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Like Father, Like Son taps fishing to nurture committed, faithful men

KIMBERLING CITY, Mo. (BP)–Let’s say God lays it on your heart to help fathers do a better job of raising their children. But these fathers are a bunch of procrastinators and suspicious. What do you do?
You take aim at the procrastination part by getting dads to commit to an activity with their sons and daughters — in this case, fishing. And you overcome their suspicion by making good on your offer to them — well-run fishing tournaments with lots of nice prizes.
In the process, you strengthen families and win people to Christ.
Like Father, Like Son is a fast-growing organization founded five years ago by Larry Sifford, a Baptist layman from Kimberling City, Mo. Recently on Missouri’s Table Rock Lake, 114 father-son, father-daughter and grandparent-grandchild teams competed in the season-ending LFLS regional tournament.
They qualified by fishing in at least three of a half-dozen state tournaments conducted in Missouri — and in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Illinois and Kansas — over the year. The only age requirement is that participants must be at least 7 years old, which makes for a wide range of competitors.
“We’ve got 70-year-old dads fishing with 40-year-old sons,” Sifford noted.
Four of the teams went home with new, fully equipped fishing boats. All of them went home with memories of hours spent together on the water. And 15 participants went home having made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ.
Motivated by guilt over not spending enough time with his own two sons, Sifford, a former marine dealer and resort operator, launched Like Father, Like Son in 1993. It started as an awareness program, with a video series and a workbook.
But fathers needed something functional, something they could put on their calendars. “Fishing was the best vehicle we could find.”
The Bible commands parents to write God’s law on their children’s hearts, Sifford said. “When do fathers have time in today’s world to do that?” Up to eight hours together in a fishing boat allows time.
Sifford’s concept has caught on in a big way, spreading to 10 states and spawning a magazine with a circulation of 80,000. In March 1999, the first LFLS Grand National Championships will take place in Cypress Gardens, Fla.
Besides strengthening families, LFLS is designed to win people to the Lord. But it takes a subtle, “lifestyle evangelism” approach. For example, alcoholic beverages are prohibited.
“You’ve got to understand the mentality of the fisherman,” Sifford said. “Fishermen are known as the world’s biggest liars. In order for a fisherman to believe another fisherman, he’s got to build trust and credibility with his peers.”
Sifford applies this reasoning to LFLS. He advertises to fishermen that they can compete in tournaments and win prizes. Then he delivers on his promise, with the help of corporate sponsors.
This way, when he shares the gospel with them, they are ready to listen. And they are inclined to believe that what he tells them is true.
Attendance always is good at the “fathering seminar” during the regional tourney. This year, it took place in First Baptist Church, Kimberling City, where Sifford is a member.
The fishermen have to go to the seminar to get their tickets for a drawing that takes place the next day. Since the prize is a $20,000 bass boat, they go. And they hear the gospel.
Early the next morning, the teams were back on the water for a second day of fishing. The regional tournament is the only LFLS event in which participants fish on Sunday. A brief devotional service preceded the launch.
Ryan Sifford, 18, is Larry and Judy Sifford’s younger son. Ryan said he appreciates the time his dad has spent fishing with him. He learned technique, but that was not the only benefit. “Just the quality time is something that you can’t ever replace.”
The grins of the youngsters as their catches were weighed for the tournament confirmed that they all felt like winners.
Fast facts about Like Father, Like Son:
— Each of the 10 state organizations conducts a “tournament trail” of three to six events that lead up to a regional tournament.
— A membership costs $25 per two-person team the first year, $15 thereafter. Members receive a LFLS cap and a subscription to The Family Fisherman magazine.
— Tournament entry fees are $50 per team in the bass division and $25 per team in the panfish division.
— For information about LFLS, call 1-800-501-FISH; fax, (417) 336-0222; or write 205 W. Atlantic, Suite I, Branson, MO 65616.
— Visit the Like Father, Like Son site on the Internet at www.lfls.com.

    About the Author

  • Tim Palmer