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Home > Issues > 2012 > Winter > Rod and Reel, or Net?
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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.

Personal Fishing?

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 ...

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From Issue:The Outreach Issue, Winter 2012 | Posted: February 20, 2012

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Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments

Christoph Koebel

July 03, 2012  7:43am

My first impression was; "RIGHT ON". It is good to remember what Jesus had in mind when He talked about becoming fisher of men. Our brother is right speaking out against that western mentality about personal vs community mind set. I live in Winnipeg/Canada. Each year late May/early June we have 'LOVE WINNIPEG". This is a 2 week campaign of city-wide acts of random kindness. About 85 churches participate. We did a community BBQ and giving our drinks at a busy intersection. At the BBQ folks asked us WHY we do this? So there were chances telling them the reason. I gave out bottles as cars stopped on "RED" lights. One of the drivers who got a bottles was my boss from work. In about 5 seconds I explained the Gospel. A good book to that topic is "Conspiracy of kindness" by Steve Sjogren. By the way, our Jewish Mayor endorses LOVE WINNIPEG. When Franklin Graham was in town for a 3 days campaign, he made the connection with these two events.Wish these "angler" would see it as well

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Patrick Hare

May 05, 2012  10:34am

Provocative post with some good observations. Although as a lifelong pole fisherman, I offer the following counterpoint in good humor and spirit. ;-) Net fishing catches things indiscriminately (e.g., dolphins in tuna nets) – pole fishing is focused on catching individual fish with bait specifically chosen for the desired fish. Net fishing involves setting up a net, leaving it, and returning to see what got caught up in it – pole fishing requires the constant active engagement of the fisherman. Net fishing involves machines pulling in the nets – pole fishing involves a personal involvement with the fisherman and the fish. Net fishing is a one-size-fits-all operation, snagging everything that crosses its path – pole fishing involves taking fish seriously as individuals. Net fishing is a professional commercial operation. Pole fishing is a personal passionate avocation. Thanks again for the thoughtful post.

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Steve Long

February 24, 2012  9:08am

Thank you Dr. Crosby for this article and its emphasis on "community" (church community)involvement in sharing the gospel with unbelievers. I agree with cfb especially. The deeds of kindness, authentic Christ follower lifestyle, etc., become the "light" (Matt 5:14-16) to which unbelievers are drawn. When they come, and they will come, we have to tell them of Jesus and invite them to follow Him. In all of this, The leading of the Holy Spirit is essential to each of us as messengers.

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February 22, 2012  2:50pm

Great insight here; evangelism is best done in community. However, Dr. Crosby appears to have an aversion to actually speaking the Gospel in this piece. We certainly need to live out our faith, but we also need to articulate it. The former without the latter is not effectual or sufficient (Romans 10).

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