As a boy, my dad used to take me fishing with him.
Sometimes we’d take a half-day boat out of Long Beach and go fishing for barracuda. That was always a lot of fun. Most of the time, we’d go lake fishing for rainbow trout. Our favorite place was Anaheim Lake. It’s still there today. Most of the time we’d use salmon eggs for bait. I remember using a treble hook to load up my salmon eggs. The three little barbs would make the eggs form a little red triangle and we’d cast that bait out onto the lake and wait for the fish to saddle up for a meal before reeling them in. If salmon eggs weren’t working, my dad would sometimes use live worms. We’d buy a little container of them from the bait shop before heading out to the lake shore. They were always fun to play with because they’d wiggle around in your had, but my dad always warned me not to play with them too much because then they wouldn’t be all wiggly for the fish. He’d puff them up to make them look fat with a little syringe he had in the tackle box. One time I tried doing it when he wasn’t around and he nearly freaked out, telling me that if I accidentally pumped air into my veins I could die! Haven’t touched one since. Once in a while, we’d try that weird Playdoh-like cheese. You’d roll it into a ball and just shape it around the hook. The only problem was that if you didn’t shape it around the hook right, the fish might see it. Too much and he’d get a snack without getting caught. It was always touch and go with cheese. And then of course there were the marshmallows. They weren’t marshmallows like you or I would drink in our hot chocolate, these were cheese flavored and they were sort of like Cheetos. They’d leave orange stuff on your hands. We’d try whatever worked. Sometimes it took a couple of hours to figure out what the fish were biting that day and sometimes you’d get lucky and start getting hits right away. Other times, it was our location. We’d notice someone a little bit down the shoreline from us getting consistent hits and we’d sort of move in that general direction. You didn’t want to seem like you were trying to steal someone’s space, but you wanted to at least catch your share. Part of the skill of being a good fisherman was knowing what was working and what wasn’t. Maybe it was location. Maybe it was what you were offering the fish. But you kept trying new things until you found the right combination.
I’m convinced Jesus saw the church being the same way.
Or at least requiring the same skills. Let’s take a look at who Jesus selected to be his followers. If you have your Bibles or a Bible app on your phone, please go to Matthew 4:18-22. Matthew 4:18-22. This is right at the very beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry. John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, has just been put into prison and Matthew tells us that Jesus “withdrew to Galilee” (v.12). It was in the town of Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee that Jesus began to preach. And this is where we pick up the story in Matthew 4 beginning with verse 18.
18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
The first four disciples are fishermen.
We don’t know the occupations of all the original twelve disciples, but of the five we do know, four of them were fishermen. They weren’t bankers or lawyers or rock stars. They weren’t even butchers or bakers. They were fishermen, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that Jesus selected them. Fishing takes a certain skill set. It takes patience and the ability to find out what works in each particular situation. That kind of discernment would be invaluable to Jesus. And it’s still that kind of discernment that is needed today. Maybe it’s time we develop a fisherman’s mentality when it comes to being the church. Maybe it’s time we develop a fisherman’s mentality when it comes to being the church.
You’ve probably heard the saying about insanity.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But isn’t that what most churches are doing? We might make minor changes like putting in new lights or a new speaker, but how often do we reexamine ourselves to see if we are still accomplishing what Jesus asked us to – making disciples? Fishermen adapt to new situations. When one type of bait isn’t working, they switch to another one. If that doesn’t work they switch again. After a while, they realize they need to move locations so they pick up their gear and head out to find where the fish are biting. Sometimes they watch to see if others are having success. If they’re feeling particularly friendly they ask what kind of bait someone is using or if they’re in a good spot. Why don’t we do that in the church? What if instead of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, we changed what we did when we stop getting the results we want? What if we decided to be like fishermen? The fisherman model works well for churches, too. Instead of bait, we could try different ways of reaching out to the community. We could give away light bulbs to our neighbors with little stickers on the boxes that say, “Just a little something to brighten up your day.” We could go around town and offer cookies and milk to a different business once a week. Or we could try different things in worship. We could sit closer to the front to leave room for new visitors to come in the back or to come in late. We could market ourselves in a different way. We could create an information area in our entryway so that people can ask questions when they visit with us. We could put a big banner in front of the church saying, “Welcome! Come worship with us!” It might not work, but it just might. What if that banner brought in one new family a year? Wouldn’t that be worth it? We could move the church. I know that idea seems shocking, but it can work. At UJCC where I served before, they were in much the same situation as we are today, two smaller congregations without much prospect of growing. So they moved to where the people they were most likely going to attract would be and they nearly doubled in size within the first three years. Today, they are about triple what they used to be. Now, their situation is different and that may not be the best idea for our church, but when we are trying to imagine ideas out of the box, we need to consider everything.
