My Daddy is the reason I love to fish. He loved to fish – I don’t think it was just to get away from Momma – he really loved to fish, and he shared that love with me.
It was just two years after Daddy died that my husband Ken and I took a group of high school kids on a wilderness canoe trip to Ontario, Canada in the Lake of the Woods. We had been on the water for eight days. Eight days of paddling, fighting the biting black flies and mosquitoes. Eight days of eating dehydrated food, peanut butter out of a squeeze bag, and trail mix. On the evening of that eighth day, it was time to go fishin’.
The sun was just beginning to bow its head in the western sky. We found a spot full of reeds and lily pads. It looked like an awful place to fish with lures. But we did it anyway.
This is no fish story. As soon as a line hit the water we caught a fish. Bass. Big Bass. Three-four-five-six pound bass. Fighting bass. Hungry bass. And Walleye too. There was even a Northern Pike on somebody’s line. It was wonderful. When we had caught more fish than we knew our group of twenty could eat for a late-night supper and for breakfast the next morning, we stopped.
Now, there’s one thing about that time of fishin’. It was the RIGHT time. It was absolutely clear as the sun began to set. The air was cool. The mosquitoes and flies were quiet for the moment. It was time.
How do we know when it’s time to go fish? Sometimes it takes the shadow of death before it begins to dawn on us that it is time to go fishing. Sometimes we have to be near starvation before we realize it. Sometimes we have to be spiritually empty. Void. Hollow. Maybe it takes something tragic, like the loss of someone we dearly love. Or maybe it is something less drastic, like general malaise or depression. Maybe it’s the bottom of a bottle, or the end of a rope.
Then it begins to dawn on us. “It’s time to go fishin’.” Time to take a break from the over-wrought business of our lives and sit and listen to the wind in the reeds and the frogs on the lily pads. Time to be still and wait. Time to collect our wits so we can then move forward in life with a purpose.
In order to catch a good fish, we must first be caught. We first have to be convinced that we are doing what we need to be doing--otherwise fishing is the most miserable thing in the world. Time drags on for an eternity. And those mosquito and fly bites are almost unbearable. Have you ever been fishin’ when you just couldn’t catch a thing? Sitting on a hot, Texas tank dam in about 98 degree weather….sweating in the afternoon...locusts buzzing in the pasture nearby?
The line coming up empty.
That’s when Jesus tells us, as he told Peter – “Put your nets into deeper water!”
Peter didn’t like hearing that – and really, we don’t like it much either.
I can hear Peter saying, “Lord, look, we’ve tried it that way before! And it just won’t work!”
Isn’t that what we tell Christ? “Look Lord, we’ve tried all the church growth ideas, all the evangelism techniques, all the fancy-schmancy do-it-up-right schemes. We’ve started new programs, we’ve tried doin’ VBS again. We’ve worked harder and smarter. And it just won’t work!” My brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to be caught.
I was serving my first church, down in Navarro County. Our little school was having some problems – a 6th grade boy shot himself in the head playing Russian roulette – with six other children from kindergarten to sixth grade watching. Some of them had a made a suicide pact and they had been involved in gang activity. After I went to a program to learn about gang intervention, I spent a day with six of the juvenile probation officers of Ellis County. They were wonderful and helped me learn so much.
Toward the end of the day, I gathered up all my courage and I asked that group of people who knew more troubled teens than most of our churches will ever meet…I asked them, “If there was one thing you could say to the churches in our community, what would it be?”
They said, “Tell your people to get their backsides out of the pew and onto the streets, because THAT is where our kids are! Gangs know that – that is where they recruit. And tell your church that if—IF!—one of our kids should happen to wander inside the church (but don’t worry, that probably won’t happen) you only get one chance. Don’t treat them like they are weird, or bad. Just love them.”
Do you LOVE to fish?
There is a difference between fishin’ because we love to fish… and fishin’ to boost the numbers… or bring in the bucks…. Friends, those are NOT the reasons we are supposed to fish! We are supposed to fish because that is what we are called to do! It is the fabric of who we are! It is the air we breathe. When we fish because we love to fish… when we love to fish so much that we are willing to put our nets into deep water, or as the language in the similar story in the gospel of John says… when we cast our nets on the other side of the boat… when we fish because we know it is time to go fishin’... Well there is just nothing as magnificent as that.
Culture of the Call
Perhaps what the phrase “culture of the call” identifies is not the need for some special program or youth rally; but instead the willingness on the part of those of us who serve in ministry to speak up when we see someone else who has the gifts of ministry. We are the ones who need to stop with our business and take the time to do some ministry. Perhaps it is the adult leadership – laity and clergy alike – who ought to attend “culture of the call” weekends so that we can practice having the courage to be on level with others and vulnerably admit that we felt God moving and ask, “Did you feel God tugging at your heart too?”
What I wonder is, is our crisis really that of clergy who are bitter and burned out to the point that we fail to encourage those who are passionate and eager to give their entire lives in service to God. I wonder if we have a crisis of Christians who are mature in years of service, but not in discipleship.
We pastors often ask one another, “Who ordained you into ministry?” Perhaps the Bishop laid her hands upon your head and ordained you to serve God through the Church; but who first ordained you to serve God? Who helped you hear and understand that God was, God is, calling you? Who helped you to clarify that God was, God is, calling you to be set apart?
For Esther, it was her uncle Mordecai; for Samuel, his mother and then later Eli; for the Ethiopian Eunuch, Philip; for Peter, Cornelius. In every generation God raises up people who are courageous and bold, who are willing to follow God and encourage others to do the same. For whom are you a mentor in Christ?
How many of us pray for our children to live out their call in God? Is there anything sweeter than seeing one of our own being baptized in the waters of God’s grace? What about on the other side? Do we continue to encourage our beloved to live into the fullness of who God has called them to be in the world?
When that same child announces that he is going to give the rest of his life serving as a missionary teaching farming to the people of Africa; when she proclaims that in order to follow God she will serve a gang-infested inner city and work with the children there; when he quietly says, “Mom, Dad, this is what I am called to do!” and you know that decision may cost him his life, and at the very least will evoke times of bitter suffering; how do we respond in those times? Did we once have those “I can change the world!” dreams… only to watch them fade with the graying of the years?
In who have you observed God at work? Who have you noticed that God might be calling to be set apart? What have you done about that observation? Are you intentionally mentoring that person? Have you had coffee or at least a brief conversation? Are you helping others see that God may be calling them into full-time ordination or Christian service?
Once we are really caught, we love to fish. We love fishin’ so much that we are willing to spend the rest of our lives fishin’ off a dock, or in a marina; off jetties and standing on piers; at home or away. We fish early in the morning or late into the night, in deep and in shallow water. Once we are caught there is just nothing better than fishin’ and catchin’ fish for The One who calls us to throw our nets on the other side of the boat, far into the deep water.
This article is excerpted from the author's forthcoming book, Lord, I Love the Church and We Need Help, part of the Adaptive Leadership Series from Abingdon Press. Download a complete chapter in PDF format below.
Available for preorder at Cokesbury.com.