When you think of fishing, what image comes to mind: a solitary figure with a rod and tackle box, patiently choosing a lure, casting, and reeling? Or a commercial shrimp boat with nets spread wide?
When Jesus said, "I will make you fishers of men" (Mt. 4:19), what kind of fishing did he have in mind? When he called out that first ministry team, was he picturing them as net-fishers or anglers? The question is one worth considering, since we, too, are called to that same task.
Jesus used the fishing metaphor to describe evangelism and disciple-making, and today's assumption is often that it's an individualized task. We tend to think of a fisherman as an angler, which is defined as (1) a person who fishes with a hook and line, or (2) a person who gets or tries to get something through scheming.
The individualized terms personal salvation, personal evangelism, and personal discipleship are actually relatively new within Christendom. Even the phrase personal Savior is a 20th-century expression attributable at least in part to Charles E. Fuller, the popular host of The Old-Fashioned Revival Hour radio program (1937-1968).
Certainly vast numbers of people have come to faith in Christ through individualized strategies and approaches to evangelism, but many along the way have also managed to "fall off the line." Unfortunately too often some have approached evangelism more as an individual "sales pitch" instead of a collaborative, compassionate, and gospel-modeling community.
The New Testament metaphor of "fishing" for people with the call of Christ was never meant to imply the mere work of an individual with a pole; rather, it was referring to net fishing. The picture he uses is not that of the sole angler seeking to hook "the big one," but rather a community of fishermen casting a broad and weighted net and drawing it in together. The idea is "throwing nets into the sea" cast by a capable and caring community (Mt. 4:18-22).
Notice: "throwing nets into the sea" (v. 18) and "they left their nets" (v. 20) and "repairing their nets" (v. 21).
While the Bible does refer at least once to fishing with a hook (Mt. 17:24-27), that's not the context of Christ's call to his followers.
The net commonly used at this time was circular, having heavy weights around its perimeter. Typically, fishermen would cast these weighted nets from the shoreline and sometimes from the sides of their boat. It was a particularly labor-intensive task to cast and draw these nets in.
So what does "net evangelism" look like today?
Caught in Community
Access Church in Lakeland, Florida, recently decided to throw out a fresh "net" into their community.
"What if we took a whole month of our tithe income and just gave back to our community?" asked Jason Burns, the pastor of Access. "What if we did so with no strings attached?" Access Gives Back was a week-long effort to reach out to the community and to unleash Spirit-inspired creativity in the minds and actions of the church's members.
So one Sunday everyone at the church received anywhere from $5 to $100 in an envelope with simple instructions: "Just take the money and use it for some good purpose. Simply find a way to bless someone with no strings attached, no hidden agendas, and no ulterior motives."