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Lessons from fishing apply to evangelism, Warren says

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–If you want to be a successful fisherman, you don’t look for the most comfortable spot on the lake, said Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Instead, you go to where the fish are and you make it as easy and attractive as possible for the fish to swallow your hook.

Warren said the same is true when fishing for men: “Unfortunately, many churches don’t take the time to understand the people they want to reach and they don’t have a strategy. They want to win people to Christ as long as it can be done in a comfortable way.”

Speaking before 2,500 ministers from 34 countries during a May 15-17 Purpose Driven Church seminar, Warren said he learned this principle from his father, who was a fisherman.

“If there was only one fish in a lake or stream my dad would catch it,” Warren said. “As I got older I realized his secret: My dad understood fish and caught them on their terms. In contrast, I never had a strategy whenever I went fishing. I’d cast out anywhere in the lake hoping something might bite. While my dad would crawl through brush or get wet up to his waist in order to get to where the fish were, my fishing spots were usually determined by what was most comfortable to me. I had no strategy and my results showed it.”

Warren said Jesus gave five fishing guidelines for evangelism and that Saddleback grew from only four members to over 15,000 by using this simple strategy:

1) Know What You’re Fishing For.

“The kind of fish you want to catch will determine every part of your strategy,” Warren said. “Fishing for bass, catfish or salmon requires different equipment, bait and timing. You don’t catch marlin the same way you catch trout. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to fishing, and the same is true in fishing for men.”

Warren noted that when Jesus sent his disciples out on their first evangelistic campaign he clearly defined the target. Matthew 10:5-6 reads, “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.'”

2) Go Where The Fish Are Biting.

“It’s a waste of time to fish in a spot where the fish aren’t biting,” Warren said. “Wise fishermen move on. They understand that fish are not hungry all the time.”

Sometimes unbelievers are more responsive to spiritual truth than at other times, Warren said, noting that the apostle Paul’s strategy was to go through open doors and not waste time banging on closed ones. Don’t focus your efforts on people who aren’t ready to listen, said Warren, adding, “There are far more people in the world ready to receive Christ than there are believers ready to witness to them.”

3) Learn To Think Like A Fish.

In order to catch fish, it helps to understand their habits, preferences and feeding patterns, Warren said. “Jesus often knew what unbelievers were thinking,” Warren noted. “He understood and defused the mental barriers people held. This is the reason he was so effective in dealing with people.

“We must learn to think like unbelievers in order to win them,” Warren continued. “The problem is, the longer you are a believer the less you think like an unbeliever. Your interests and values change. You must intentionally change mental gears when seeking to relate to non-Christians.”

Using church advertising as an example, Warren said most of it is written from a believer’s viewpoint, not from the mindset of the unchurched. “When you see a church ad that announces, ‘Preaching the inerrant Word of God,’ who do you think that ad appeals to?” he asked.

Warren said he considers the inerrancy of Scripture as a non-negotiable belief but the unchurched don’t even understand the term. “If you’re going to advertise your church you must learn to think and speak like unbelievers,” Warren said. “The spiritual terminology that Christians are familiar with is just gibberish to the unchurched.”

4) Catch Fish On Their Terms.

Warren said too often cultural differences between believers and unbelievers become barriers to getting the message out. He said for some Christians any talk of “adapting to their culture” sounds like theological liberalism.

“But this is not a new fear,” Warren said. “It’s the reason the apostles held the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15. In those days the issue was, ‘Do Gentile believers have to follow Jewish customs and culture to be considered true Christians?’ The apostles and elders answered with a clear ‘No way!’

“The gospel is always communicated in the terms of some culture,” Warren noted. “The only question is ‘Which one?’ No church can be culturally neutral. It will express some culture because it is composed of human beings.

“The problem with many churches today is that they’re stuck in the culture of the 1950s — using bait and hooks that worked in that era — and they’re wondering why the fish are no longer biting,” Warren said.

5) Use More Than One Hook.

Warren said people have a myriad of choices today, yet many churches offer only two choices: Take it or leave it!

“It’s not pandering to consumerism to offer multiple times or even styles of worship services,” Warren said. “It’s strategic and it’s unselfish. It says we will do whatever it takes to reach more people for Christ. The goal is not to make it as difficult as possible but to make it as easy as possible for the unchurched to hear about Christ.”

Growing churches offer multiple programs, multiple services and sometimes even multiple locations, Warren added, and they realize it takes all kinds of approaches to reach all kinds of people.

“Jerry Falwell calls it ‘saturation evangelism’: using every available means to reach every available person at every available time.”

Tapes from the Purpose Driven Church seminar are available at www.pastors.com.
Walker is editor of Rick Warren’s Ministry ToolBox, a free e-zine available through www.pastors.com. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: PURPOSEFUL COUNSEL.

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  • Jon Walker