Let’s Go Fishing
July 1, 1990
Somewhere in my past I heard the story about a man who was a phenomenal fisherman. He was so good that his fame spread far and wide. When everyone else was catching two or three fish a day he would come back with two or three hundred. Eventually the local game warden decided to investigate because it just sounded too good to be true.
On a certain day, the game warden showed up at the man’s door, identified himself, and asked to go fishing with him. The man was agreeable to that and off they went to the lake. When they got into the boat, immediately the warden noticed that something didn’t seem right. The man didn’t have any fishing poles or bait. He didn’t even have a tackle box. All he had was a small duffel bag.
So off they went, chatting about this and that until the man maneuvered the boat to the middle of the lake. Without a word, he turned off the motor, reached into the duffel bag and pulled out what looked like a stick of dynamite. Before the warden could say anything, he lit it and threw it into the water. It exploded with a mighty roar and stunned fish by the dozens floated to the surface. The man calmly started his boat and began gathering the fish in his net.
The warden said, “Now see here. This is highly illegal.” But the man just laughed and steered the boat to another part of the lake. He did the same thing with a second stick of dynamite and sure enough more fish floated to the surface.
By this time the warden had seen enough. He said, “Mister, you’ve broken so many laws I can’t even begin to count them.” The man just laughed and pulled out another stick of dynamite. The warden kept on talking. “This is illegal possession of dynamite and illegal detonation of dangerous material and disturbing the peace and about a half-dozen other misdemeanors and felonies.” While the warden was talking, the man calmly lit the stick of dynamite and handed it to the game warden. As he did he asked him the question fishermen always ask, “Are you going to talk or are you going to fish?”
Too Much Talking And Not Enough Fishing
That really is our problem when it comes to evangelism—too much talking and not enough fishing. We’re good at talking; we’re not so good at fishing. Most of the time we act as if Jesus said, “Follow me and we’ll talk about fishing for men.” So we read books and go to seminars and watch videotapes and take training sessions and listen to sermons (just like this one!).
We end up experts at talking about fishing for men. We know how to bait the hook and what kind of lure to use. We learn all about how to fish for the loud-mouth speckle-bellied atheist and which bait works with the salt-water Pharisee. And most of us have a tackle box full of memorized Scripture, clever questions and some very old tracts. Yes, we’re good at talking about fishing.
Our Guilty Silence
But we’re not so good at actually fishing for men. In fact, most Christians I know feel vaguely guilty about the whole subject of evangelism. They know they should do it but they don’t know where to begin or how.
Researcher George Barna has discovered that nine out of ten people who attempt to explain what they believe to other people come away from those experiences feeling as if they have failed. Get that—9 out of 10 feel like failures when it comes to sharing what they believe. No wonder we don’t do much evangelism. It’s not fun to do something that makes you feel like a failure 90% of the time. Barna concludes that “despite the divine command to spread the Word, many Christians redirect their energies into areas of spiritual activity that are more satisfying and in which they are more likely to achieve success.”
Tall, Skinny And Scared To Death
I can understand that. Let me say frankly that evangelism is not a gift I possess. I say that without any hesita-tion after many years of being a Christian. To be sure, I have done my share of witnessing. I can remember during my high school years going out with my buddies to do evangelism at the Dairy Queen. We would sit at a table and Butch Henderson would start reading the book of Revelation out loud—some scary part like chapter 8 where a burning mountain falls to earth and turns the water into blood. Then we would go around to the tables and witness to people. It worked pretty good, actually.
Several years later—when I was a freshmen at the University of Missouri—I went with the Baptist Student Union to Fort Lauder-dale to spend a week witnessing on the beach. It was a tough week for me because I was tall, skinny and scared to death. I spent the whole week running around in a bathing suit trying to look inconspicuous. That was a tough week.
In the twelve years I’ve been a pastor, I have seen a number of people come to Christ as I have shared the gospel with them. Not a lot, but some here and there. I can truly say that sharing my faith still scares me to death, but I always enjoy it when I finally get around to it.
It’s clear to me that I don’t have the gift of evangelism. I say that so you will know where I am coming from. Others who are spiritually gifted in this area would say things in a different way. I speak as one who is not gifted but who is willing to obey the Lord’s command.
Commanded And Gifted
It is right at this point that we come to one of the great paradoxes in the area of evangelism. There is a com-mand to evangelize and there is a gift of evangelism. Jesus said, “Go and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15). That’s the command. It is God’s will for your life, period. No Christian can wriggle off the hook. We are to do the work of evangelism—that is, the work of spreading the good news about Jesus Christ wherever we go. Most of us already know about the command even if we aren’t obeying it very well.
