A Christian friend who is a professional fishing guide (and practical joker) invited me to go fishing with him. The trip would be in the middle of the night, under a full moon, out on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. How could I resist? On our way out, he asked me: “So, Dave…how much do you know about fishing?” Knowing a setup when I see one, and when I am out of my depth, I quoted Peter Sellers from the film, The Party, “Only enough to get me into trouble!” Selah. By the way, we caught lots of good fish. I can’t afford a boat, so one place I like to fish is from the rocks at Fitzroy Island. The tendency is to cast far out to sea, because surely all the big fish must be way out there! Then you notice a bloke in a boat, casting toward the rocks, because surely all the big fish must be hiding between the rocks! Selah. The comparison between catching fish and winning souls was made by Jesus Christ, to the disciples, some of whom were professional fishermen, so it must be valid…
“Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
At that time and place, fishing was mainly about using nets, rather than hiding a hook with bait, or using other methods of fishing. The disciples were given the commission of declaring the good news, and hauling people into heaven.
In spite of my numerous personal shortcomings, the ideas and suggestions presented here may be helpful to some. At least we can aim for ideals. Your comments and suggestions are welcome. See also tips-for-distributing-tracts2 .
Perhaps the first thing we should notice about the “fishers of men” verses is that it says
“Follow Me”, and then, “and I will make you fishers of men”. So, if we are not following and abiding in Christ, we should not expect to influence or convert people. Also, evangelism is the Lord’s work, and without Him we can do nothing: “I am the vine, and you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing”. John 15:5. Also: “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it…” Psalm 127:1a.
In the Bible, evangelism is likened to fishing, and also to agriculture, with terms such as sowing, watering and harvesting, as well as to ambassadorship. Perhaps an overarching guiding principle in evangelism should be that of ambassadorship – that we constantly remind ourselves that we have been given or entrusted with the “ministry of reconciliation”, and that we are “ambassadors for Christ”.
“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:18.
Also, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” 2 Cor. 5:20.
and, “… I have been entrusted with a stewardship.” 1 Cor. 9:17.
All Christians are ambassadors for Christ. Evangelism is the responsibility of all Christians, not only missionaries and church leaders. If we are truly thankful for our salvation, and have a genuine love for God and for others, then we should feel compelled, even driven, to share with others the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, so that they too can go to heaven.
Much is expected of ambassadors. Some of the things we might expect of an ambassador include:
loving and faithfully representing their country, the head of their country, and the people of their country,
being very familiar with, and having the best interests of the above at heart,
having the personal skills and qualities required, such as diplomacy, courtesy, empathy, cultural sensitivity, integrity, dedication, diligence, appropriate personal presentation, etc., etc.
Christians have an even higher calling – ambassadors representing the Lord Jesus Christ, the KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:16), and the heavenly country.
SOME IDEAS AND TIPS FOR EVANGELISM
Be prepared. The Scout’s motto. Before any evangelistic endeavours it pays to be prepared:
with your own prayers and those of others supporting you,
with tracts or other evangelism materials, your Bible, preferably carried on you at all times, just in case you are presented with an opportunity at any time,
and with some appropriate Bible verses memorised, and/or marked in your Bible.
With both fishing and evangelism, we need to always be on the lookout for opportunities and be prepared and ready with the right tools, skills, knowledge, and attitudes for the job.
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;” 1 Peter 3:15.
“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2.
The version of the Bible you use is a personal choice, and while I like the trustworthiness and the language of the King James (about three quarters of which is a verbatim translation of the beautiful English of the genius William Tyndale and his Geneva Bible), a more readily understandable modern English version may be more appropriate for use in the street. This is because you may be talking to people who do not have a good command of even modern English, never mind the English of the seventeenth century, or you may be speaking to people who do not speak much English at all (English may be their second or third language).
I have tried using the King James for witnessing at the local fruit and vegetable market, which mostly resulted in some strange looks of incomprehension. My personal preference in this case is the New King James, but as I said, it is a personal choice, and this is just my personal experience. The main thing is to spread the good news, by any and every means possible.
Attracting people to Christianity
As fish are drawn in with a net, or attracted to bait, so we need to think about what will attract people to Christ, and about what hurdles may exist that prevent them coming to Christ.
