Fishing Lessons

By Mike Mazzalongo Topic: Evangelism Posted: Sun. Oct 18th
Mike reviews 7 parallels between fishing for fish and "fishing for men."

I don't think you understand how strange it is for me, born in downtown Montreal, talk about the inner city, to be preaching this lesson about fishing. When there may be many here who know a whole lot more about this sport than I do. Just a little background information. I was born in the Jewish, Greek, Italian, neighborhood park extension it was called. It was the inner city,

That store which is I think a little coffee joint now, that used to be the Montreal broom and brush factory where they made brooms and brushes downstairs, and my window is that window up there. And in those days, the tramways, you know the trolley cars would go along Bernard Street, they rumbled past my front doorway, of as I say, it was a boarding house that my parents lived in, when I was born. There were five borders, the lady who owned it was on the first floor there, and then on the second floor, where there were five borders, and one bathroom. And the five borders were not related to each other.

They just each had a room and they use the bathroom and we just waited to use the bathroom, I remember. There were no trees, there were no yards, there were no porches. Only a stoop. You see the little stoop there? Only the stoop and I still remember that I would sit there as a little boy and my activity would be to watch the traffic go by. I didn't see a cow, up close in personal, until I was 12 years old. And the first time that I was in a rowboat, and given a fishing rod, my notes a pole, but I've been corrected fishing rod, I think I was 13, maybe 14 years old.

So I have no memories of camping, or the woods or fishing or hunting or any of these types of activities. When I was a kid, my father Tony, my father and son outings happened when my dad who was a bookie for the local mob in Montreal, would send a taxi for me, at 10 o'clock I'd get a call saying, my mother worked at night, and I'd get a call and it'd be maybe 10 o'clock on a Thursday night. And he'd say, "Mikey." Yeah. He says, "Okay." He says you want to have supper?" "Okay." "So go ahead put on your best suit and you can borrow my cufflinks, and I'll send a car for you." And the car would come for me late at night, and it would take me to some Italian restaurant downtown where my father was doing business. And I would have supper with him. And then that car would then take me home after, cause after all, it was a school night, I had to get in before midnight. Now I say all of this so you won't assume that I'm some kind of sportsman with lots of experience, you know, fishing for fish.

Of course, since my adolescent years, I have been fishing with others. And I have come to understand the joys, some of them, that this sport brings to the many who participate in it. More importantly, as a Bible teacher, my fishing experiences have helped me to see certain parallels between fishing and ministry, especially the ministry of evangelism, something that Marty has been talking about, during his class in the last several weeks.

Perhaps Jesus had these parallels in mind when he called professional fishermen to become fishers of men. These parallels can certainly help us to examine ourselves as we observe our own ability and work as all winners, especially here, where we've not seen a whole lot of fishing, lately.

Evangelism and Fishing

And let's look therefor at seven parallels between fishing for fish and fishing for men.

1. You don't catch any fish unless you go fishing.

I'm starting easy here. Like everything else in life, fishing takes time. You need to actually go to the lake or to the river. You have to load the gear and get some food ready. An avid fisherman, will make the time for his or her fishing hobby. They'll plan a vacation around it for their organized work to permit weekends off so they can go fishing. Even move to an area where there are lots of lakes and streams that are readily available to practice their sport.

In Matthew 28:19, Jesus says, "Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit." Fishing for men takes time. You have to displace yourself, you have to change your schedule sometimes. You have to get out of your comfort zone, your routine in order to make time for it. In other words, you have to go. Sometimes it means going to pick up a friend and bringing them to church to make sure that they come. Other times it means, going on a campaign or going on a visitation team or just going out of your way to share your faith with someone else. Nobody catches fish while watching TV.

Nobody catches fish while watching TV at home. And no one wins souls unless they move out of their routine, out of their convenience and out of their comfort zone.

2. You have to fish where the fish are.

The fish rarely come to you. There's no fish call like they have for ducks. Maybe there is but I haven't heard it. Some fish won't move even a few inches to take your bait. You have to bring that thing right next to them. When trying to reach souls with the gospel, the same principle is at work. You have to bring the gospel to the people, because very few are going to come knocking on the church door to hear it. I've been a minister for over 40 years. And I can count and this is true, I can count on just one hand, the number of people who have actually sought me out and said, "You know what? Could you explain the gospel to me?" In 40 years, that's only happened just a few times.