But there’s another side to the story. That is, there is a spiritual gift of evangelism, which some Christians have and others don’t. To be literal about it, it is the gift of being an evangelist. The people with this gift have a unique ability to share their faith with other people. Here is how we define this gift in the Spiritual Gifts Inventory: The special ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to present the gospel message clearly to non-Christians and lead them to put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and also to equip other believers to do likewise.
Let me suggest three signs of a person who has this gift:
First, the person gifted in evangelism has an unusual burden for souls. His burden goes beyond that which all Christians share.
Second, the person gifted in evangelism has an unusual ability to share the gospel with others. That is, he finds opportunities in everyday life that the rest of us just pass up.
Third, the person gifted in evangelism sees unusual results. That is, people come to Christ when he shares the gospel with them.
In the Bible only one person is called an evangelist. His story is found in Acts 8. Philip had been one of the first deacons of the early church. In addition to his deaconing gifts, God also gave him the gift of being an evangelist. We see this gift at work in two ways in Acts 8. First, he went to Samaria and began to preach the gospel with the result that multitudes came to Christ (Acts 8:4-8). Then he went to the desert road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza. Along the way he met an Ethiopian Eunuch who was reading Isaiah 53. He came along, got into a conversation with the eunuch, shared the gospel from that very passage and led him to Christ (Acts 8:26-40). All the elements are there: A focus on the unsaved, clarity in preaching the gospel, and impressive results in terms of people coming to Christ.
I’m saying that when it comes to evangelism, all Christians are commanded to evangelize but some Christians are both commanded and specially gifted in this area.
The BLT Method Of Evangelism
But what about the rest of us? We are commanded to do the work of evangelism but we don’t have the spiritual gift. How do we obey the command when we don’t have the gift?
That’s an important question because it applies to approximately 90-95% of us. Most of us don’t have the gift and we’re the ones who do a whole lot more talking than we do fishing.
Let me share with you a simple approach to evangelism that will work for all of us who don’t have the spiritual gift. I call it the BLT method of evangelism.
B — Build Relationships With Non-Christians.
This is where all evangelism begins. It doesn’t start with praying with someone to receive Christ. That’s the end. And it doesn’t start with inviting someone to church. That’s the middle. Evangelism begins simply by making friends with non-Christians.
That’s all. Just making friends with people who don’t know the Lord. Specifically, this means starting with the people you already know—family members, friends, neighbors you meet at a block party, other parents you meet when you watch your son or daughter play baseball, people you meet riding to work on the El, your co-workers at the office.
Sometimes Christians feel like they don’t know anybody who needs the Lord. Actually we all know lots of people who need the Lord. We rub shoulders with them every day. In others words, we focus on those people God has already placed in our lives. And then we do whatever it takes to build quality relationships with people.
I asked Brian Bill to give me some suggestions in this area and he came up with with a list of ten different ways to build bridges with non-Christians.
1. Ask your neighbor for advice or help on something you need help with. Perhaps you need to borrow a ladder or a cup of sugar.
2. Invite your neighbor or co-worker over for dinner. Hospitality breaks down barriers and builds new friendships.
3. Buy an extra Cubs/Sox ticket and invite a neighbor to go with you to the game.
4. Sit out on your front porch once a week and greet people who walk by. Or simply make it a point to go over and talk to your neighbors.
5. Invite a neighbor over for ice cream.
6. Be sensitive to their needs. If you know an elderly person, offer to mow their lawn or shovel their driveway.
7. Take an interest in their interests. If they like to fish, talk about fishing. If they like to cook, talk about cooking.
8. Host a party for your neighbors (Tupperware, Country Peddler, etc.) or help sponsor a “Block Party” this summer.
9. Be available when people hurt by looking for opportunities to tangibly express love during times of sickness, death, marital problems or financial troubles.
10. Offer to take care of your neighbor’s kids for an evening.
As I read through that list, two things strike me immediately. First, how practical it is. Everything on there is doable. Second, there is nothing religious or churchy on the list.
And that’s a key. Some people read a list like that and think, “Yeah, baby, get ’em over for ice cream and then hit ’em with the Four Spiritual Laws.” That’s about the worst thing you can do.