Firstly, those who do not know or understand that God is holy and will rightly judge us for our sins, may see no reason to come to Christ, to accept His sacrifice on the cross to pay for our sins. For many, a basic and simple explanation of the gospel is needed before they will be attracted to Christ. Secondly, both the example of a good individual witness, and an obvious loving relationship between Christians, can attract people to Christianity.
An example of a good public individual witness would be all the faithful and stalwart souls who teach religious education in schools, and Sunday school teachers.
An example of a good collective public witness could be two or more people handing out tracts on the street, who are in the public eye, and who always act with grace regardless of the circumstances, and have obvious Christian love for one another.
We also need to consider the hurdles that turn people away from Christianity. Some may have a false impression or impressions which understandably turn them off. It may be necessary to clarify numerous issues. For example, many do not know that genuine Biblical Christianity has been and is frequently misrepresented, often in a deliberate smear campaign. Just a few examples of misguided notions about genuine Biblical Christianity which turn people away are as follows:
The Crusades. They were not driven by, and are antithetical to the teachings of Christ, but are often used as an argument to turn off people from Christianity. The Crusades are also used as an excuse by some people looking for excuses to avoid accepting that they are sinners in need of a Saviour, and by some to slander genuine Christianity.
Priests molesting children is certainly the opposite of what Biblical Christianity is about. According to the Bible, church leaders of any description should be married, and sexual activity is supposed to be confined to monogamous, married, consenting adults of the opposite sex.
That the church only wants your money. The pressure to tithe puts people off Christianity. Many more people might get saved if they knew that Biblical Christian giving is about willingness and ability. See my article: final-giving .
Creation/evolution, and so on. It may be a long, uphill battle, to present the truth, and to convince someone that genuine Biblical Christianity is misrepresented.
Adapt, Improvise, Overcome
The unofficial motto of the U.S. marines. We don’t intend to overcome anybody, so a more appropriate motto for evangelism might be “Adapt, Improvise, Win”; as in winning souls. Or perhaps, “Adapt, Innovate, Win”.
Adapt and improvise/innovate
Many of us are perfectionists and don’t want to do something unless everything is organised and perfect beforehand. However, with evangelism, because it is so important, I believe that it is better to get started, to get going, and to fine tune and improve later. We need to improvise as we go. I think the following quote from George Washington Carver, a Christian and a scientist applies:
So, make a start and improvise as you go. We need to be innovative and creative in evangelism. The most innovative evangelism technique I can think of is where hot air balloons have been used to get Christian materials into North Korea. We need more ideas like that. Some other examples of innovative evangelism include Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron’s “Way of the Master” or “What did Jesus do?”approach, and Arthur Stace writing the word “Eternity” in white chalk on the pavements/sidewalks around Sydney, Australia. Another idea which I think is good is the provision of audio scriptures to unreached people in their own language.
Just to spark or even provoke your creativity, the following photos show some innovative fishing techniques, some lessons from nature, if you like:
Canopy fishing (also called shading):
These birds make a shady parasol or umbrella with their wings. Small fish, that may be frightened by other birds nearby, flee to what looks like a shady, safe haven, and are caught by the bird. The technique is called canopy fishing. Of course I am not suggesting that we evangelise using deceit. See also the fish trap photos at the bottom of this page.
Humpback whales Bubble-net fishing below:
Bubble-net fishing is an amazing technique where whales make bubbles which scare the fish. The whales circle closer and closer, moving upwards at the same time, until the school of fish forms a tight, concentrated ball near the surface of the water. The whales then lunge upward in unison, to catch masses of fish in huge gulps.
It is mind-boggling to me that presumably an individual whale must at some point have worked out that fish moved away from its bubbles, and put two and two together, and worked out in addition that making a circle of bubbles would scare the fish into a ball, so that lunging at the tight ball meant that you caught more fish per mouthful. The whale would then have had to demonstrate (or communicate in some fashion), the idea to other whales, plus all the whales would then have to co-operate as a team to get the best results. Perhaps a mother whale worked this out, and her calf or calves, who would naturally tend to imitate her, followed suit, and perhaps other whales in a pod were watching, and caught on. Interestingly, the technique is used in various parts of the world, and also by seals and sharks (just circling, not bubbles), dolphins, killer whales, penguins, etc.
Some birds have excellent eyesight and swoop down from above and catch fish that come close to the surface. Some well-known examples include Ospreys, African Fish Eagles, North American Bald Eagles, White-bellied Sea-eagles, many species of Kingfisher, Gannets, Terns, etc.
If something changes, we need to be quick to adapt and change to catch any new opportunity.
