This spring (2014), we used Adam Hamilton’s book and video study “The Way:Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus” as our Lenten study. It was a good study and, by using the video, we got to see some of the places where Jesus walked and taught in the Holy Land.
One of the chapters focused on Jesus’ ministry near the Sea of Galilee, including the calling of his first disciples, who were fishermen. In the chapter and video, Adam Hamilton considers a question that I had long considered: why did Jesus choose fishermen to be his first disciples? These fishermen were probably coarse, uneducated, working class people. They were not the kind of people that would have been my first choice if I had been Jesus. I always thought that Jesus chose fishermen to show that God can use anyone, even the most unlikely persons, to help spread God’s word and kingdom. While that may be true, Adam Hamilton suggests that maybe Jesus chose fishermen because they are eternal optimists. Every fishermen must believe that this setting of the net, this cast, this spot is going to finally pay off, otherwise why go fishing at all.
I was thinking about that optimism of fishermen recently when I had the chance to go fishing for a few hours. It was a particularly unproductive trip. Oh, I caught a few fish, but for whatever reason the fish were not cooperating. I began to think that I should give it up, to came back and try again another day, but then I would make one more cast. “Why did I make this cast?” I asked myself. “Because” I answered “this could be the one. Maybe, just maybe, the big one will bite on this cast.” It was an overly optimistic thought because it had been an unproductive day (and I never caught the big one that day) but the only way to know was to make the cast, to give it a try, and see if the fish would cooperate.
How does this apply to the church, you’re probably asking. The church is called to be fishers of people, according to Matthew 4:19 “’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people. (NIV)’”, to catch people for God and God’s Kingdom. Unfortunately, the church hasn’t been doing very well on it’s fishing trips recently. Almost all mainline denominations, including United Methodism, are declining, according to the statistics. Why might this be? Maybe it’s because we haven’t been fishing as often as we should. On our church’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/PineRidgeTangipahoaUnitedMethodistChurches) I recently posted a statistic from Back to Church Sunday (which will be participating in on September 21) that 73% of unchurched adults have never been invited to church. Another statistic is that only 2% of Christians EVER invite someone to church (http://backtochurch.com/about). If these statistics are correct, one reason the church is declining is because we are simply not going fishing enough. We are not being intentional enough about inviting our friends and family to church.
This is sobering news. But there is good news! Dr. Thom Rainer writes that “82% of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited” (http://backtochurch.com/about) So according to this statistic, if we invite people to church, there is better than a 4 in 5 chance they will attend! If we go fishing for people and invite them to come to church and to know Jesus, there is a good chance that we will catch some! I know, our world today is full of political correctness and tolerance. The last thing we want to do is offend someone. But what about God? How will they know the peace, love, mercy, forgiveness and joy of God unless we go fishing and invite them to come to church and to think about God. So I ask you, as I ask myself, when is the last time you went fishing for people? Invite an acquaintance, friend or family member to come to church with you. You never know, this could be the cast where you and I catch a person for God!