That's why each congregation needs to invest time and money and effort to spread the good news of Jesus to as many places as possible. For example, some churches bring the gospel to other nations through their efforts in Bible correspondence work. Others support missionaries or good works, like Bible distribution in other places. As an example of what regular churches can do, right here in Choctaw, for example, we support two missionaries. One in Haiti and one in Kenya.

And what do they do? They bring the gospel to the people of their nation, in their own language, in their own culture. We here at Choctaw also stream our services live from our church website. And it has the potential to go to anyone in the world who wants to view our services and more importantly, hear the gospel being preached from our pulpit.

We also maintain an active youth group ministry and I can tell you in most churches, surveys tell us, that the majority of conversions, the majority of new Christians, the majority of individuals who are baptized, can be traced back to the ministry that takes place in the youth group, a very important ministry.

We've also been involved in world Bible school for over 30 years. I can't tell you how many souls the world Bible school is responsible for teaching and bringing to Christ. Several generations of individuals, in this congregation have worked for or have directed the world Bible school program, and of course, our own BibleTalk.tv, our online teaching ministry that reaches people all over the world.

The idea is that each person is encouraged to get a line in the water, in order to evangelize. Each person here has the potential of bringing the Gospel to their homes, their schools, their businesses and their friends in the community. In order to catch them for Christ, we need to bring the gospel to them. And as soon as each member realizes that each one has this responsibility, then the gospel will begin to spread. The point is that when it comes to catching men, every person in the church is a fisherman. Not just the preachers, not just the elders, and the deacons.

3. Catching fish requires patience.

Some days you catch fish as fast as you can bait your hook. Other days nothing happens. And usually there are more days like this than the other. Fish can usually outwait men. That's a truism in life, for there's a lot at stake at taking the bait. Patience is the fisherman's most important piece of equipment.

Some Christians think that, as soon as they explain the gospel, people ought to respond right away. Well, wait a minute, I told them they need to hear the gospel. I just told him what it was and they need to believe it. And they need to confess Christ, repent and be baptized, bang, what's wrong? How come they're not in the water already? We don't understand that, a lifetime of disbelief, is not wiped away in one single Bible study.

Some folks are ignorant of the word and they need a lot of teaching. Others are caught up in many sins, and they find it hard to let go in one moment. Still, others remain unconvinced for many different reasons.

And they need continual encouragement. It took Jesus several years to bring his own disciples to complete a life changing faith and even after His death, they went back to doubting imagine (Matthew 28:7).

Eventually their faith was strong, and it was well established. We need to remember this idea when tempted to give up on family who don't respond, or friends who refuse invitations to church or young Christians who are slow in developing their faith. Next to the gospel itself, love and patience, are our most important evangelistic tools.

4. Sometimes you have to change your bait.

Different fish are attracted by different approaches. That's why there are so many different lures on the market. In the church, each person has a talent and a role to play for building up of the body. Ephesians four verse 16. When it comes to winning souls, this means that each person has their own way or their own talent to contribute to the overall effort of catching fish or catching men.

For example, I heard of a brother, this was a while back, a brother who worked as a garbage contractor, waste management. And this was back in the day, some of you are old enough to remember. There was a time before they had that electronic arm that goes out and grabs your garbage can and dumps it and puts it back, it wasn't always like that. Back in the day, you had a guy who drove the truck. And you had two other guys who stood in the back of the truck and hung on to the truck, and they'd stop at your house. And these two guys would run over and they'd pick up your garbage can by hand, and they dump it in and then put it back and put your lid on top. Sometimes they put your lid on top, sometimes they just threw your garbage can, 50 feet away from your house. But anyway, that's another story. Well, this brother, he never led a prayer. He was not a man of many words, he was rather shy.But he worked on the garbage truck. And what he would do is, when he'd empty the garbage can, he put a track, a Bible track in the lid of the garbage can, and put the lid back on the garbage can and leave it. That was his way of fishing for men.

So many examples of this, in the church. Some people are good at visiting. I have a son who never met a stranger. Who could invite a telephone pole to church. And the poll would come. Other people are very good at one on one Bible studies, they just have a knack. I remember Lewis Thompson, I keep talking about Lewis Thompson, former minister here, he was the best guy one on one, I'd go with him to the studies and you know me, I like to talk, I would be quiet, I just wouldn't interfere. He was so good at one on one Bible study. That was his talent. There are brethren, who invite people to church and help get them into Bible studies. There are others who teach classes, others who assist in preparing materials.