In 1 Corinthians 9: 19-23, the Apostle Paul suggested that we adapt ourselves to the people we are dealing with: “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22b, and, “just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” 1 Cor. 10:33. Also, “We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed.” 2 Cor. 6:3.
Using another, agricultural analogy, seeds need to be sown and watered before there is any reaping/harvesting, (or winning of souls) to be done. Prayers need to go out for all involved. Once someone is won to Christ, they should ideally be discipled and receive pastoral care in a Bible-believing Church, so that they can grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Priorities, persistence, politeness, presentation, peace
In real estate and retail circles, there is a saying that the most important things are the three “P”s – “position, position, position” (or location, location, location). In evangelism, I suggest the following five “P” s – “priorities, persistence, politeness, presentation, and peace”.
“No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please Him who enlisted him as a soldier.” 2 Timothy 2:4. This is a difficult and challenging issue. For most of us, there are so many responsibilities that compete for our attention. If you are married, your spouse and perhaps children rightfully expect a great deal from you, and you have a moral obligation to be a good spouse and a good parent. You may have a demanding job or jobs, or be entangled in one or more business interests. There are also many distractions…perhaps sport, social life, TV, computer games, various hobbies etc., etc., etc. All these things may have their place, but evangelism should still be one of our top priorities, and preferably the top priority.
We are unlikely to achieve much with a lukewarm attitude. Just how important evangelism is, and an indication of the level of dedication, sacrifice and commitment which may be involved, is provided by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 7. His message is explained well by MacDonald (1995): “The conclusion is that he who gives himself in marriage does well, but he who maintains the unmarried state for greater service for the Lord does better”. This may not be a popular message, but if God gives you the grace to cope with being single, or the grace to remain single after marriage is over, and be without parenting commitments; then you are likely to have greater flexibility, freedom, and possibly, but not necessarily, more time, to serve the Lord.
To not be married, and not have children, is too great a sacrifice for many, but, as Paul says, the time is short. As hard as it may be, we may need to make some tough decisions and tough sacrifices, to cut out or at least reduce the time we spend on less important things, and to make evangelism the top priority.
In Romans 12:1 it is written “…present your bodies a living sacrifice…”. In the two photos below, notice how the birds have no distractions, no other priorities – it is all focus and concentration on the single task at hand. Keeping the main thing the main thing.
We have need of endurance and persistence in evangelism. Results may take a great deal of consistent effort over a very long time (years, decades), and we may only know the results when we get to heaven. It is very easy to become discouraged, if there is a lack of interest and a seeming lack of results, however: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap: if we faint not.” Galatians 6:9. We may also have to deal with a lot of rejection. Three divorced men were handing out tracts one day, and one of them commented, “You know, I think God makes special use of divorced men to hand out tracts…perhaps it is because we are used to rejection!” On the other hand, there is also such a thing as flogging a dead horse. If you have thoroughly tried something, and it consistently fails to provide results over a long period of time, it may be time to change the place, the time, the method, or some or all of these. If you keep doing what you are doing, you will keep getting what you are getting. Time for innovation. It is worth looking up the story of Frank Jenner (sometimes referred to as Mr. Gennor). An encouraging story about persistence in giving out the gospel when there are no apparent results.
Part of persistence. Patience – as rare as common sense. This reminds me of the man who prayed to God to give him patience “Oh God, please give me patience…and give it to me now!” Evangelism takes time and repeated effort, regardless of results.
It should go without saying that we should be polite when handing out tracts or street preaching. We should not be argumentative, domineering, strident, or “holier than thou”. We need to be careful not to “get in someone’s face” or be “Bible bashers”. Paradoxically, politeness and courtesy have become uncommon, and so it is easy to stand out as a good witness if you are polite and courteous. “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perchance will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth.” 2 Timothy 2:24,25, (and 1 Peter 3:15 above: “with meekness”).
On occasion, you may have to deal with scoffers, mockers, and fools. It is worth reading the book of Proverbs for all the references it has to such people, and how basically you can’t win. For example, it is easier said than done, but if someone makes a smart comment it is best not to respond in kind. Also, be careful not to be drawn into a foolish debate with someone who will just waste your time, when other, genuine seekers, may be wanting your attention. Of course the prevalence of scoffers in the last days is prophesied in the Bible, and fulfilled prophecy is one of the many proofs of the Bible, making the scoffer himself living proof of the truth of the Bible. However, I wouldn’t try this argument, it probably won’t work, and probably nothing will, and you will simply be drawn into an argument, which may turn out to be a bad witness. It is desperately sad, but there are only a few who are willing and sufficiently humble to enter by the narrow gate. (Matthew 13:8). “Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days…” 2 Peter 3:3a, “…And from such people turn away!” 2 Timothy 3:5b.
