The following article is located at:http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2012/winter/rodreelnet.html
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."
One husband, Ian Vibbert, a 27-year-old employee at Publix, a local grocery store, was stunned by this approach: "I was speechless. I'd never heard of anything like that. But, I felt blessed to be part of a place that would trust the congregation and be willing to give a big part of the budget to do that."
Access is a four-year-old church. It is primarily comprised of members in their 20s and 30s and has no permanent building. The 500 or so worshipers meet in a local high school. Burns describes it as "a traditional church trying untraditional things to reach an unreached generation."
The Gives Back effort was intended to be both an act of simple compassion toward the community and a way to prompt the members to live out their faith in the community.
"The amounts we gave are not going to do a lot," says Jay Graffam, 32, Access's executive pastor. "It would take millions of dollars to make a big difference. But, we want to create people who will be generous for the rest of their lives. We said to the church, 'Go out and be generous on us.'"
Nothing But Net
Mother Teresa once said, "God hasn't called us to do great things; but to do small things with great love." When Give Back Sunday arrived at Access, there was $9 in Ian Vibbert's envelope and $100 in his wife Heather's. They pooled their money, added some of their own, and asked God what they should do. They finally called the Lakeland Regional Medical Center's neonatal clinic and found out how many infants were there.
"I bought stuffed animals," Heather said, "and get-well cards, and just wrote 'Jesus loves you' on them. Hopefully, it had an impact. It was worth it if even one person was touched."
"The idea is to bring God's kingdom down here," says Burns. "That's what we are working on at Access. We often say, 'Up there, down here.' It's not about how big we can grow the church. It's really more about how well we can cast the net. While church facilities may be something people build, the Kingdom is something we spread. And, when the kingdom is spread, souls are reached for Christ and the world becomes a better place."
So often in the Bible, outreach is a together activity. When Jesus sent his disciples out to the towns and villages, he sent them two by two. When he sent them to wait on the coming of the Holy Spirit, he sent 120 of them to a place of prayer in Jerusalem. Even when the first missionaries were commissioned, there were two leaders and one protégé sent out. If outreach was anything, it was together.
Outreach requires bold witness and sharing our faith. We do need to be instant in season and out to give people "a reason for our faith" (1 Peter 3:15). There are certainly many times when our witness will be one on one. But, we must not forget that Jesus said "they will know you are my disciples by the love you have one for another." That's not something anyone can do alone. The gospel is primarily a net (i.e., a culture) of grace and truth that we boldly and broadly cast … together.
Robert C. Crosby is professor of practical theology at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida.
Copyright © 2012 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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