Others provide the resources, so others can fish. Some people are good fishermen, but they don't have any resources. There's some people who have a lot of resources, but they don't know how to fish very well. You put those two people together, and you've got yourself a fishing expedition. The point here is that, each member needs to ask himself or herself, what is my way? What is my method of winning souls for Christ? Of influencing souls for Christ? We don't all have the same way. But each of us have to have our own way.

How do you personally get a line into the water? What's your way? That's a legitimate subject for prayer. We're asking God for stuff all the time, we're asking Him for things. We're asking Him, you know, we're 60 years old, and we're asking Him, "Help me feel like I felt when I was 30 years old." We're 80 years old and we want to feel like we felt we were 50 years old. How about asking Him, "Lord, please show me how I can get a line into the water, with what I have, with the health that I have, the resources that I have, the skills that I have, the opportunities that I have, show me how I can get just one line into the water."

5. No fish tastes better than our fish.

Our catch tastes the best. I've been fishing several times in my life, but the time I remember most, is when a buddy of mine and I, went trout fishing in the northern streams of Quebec. We caught a mess of rainbow trout. And that night, we prepared them and we cooked them over an open fire. You know, that's so delicious. For those of you who've done that many times, maybe that's nothing but boy, that was a wonderful experience. You know, putting those fresh fish in the batter, wrapping them with bacon, cooking them over in open fire and then just eating it on the same day that you caught. No fish is better and tastes better than our own fish.

Well, a parallel to this, is when the disciples who followed Jesus, had varying degrees of faith and enthusiasm. But in Luke 10:17, we see the Lord choose 70 of these guys to go out and preach the word. He sends them out to fish. And then when they come back, they're flushed with excitement. Why? Well, they began to minister themselves. They didn't just follow Him, they didn't just observe Him, they actually went out and ministered by themselves.

They saw the results of their own work. They felt God's power working through them. They caught some fish. When we are responsible for bringing someone to Christ, we begin to experience the same kinds of things. We feel involved. We feel part of the work, not just observing the work. We not only hear God's word, but we actually see how it affects the lives of other people. We actually feel the presence of the Lord in our lives, as he works his will, through our ministry, whatever that is.

You see, no one who is serving the Lord and bringing souls to Christ, or ministering to the needs of other people, ever felt that the church was boring, or irrelevant. Church is only boring, if all you do is watch. Because church is not meant to be a watch thing. Cause all you get is a guy standing up and speaking for 30 minutes. That's not very exciting. Church is designed for doing, for involvement, not simply for observation. Church is boring only for spectators, not for those who are on the field playing. So to these fishing parallels, first mentioned to me by a brother named Russ Dyer, here in Oklahoma City, I add two other parallels.

6. Fishing abilities are taught.

No one was born knowing how to fish, it is a learned skill. Perhaps I'm not much of a sportsman because I was born and raised in the big city by a father who knew nothing of the outdoors. Children who have moms and dads to teach them these things, I believe are blessed indeed. New Christians are usually enthusiastic about their faith, but like everything else, they need to be taught the skills necessary to share their faith.

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also.
- II Timothy 2:2

Paul taught Timothy, that he needed to teach other faithful men, not only about the faith, but he also had to impress upon them, the need to train others, to train others who could train others, and so on and so on.

This is why rather we should offer classes on personal evangelism every year. In the Choctaw church years ago, a couple of our elders had a class entitled fishers of men. And they would train everyone and anyone who attended, how to share their faith and how to bring someone to Christ using special study material. Teaching that we should teach others, is a basic lesson that every new and old Christian should learn.

7. Both the fish and the fisherman belong to God.

We only catch what God permits, whether we have a sonic depth scanner and fancy lures, and the best spot and terrific weather, we throw the line in, but God is the one who limits the catch.

Sometimes the catch is incredible. Peter's nets almost broke with the huge catch of fish he took after lowering his nets when Jesus told him to. On Pentecost Sunday, 3000 people were baptized after only one sermon, and the church grew to over 5000 after just a short amount of time. Of course, sometimes it's not fishing season. Jeremiah, for example, preached for decades without a single convert. Paul spoke to the Athenians and was brushed away as some kind of a crackpot. Either way, God observes our efforts, and He will provide the catch, as well as our reward, in the end.