Here’s my advice for step one. Don’t say anything religious to them. Otherwise you’ll be tempted to do these things as a cover for your real intentions. But most people can smell right through that. And once they suspect that you want to hit them with religion, they’re out the door and down the road.
So the B in the BLT is “Build relationships.” It all starts right there.
L — Look For Opportunities to Talk To Your Friends About Jesus.
This is the second step. It involves actually opening your mouth and saying something about the Lord. There are a lot of ways this might happen. Your friend might ask you a leading question or you might have a chance to use the Four Spiritual Laws or the “The Bridge” or the Dave Dravecky tract. You might be playing racquet-ball with your friend and you might get a chance to share the gospel.
You might hear this and think I’m contradicting myself. First I say, “Don’t say anything” and step two is “Say something.” There’s really no contradiction.
The point is that most of us get all tied up in knots because we’re worried about having to say something right off the bat. And we’re afraid people will think we’re nuts and turn us off. But that’s not how evangelism works. You don’t start by saying anything. You start by building relationships. And then—in the context of a friendship—you look for natural opportunities to share your faith.
Several weeks ago I was chatting with a friend who is a fairly new Christian. He wanted to know what this evangelism stuff was all about and how you went about it. It happens that he works in a business where literally dozens and sometimes hundreds of customers come through his doors every single day. And because he’s been there for a few years, he knows most of them by name.
I said, “Look, it’s not difficult. You don’t need to make a big deal about this. Why don’t you begin each day by praying that God will send you at least one person each day to whom you can give a good word for the Lord.” After you pray that prayer, just start looking for opportunities to say a good word for the Lord.” That’s just how I put it—”Just say a good word for the Lord.” No big deal. No high pressure. Just look for chances to slip the Lord into your conversations with people in a natural, non-forced way.
He said he would give it a try. When I saw him a week later, he said, “Pastor Ray, you wouldn’t believe it. Every day I’m having all kinds of opportunities to talk about the Lord. People come in, we start talking, one thing leads to another, and suddenly we’re talking about the Lord. I don’t even know how it happens.”
And this from a new Christian who couldn’t name even two of the Four Spiritual Laws. But he’s talking about the Lord every day. And he’s doing it in the context of natural relationships he already has. That’s evangelism.
So you’ve got the B — Build Relationships and you’ve got the L — Look for Opportunities. There’s only one thing left and we’ve got our BLT all put together.
T — Take your friends to non-threatening events where they can hear the gospel.
This is the last part of our simple strategy. This is where the whole church comes in. Our commitment at Calvary is to provide a wide variety of events during the year which you can use as tools for evangelism. We want to keep up a regular stream of interesting and unique events which will give you opportunities to invite your friends. These events are “hooks” you can use with your unchurched friends.
For instance, in the last year we’ve had a whole series of Crossroads services specifically geared for non-Christians. The Women’s Ministry had a Spring Outreach Luncheon. The choir put on a very powerful Easter drama. We brought in Chuck Swirsky to speak at Drury Lane. Our youth group had several very successful outreaches, including The Search for Batman and Water Wars I. Our Summerfest concerts offer an excellent, non-threatening opportunity to invite your friends to an outdoor concert. At the Day in Our Village, 738 saw the “Winners” presentation. Over 20 of those people signed cards saying they prayed to receive Christ.
And that doesn’t even count other events such as the Men’s Retreat, the Women’s Retreat, the Children’s Christmas Concert, the Prime Timers monthly programs, the programs run by the Singles Ministry. The way I figure it, if you total up all the various outreaches and special programs we have, it averages out to just about one per week. And that’s our goal—to provide a wide variety of events that you can use as tools to open the door for evangelism. Some are directly evangelistic; others are sowing the seeds, while others are meant to help you build relationships.
You’ll notice I haven’t said a word about the Sunday services. Do they not count for evangelism? Sure they do. They play a big part simply because they provide a context in which the unchurched can come in and begin to figure out who we are and what we are all about. And every Sunday we have lots of visitors who come to our services.
But the Sunday service is often not the best place to begin. Sometimes it’s just too overwhelming or too threatening at first. So don’t feel like you have to start by pushing people to come on Sunday. As the Holy Spirit begins to draw your friends to Christ, Sunday worship will begin to seem much more inviting to them.
Simple Steps To Take
So there you have the BLT approach to evangelism:
B — Build relationships with your friends and neighbors.
L — Look for opportunities to share the gospel.
T — Take your friends to events where they can hear the gospel.
That’s pretty simple, isn’t it? We meant it to be that way. Evangelism often seems so overwhelming that we don’t ever get around to it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The BLT approach will work for anyone.
