No catch and release

On a recent visit to Iowa a few of us men had much conversation about fishing. Winter is the season of ice fishing. There is much preparation needed prior to walking out on a frozen lake to fish. While similar to other fishing equipment, ice fishing gear is designed for winter specific. Many hours of fish talk were had and to hear the stories created in me an excitement about fishing. Because of his experience with ice fishing I have become a student of my nephew who is a full thirty years younger than me. He took the time to explain the reasons for choosing particular colors of lures. As my nephew prepared for a trip to Minnesota with his dad he searched the internet for tips on Walleye ice fishing. I listened with interest as he explained the plan for how to find the best location and what tackle he would use. One should never be too old to learn.

It is altogether easy for me to see the parallel between fishing and evangelism. An analogy of evangelism is being “fishers of men.” As such, when we catch a fish (lead someone to Christ) we may get all excited about the catch and overlook their struggling. The reality is they can’t breathe in the new surroundings. They are fish out of water. What they want is to go back where they came from. A tendency is to either throw them back in to the polluted water we just pulled them from or leave them on the bank to dry in the sun. What we should do is take them to ‘streams of living water’ where they can grow and prosper. Sadly what is often thought of as discipleship (leading them to living water) is using a stringer or basket to hold the “fish” we catch. This is done by imposing rules on new believers about how to live and act.

The terminology “fishers of men” comes from Matthew 4:18-20, Mark 1:16-18 NIV 16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.

To understand this verse a better it needs to be understood that Peter and Andrew were fisherman by trade. In addition they were also Jews who followed proper customs of their day. When Jesus spoke the term “I will make you fishers of men” the analogy would have had a special meaning to them. They would have understood the necessity of preparation to fish. Timing was important, as was weather conditions. In addition what they needed to do with the catch afterwards. The fact that they immediately left everything and followed Jesus has often been misunderstood. This was not an irresponsible act. The text suggests Jesus gave a command not a pretty please. In Jewish customs it was highly desirable to learn directly under a teacher of the law. Being uneducated, not wealthy fisherman, this would have been a golden opportunity. In the same way we are not worthy to be followers of Christ yet God calls us his own. We should consider doing His work our first priority.    

WHAT IS EVANGELISM? A definition is sharing news of something in order to convince someone to join or otherwise accept it. It is also the process of evangelizing. By definition evangelism can be the act of recruiting for a fraternity or supper club. When evangelism is used in ‘christianese’ terms it is sharing the gospel in order to reach the lost of the world. We do this because Christ commanded us to. The Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:18-20. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.(19) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

1.    The command is to ‘go’. It is hard to catch fish if you don’t get near the water.

2.    Evangelism is sharing the gospel message of salvation.

3.    Evangelism is not religious debates.

4.    It is the responsibility of all believers

EVANGELISM CAN BE AN ACT OF WORSHIP Psalms 40:8,10 I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart….(10) I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation. I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly.

1.    This passage was written before Jesus came to earth.

2.    The gospel message of the time was about the coming of the Messiah. Today we anticipate his return.

3.    Verbally sharing Gods love is an act of worship

EVANGELISM IS A WAY TO BE ACKNOWLEDGED BY THE LORD Matthew 10:32-33 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. (33) But whoever disowns me before men I will disown him before my Father in heaven.”

1. If you want prayers answered you need to acknowledge Jesus before men!

2. This is not optional- if you disown Christ through your words and actions he will disown you before God.

The fishing analogy is useful for thinking in terms of evangelism. For instance a net could represent a community outreach event where many types of people are being reached at once. A fishing pole could represent taking the gospel to one person at a time. Other considerations are things like the right equipment (methods) for the situation. When I go cat fishing at night I like to use a heavy rod with a Zebco 33 with 30 lb. test line. When I go for pan fish I use a very light rod with 4 lb. test line. In the same way it may not be wise to preach hellfire and brimstone to a five year old nor would it be easy to land a streetwise adult with a veggie tales video. It is important to know various methods of sharing the gospel. Just like fishing, preparation happens before you get in the boat!

WHAT IS A DISCIPLE? Three definitions are:

1.    A person who learns from another, especially one who then teaches others.

a.    Fishermen are generally good at this in that they love to tell fish stories and share their favorite techniques with other fisherman as well as learn from other fishermen.

b.    This definition certainly fits well in biblical terms.

2.    An active follower or adherent of someone, or some philosophy etc.

a.    As Christians this would be following Jesus and his teaching.

b.    You are not a fisherman if you never fish.

3.    (Ireland) Miserable-looking creature of a man

a.    Again could be viewed as a fisherman.


How do we learn to fish for men? My dad taught me the basics of fishing such as setting up a line, baiting a hook, how to set a hook and so forth. Previously my dad learned from his dad and other fisherman. I learned various things from other fisherman, in fact the technique I use for tying hooks and lures came from a boy about my age when I was twelve. I taught my kids the same technique along with the basics passed on to me. A part of learning the basics of fishing was what to do with the fish that are caught. The ones deemed unwanted were tossed back or in some cases left on the bank to dry up. The fish deemed as ‘keepers’ were put on a stringer, fish chain, or a basket to be taken home and cleaned. In a way the cycle of discipleship of fishing was complete when I began teaching my own kids. Discipleship can be thought of as the process of teaching how to release the fish that are caught into streams of living water not just cleaning them.

Discipleship can come in the form of many venues. The traditional method is individual training with a disciple of Christ. Additionally there is a personal responsibility to learn scripture and study Gods word. There is also great value in ministry school, Christian radio programs, and never to be neglected gathering of fellow believers. My dad did not teach me everything he knew about fishing nor did he teach me everything I know about fishing.


Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Notice it says in verse twelve the ‘body of Christ.’ Clearly the responsibility of discipleship falls on all believers by working with the gifts given to us and the calling Christ has placed in our lives. It is important to serve God with our possessions and skills however we must not replace discipleship with activity! Discipleship can occur during times of activity but they are not the same. The challenge I propose is prayerfully and willingly consider:

1.    Your role as an evangelist for Christ.

2.    Are you being discipled?

3.    Are you discipling?

Remember there is no catch and release when fishing for men!


Rev. Burt Schwab

About burtschwab

I currently live in Iowa, USA. My goals are to simply live life as a journey and embrace each day. I am married to a wife with similar passions and that makes me a blessed man.
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