Last week my wife and I went on a trip with some other good friends. Four couples, no kids, good food, on a lake house in Ludington, Michigan. We had a blast. Games, laughter, and lots of time in a giant pontoon boat that could kick it up to 40 MPH. From the boat was some swimming, and lots of fishing. Lots and lots of fishing. Hours and hours of fishing. Despite the fact that it rained the whole time, sunscreen was unnecessary, and it was often sweatshirt weather, I desperately wanted to catch fish. I tried half a dozen different lures. I tried night crawlers. I tried cast-and-reel. I tried trolling. I tried jigging.
I caught nothing. Not even a bite in three days.
Everyone knows the story of the Miraculous Catch, where Peter et al. were out fishing all night and caught nothing. Then, Jesus appears and commands them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. Peter whines about the command, but does it anyway, and behold! Fish. Peter’s reaction is one of repentance. Immediately he knows he isn’t good enough for Jesus’ fishing trip, but Jesus picks him anyway. “Fear not. From now all, I’ll make you fishers of men.” The lesson of Luke 5 is obvious: as Jesus begins to call his disciples, the miraculous catch is symbolic for Christ’s mission. Through the apostles, as through means, Christ will missionize the world, and everyone who believes in his death and resurrection will be brought into the boat.
In the church, we often lament a decreased population of the faithful, and we’ll try anything to turn the tables. There’s a shortage of members, there’s a shortage of pastors, there’s a shortage of churches. This evangelism module worked here, but it didn’t work here, so what gives? I’m not trying that because it doesn’t work. I’m trying this even though I know it won’t work. Then it starts raining and, even though we’ve fished all day, we go home empty-handed.
But we often forget: the apostles didn’t catch a gazillion fish because they used the right lure, right net, or were too stupid not to see a whole school on the other side of the boat. The apostles caught a gazillion fish because Jesus wanted them to catch fish. Likewise, the church doesn’t survive and thrive because of the right program, by-law, or administrative tactic. The church survives and thrives because Jesus wants it to.
I think we have too many goals in the church that are quantitative and not qualitative. We are called to be fishers of men, not counters of heads. We do not have a divine quota that will call the church “successful”. We have our faithfulness to Christ and the authority of his command to preach.
So just quit whining and preach. By all means, change the lure, change the technique, change the bait. But don’t ever forget that the fish won’t bite unless Jesus wants them too.
Don’t give up, and enjoy the company of saints in the meantime. Although it was frustrating for me that I never caught any fish last weekend, I never lost sight of the fact that some of my best friends were in that same boat with me. And next week, with a different set of friends, at a different lake, and in a different boat, I’m going fishing again.
Because even no fish is better than no fishing.