But where should we begin? Let me suggest three practical steps:
1. Identify your network of relationships. Sit down with a piece of paper and do an inventory of all the non-Christians you know. You’ll probably discover that you know a lot more non-Christians than you think you do.
2. Circle the five people on your life you think are most receptive and reachable. That’s a double qualification. Some people are receptive but they aren’t easily reachable by you; others are reachable, but right now they don’t seem very open to spiritual things. So pick out the five people who seem open to spiritual things and who are reachable by you.
3. Ask God to give you a chance to say a good word for Jesus to at least one of those five people this week. Make it a matter of prayer. Ask God to give you some good opportunities to say a good word for him. Then sit back and watch him arrange the circumstances in ways that are natural and non-threatening.
D. L. Moody
The challenge for us is to take seriously the opportunities the Lord places all around us. Hardly a week passes that we don’t have an open door to say a good word for Christ. Sometimes we don’t go through the door because we are so busy with our trivial pursuits that we don’t even see them.
I love reading the story of D. L. Moody. He was the Billy Graham of the last century. It is said that he took Great Britain under one arm and America under the other, and brought both countries closer to God. Hundreds of thousands of people came into the kingdom through his preaching.
What is not so widely known is that Moody did not set out to be an evangelist. In point of fact, he was a very successful shoe salesman in the city of Chicago. During the early days of the Civil War, Moody experienced something which changed his life forever.
Mr. Moody was a layman and a worker for God. He started a mission Sunday School that in time grew to over 100 attenders. It was a fantastic outward success, yet by his own admission, “none were converted; there was no harvest.”
There was a class of girls in that Sunday School who were worldly and very unruly. One Sunday Moody substituted for the regular teacher and could barely maintain order. The next week the teacher came by and told Moody that because of grave sickness, he had to resign the class and move to another state. Then the teacher said with great sadness, “I have never led any of my class to Christ. I really believe I have done them more harm than good.” Moody said later, “I had never heard anyone talk like that, and it set me to thinking.”
Meet Me In Heaven
So he told the teacher, “Let’s go together and visit the girls in your class. You tell them how you feel and I’ll go with you.” So off they went to the first home. There was no laughter now. The girl listened, began to cry, and the teacher asked Moody to pray. “True, I had never done such a thing in my life as to pray God to convert a young lady then and there. But we prayed, and God answered our prayer.”
Off they went to the other homes. Eventually they visited every girl in the class and each one put her faith in Christ. It took ten days to finish the visits. The time had come for the teacher to leave Chicago. Here is the story—in Moody’s own words—of what happened next.
He had to leave the next night, so I called his class together for a prayer-meeting, and there God kindled a fire in my soul that has never gone out. The height of my ambition had been to be a successful merchant, and if I had known that meeting was going to take that ambition out of me, I might not have gone. But how many times since then I have thanked God for that meeting.
The dying teacher sat in the midst of his class, and talked with them, and read the fourteenth chapter of John. We tried to sing “Blest be the Tie that Binds,” after which we knelt to pray. I was just rising from my knees when one of the class began to pray for her dying teacher. Another prayed, and another, and before we rose the whole class had prayed. As I went out I said to myself, “Oh, God, let me die rather than lose the blessing I have received tonight.”
The next evening I went to the depot to say good-bye to that teacher. Just before the train started, one of the class came, and before long, without any prearrangement, they were all there. What a meeting that was! We tried to sing, but we broke down. The last we saw of the teacher, he was standing on the platform of the rear car, his finger pointing upward, telling that class to meet him in Heaven. (The Life of D. L. Moody, by William R. Moody, pp. 62-66)
Let’s Go Fishing
The Bible says that “those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3) There is indeed a special reward for those who share the good news of Jesus Christ. They shall shine like the stars throughout all eternity. And the glory of that shining will far surpass the cheap glory of this tawdry world. Is there anything more wonderful than telling the good news to someone who does not know it? Is there anything more ultimately rewarding? Once we have done it, will we ever be satisfied with anything else?
It’s true that most of us will never be like Billy Graham or D. L. Moody. That’s perfectly okay because God hasn’t called us to be like them. Our call is just to give the gospel to those who will receive it and invite men and women to join us in the family of God.
Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) Our part is to follow him and his part is to make us fishers of men. Go ahead and put your hook in the water. And don’t be surprised if the fish are biting all over the place. Let’s go fishing for men this week.