It was Jesus who, in calling the first members of his faith community, the diciples, invited them to become fishers of people (Mark 1:16-18). By calling fisermen and inviting them to fish for humans, he used language that made sense to his hearers. But he did more than that. He used an image or a metaphor that conveyed a great deal more than some simple idea that he was concerned with “catching” people. It made reference to an activity that fishermen engaged in regularly, and by doing so created a sense of the missional community that was to come.
When we refer to fishing in our Western context, we think about a single person with a single rod and a single hook on the end of a single line. The fisherman is attempting to catch one fish with each cast of the line. It is a one-on-one engagement, and good fishermen know how to read the weather, the tides, the presence of weed, and the use of lures to catch that one fish. So when we read about Jesus inviting the first disciples (and by inference us) to fish for people, we might assume it’s a similar one-on-one affair. We have thought of evangelism like this in recent years. We have been sent out to fish for someone we can bring int our church. Getting someone to attend a service with us or come to an evangelistic breakfast or youth rally has formed the foundation of much Western evangelism. But unfortunately, a good many people in the West believe they have tried church and were left unsatisfied or they aren’t interested at all in church attendence.
But if we htink about fishing during Jesus’ time, it wasn’t done with rods and reels. It wasn’t one-on-one. Jesus’ disciples would hav thought of fishing with a net. They would have cast their nets out into the water, and dredged or dragged the sea as they hauled the net back onto the boat. Whatever happened to be swimming in the way of the net as it was lugged back on board would have been caught. The key to successful fishing wasn’t in the technical details of tides and weather patterns, but in the strength of the nets. For this reason, Jesus’ fishing disciples spent most of their working day, not out on the lake’s surface, but on shore, mending their nets were strong and tight, anything caught in them couldn’t escape.
If we relate this image to the missional-incarnational church today, it has important implications. Instead of adopting a stance that requires a Christian to leave a sacred zone to go and fish for an individual to return with him to that zone, it releases the church to see its “fishing” as a more relational exercise. If the disciples spent so much time on their nets to ensure a catch, what might those nets be for us today? We propose that the web of relationships, friendships, and acquaintances that normally have makes up the net into which not-yet-Christians will swim. We believe the web of relationships, friendships, and acquaintances that Christians normally have makes up the net into which not-yet-Christians will swim. We believe the misssional-incarnational church will spend more time on building friendships than it will on developing religious programs.
Charles Ringma, from the Philippines Theological Seminary, makes this point about the emphasis on programs over relationships:
A telling example is where a church community develops a special plan for service and action by the church in the community and then tries to sell it to church members for their involvement and support…. It is this plan that requires all the publicity, the prayers, and the church’s money. This is the official project.
Most church members can relate to this aspect of the attractional church. The church board or the deacons have decided that Alpha from Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, is the answer, or that they need to develop seeker services like Willow Creek Church. All the church’s energies go into making the program work. Usually it is a strategy or a program that has been transplanted from somewhere else. And even though tthe program might be sound and biblical and is obviously very effective in its original context, it nevertheless smacks of something artificial. This is because it is not an indiginous, locally-based, “homegrown” initiative.
Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church, p.44f.