We need to remember that as fishers of men, our reward is not based on the number of men we catch for Christ. Our reward is based on whether we went out to fish or simply did nothing to help. You see the ones who win, are the ones who get a line into the water.

Summary

I suspect that there may be many in this congregation, who know a lot about fishing, and who could probably add several more fishing tips to the ones that I've already mentioned. But I don't want us to get lost in the fishing images and examples that I've presented. I've mentioned these to try to impress upon you three important lessons very quickly.

1. If you're a Christian, part of your responsibility, aside from worship and holy living, is to win others for Christ.

Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
- John 15:2

He's talking about fishing here. Every branch, every person in Him needs to fish. The more you fish, the more he'll Bless you. The less you fish, you risk being removed yourself.

2. Each fishes differently.

However, since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to use them properly: if prophecy, in proportion to one's faith;
- Romans 12:6

And then he goes on to name several other gifts. We each have a different way of fishing. But the point I'm trying to make is, each of us has to fish using our own particular way.

3. Fishing is rewarding.

If you can deal with the rejection and the persecution, fishing for souls is the most rewarding and motivating experience in the Christian walk. What does it say in Acts?

41So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not stop teaching and preaching the good news of Jesus as the Christ.
- Acts 5:41-42

This church right here, will not grow just because perhaps we attend a seminar, or maybe we build an auditorium or we paint or we have new classes. That's how the building grows. But the church, the church itself will grow when each member, decides to go fishing with the Lord. There are plenty of fish in Choctaw. A lot of people say, "Oh, we've been here since 1939. Everybody knows were here." And my answer to that is, nobody new has moved into Choctaw lately? There are no different people in those houses out there? Yeah, the houses are the same. But people keep moving in and out of those houses. There are plenty of fish in Choctaw, we just need more brethren to begin sinking a couple of more lines in the water.

A personal testimony, I want to end with in my lesson this morning. I am the product of somebody's fishing expedition. My father, I said the mob guy, he died when I was 15. And for the next 15 years, I followed in his footsteps, determined to live by not working, but rather by hustling other people with questionable rackets and schemes. But then somebody threw a line in the water while I was swimming by at the age of 30.

A local congregation in Montreal, put a small article in the paper that said, "Sinners are welcome at the church of Christ." It was an article about God's love for sinners. As far as I know, I'm the only person that ever responded to that ad. I saw the ad I read the ad and I said, "You know what? They're talking about me." And I decided to go visit the church, as a result of that ad.

And I remember arriving that fall day at this little church here called the Lachine Church of Christ, wearing jeans and a black shirt and a jean jacket and sunglasses, my cigarettes in my pocket and sneaking into the back of the building. And I remember also a nice Jamaican lady, her name was Hamzy Brown. A nice Jamaican lady. She just came and sat next to me. Cause you see, that's the way she fished. She never door knocked. She never taught anybody. But she wasn't shy to come up to this kind of surly, angry young man, and just come and sit next to him. And she showed me how to use the songbook. And she made me feel welcome. And when it was over, she hugged me, you know, as a Catholic, are you kidding me? You don't hug people in church. No, sir. Maybe a handshake, maybe at Easter or something. But she hugged me. And she looked right at me. And she said, "You'll come back next week, won't you?" I said, "Maybe." She said, "I'll be here. I'll be watching for you."

You see, this was a very small congregation, 30 people. It had no building program. It had no dynamic speakers. It had no fancy worship service with state of the art, audio or visual aids. It had no young adult ministry to take care of my particular needs. All it had was this one line in the water, one single line. And all it caught, was one fish with that one line. But you know what, I will be eternally grateful that they put that one line in the water, because the fish they caught was me. And that fish became a fisher of men. And of course with Hal's help, and Choctaw's support, that fish has talked to over 8 million other fish in the last 15 years, using the tool called Bible talk. So God bless you with a great catch, as you fish for the Lord.

If for any reason, you want to become a Christian, or you want to be restored as a faithful Christian, or you need help to be a better fisher of men, then this is a marvelous opportunity for you to do that, as we stand and as we sing our song of encouragement.