It’s not that there is anything wrong with the way we do church now.
Our two churches in Dinuba are honestly two of the nicest groups of people I have encountered. We probably have a higher percentage of people in Bible study than most churches in our conference. We have people who have given of themselves tirelessly. If it wasn’t for all of you, there isn’t any way we could pull off Sunday worship. The people in our churches love God and love one another. But our congregations have been shrinking for some time. And most of you have come to me or shared with me that you would like to see that change. If that’s the case, then maybe we need to be like the fisherman. It’s not that we are doing anything wrong, it’s just that what we are doing isn’t giving us the results we desire. It’s not that we are doing anything wrong, it’s just that what we are doing isn’t giving us the results we desire. It’s time to try new bait.
One thing we need to embrace is that for this to work, we need to do it TOGETHER.
If we succeed in building up the church, it won’t be because of me, it will be because of US. I believe one of the biggest detriments to ministry that exists in the church today is too much reliance on the pastor to solve the church’s problems. And it isn’t very biblical. If you read in the Bible, God gave different gifts to different people. If you look at 1 Corinthians 12, and we’ll look at this passage again in a few weeks from a different perspective, but if you look at 1 Corinthians 12 beginning with verse 4, you see that God has given some the gift of wisdom, some the gift of knowledge, some the gift of faith, and some the gift of healing, but it doesn’t say he puts all those gifts in any one person. The body of Christ is meant to run like a well-oiled machine with each part doing what it does best. The pastor is just one of those parts. The body of Christ is meant to run like a well-oiled machine with each part doing what it does best. The pastor is just one of those parts. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but different pastors have different gifts. Some are great at visitation, but not very good at administration. Some are good at preaching, others are good at playing the guitar. But rarely do you find all of God’s gifts in one person. And even if you did, it still would be harmful to the church to rely on just that one person. The church requires the entire body of Christ to do the work of God. Look at the people of Israel. They asked God for a king, a leader to rule over them like all the other nations had and Samuel warned them of the consequences. He warned them that the king would become the focus of their nation instead of God, that they would follow the king’s wishes and not God’s wishes, but they wanted one anyway. I think what God was warning us about was distancing ourselves from Him. That when we put barriers between us and God, what we are doing is separating ourselves, denying our own responsibility and accountability to God and placing it squarely on the shoulders of someone else. And sure enough in this story of the Bible, the people grew distant from God and Saul who was made the king, began to lead not according to God’s direction, but his own.
This is not my church. This is not your church.
This is OUR church and we need to work TOGETHER if we are to build it back up. More importantly, this is GOD’s church and we need to be in prayer for God’s direction and leadership as we move forward. We need to be in tune with where God wants us to be. And we have to be willing to leave behind everything to follow God’s will. If you read the Bible, every failure in leadership came from people doing what THEY wanted instead of what God wanted. We can’t let that happen to us. Our sermon series over the next four weeks, based on the small group study by Adam Hamilton and Debi Nixon, is designed to challenge us to explore our church and ourselves during this time of transition. It’s made to help us look at the body of Christ here in these places and within ourselves and to ask the question, what do we need to do to be fully equipped to serve God in this place and in this time. My prayer is that at the end of it, we will make a commitment to do this together and to be willing to try new ideas in order to help people know the love of Jesus Christ. One time, when I was fishing with my dad, it seemed like my pole had been pretty quiet for a long time. But I just sat there, reading my book, not really paying attention to the line. My dad asked me how long it’s been out there and I looked over at him and said, “I guess it’s been a while.” So my dad brought the line in and sure enough, the bait was gone. Nothing but an empty hook. At some point, some fish must have come along and taken the bait and then just went away. I was so focused on me, that I ignored the fish and they went away. Do we still have bait on our hook? Maybe it’s time to reel it in and reassess how we can be more effective for Christ. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.