times when they are more susceptible to being caught.
 
The best thing to do is to go where the fish are feeding. Church growth gurus call it, “identifying low hanging fruit” that can easily be harvested.
 
There are churches filled with “Aunt Thelmas” (and Uncle Theos). These members become bitter because they see the fish but have not been able to catch them. More often than not these members spend the bulk of their time complaining to the SPRC because they want the pastor to devote her or his time trying to catch inactive fish that have not been biting.
 
  1. Fish with what the fish like to eat.
 
I’ve heard fantastic stories of folks that were out fishing and decided to try fishing with a piece of hot dog or with a leftover marshmallow, and they caught a fish. Wonderful! I am delighted whenever folks experience success, but most fishing success comes when we use what the fish like to eat rather than what we like to eat.
 
Churches are notorious for designing worship experiences that provide spiritual food that caters to their own culinary preferences. They rationalize that if folks will just give it a try, they will come to appreciate it. All too often, new fish fail to be attracted by hot dogs and marshmallows, because they are sniffing around for something familiar that excites their taste buds.
 
Every church, no matter the size, needs a healthy balance between the bait box and the lunch box. The bait box is filled with food for attracting and catching fish. The lunch box is for feeding and nurturing folks that have been trained how to fish. Successful churches incorporate evangelism and discipleship and healthy meals are offered to both.
 
  1. Fish with the right equipment.
 
People that fish love their equipment and are, for the most part, proud of it. I’ve had several that took offense, or even got downright mad at me when I suggested to them that they leave their equipment at home when they join me for a trophy catfish outing. I understand their frustration.
 
The first time I went halibut fishing in Alaska, against the captain’s advice, I brought along one of my best fishing poles. I never got to use it and it wouldn’t have worked if I had used it. We were fishing two hundred feet deep and using line that could catch fish that weighed over three hundred pounds. The biggest fish my rod could handle was about sixty pounds and it could only go down about one hundred and fifty feet. Both my rod and my reel were insufficient for the fish we were trying to catch.
 
I believe the biggest hindrance to fishing success happens because churches fail to identify the type of fish they are trying to catch. There is no way to properly prepare for fishing success if you do not know what you will be fishing for. Jesus taught those early disciples how to target specific fish and he equipped them for the catch.
 
It is no accident that the gospel writers tell us that Andrew, Peter, James, and John left everything to follow Jesus. Their old equipment, though tried and true, was not sufficient for catching souls.
 
  1. Fish with a willingness to change methodology.
 
Fish have feeding patterns, cycles of vulnerability, and seasonal times when certain methods work best. I have used a certain lure with great success in the morning that would not catch a fish in the afternoon. By being willing to change methodology I’ve been able to discover new strategies for successful catching.
 
Is your church trapped in a methodology paradox? The seven last words of a dying church are, “But, we have never done that before.” The Holy Spirit is constantly trying to assist the church in reaching new people with the good news of the gospel by offering us new gifts and graces, but we keep trying to use antiquated equipment and worn out methodology.
 
We are busy fishing while Jesus is inviting us to join him and learn to do some catching.
 
God Bless,
Bishop Beard