First and foremost, evangelism should be honest. See 2 Cor. 6:3 above, and “But we have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifesting the truth commending ourselves to everyman’s conscience in the sight of God.” 2 Cor. 4:2; and 2 Cor. 2:17.
An honest presentation of the gospel requires that we declare “all the counsel of God”, or “the whole counsel of God” – “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” Read Acts 20:27, and Acts 20:20; Jer. 26:2, 8, 15; Jer. 43:1; Josh. 8:34, 35; Rom. 15: 19. We need to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We must not add to or take away from the word of God. For example, even though we wish to avoid being unnecessarily confrontational or assertive, we do need to present the whole gospel, including the less popular issues of sin, God’s righteous judgment, and hell. That is after all why it is the the good news… that we can be saved from judgment for our sins, and hell, the just punishment for our sins.
Presentation – materials.
We should use the best quality materials we can afford, and check that they are doctrinally correct and appropriate to the culture/people/place. They should ideally also have a space for a stamp (your church location and times of worship, for example), and perhaps suggested books, websites etc. to enable further enquiry and study.
Presentation – finances.
If at all possible, I think it is best if we can present the gospel without charge, as Paul endeavoured to do. He was largely self-supporting, working as a tentmaker when he could. See 1 Corinthians chapter 9 and 10:33, on this topic. There is an organisation called tentmakers that try to do this today, by working overseas and combining this with evangelism. Evangelism materials and methods, including handing out tracts, or putting them in letter boxes, and placing posters on notice boards, are not that expensive. We can also donate to organizations that distribute Bibles and audio materials around the world, and those that train locals for evangelism and discipling. This may sound more mercenary than missionary, but if you live in a developed country, where many are hard-hearted, you may get more return on investment (more souls saved, at less expense) by donating to organisations that work in countries where people have not heard the gospel, and where the people are willing and eager to accept the gospel.
Presentation – personal.
“For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord…” 2 Cor. 4:5. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” 2 Cor. 4:7. We may just be earthen vessels, but I believe that personal grooming is still important when handing out tracts, or street preaching. We are not promoting ourselves, but Christ and Him crucified, but in my opinion, we should still pay attention to personal hygiene, be well groomed, and wear smart casual clothes. We do not want to be unwashed and unkempt at one extreme, nor, on the other extreme, look too slick and polished like we are high pressure salespeople. This approach is open to debate of course (Paul’s statement that we should be “all things to all men”), but even if you are handing out tracts at, for example, an alternative lifestyle folk music festival, it is probably still better to have brushed your teeth and washed beforehand. However, in this case, an evangelism team that has at least some people with beards and long hair could be an advantage. Alternatively, if you are handing out tracts at a business conference, it would probably be best to have short hair, be clean-shaven, and wear a suit (or business clothes for the ladies). Perhaps… just apply common sense and discretion.
Teamwork as part of presentation.
When handing out tracts, two or more people mean that you have a better chance to answer difficult questions on various topics. Also, if you get involved in a conversation with someone who shows interest, it may become apparent after a while that one of the team seems to be getting on with the person better than others – with some sort of personal chemistry at work. If this is the case, it is probably better if the other one or more people step back and leave them to it. From the point of view of the person showing interest, it can be overwhelming or put them off to have three or more people talking to you, especially if they are talking at you.
Always needed, and people praying for those actively involved in evangelism are an equally important part of the team. As King David decided, those who stay with the stuff are just as important as those who go out to war. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of teamwork is mutual encouragement.
Peace, including rest and recuperation are important.
“If the ax is dull,
And one does not sharpen the edge,
Then he must use more strength;
But wisdom brings success.”
In order to be your best, you need to look after yourself, to have regular rest, sleep, and recreation. In his book, “The 7 habits of highly effective people”, Stephen Covey calls this “sharpening the saw”. The idea is that if you have to cut through a lot of timber, you can keep sawing and sawing, but the saw will get blunt, and you will have to put more and more effort into it, for less and less result. However, if you stop to sharpen the saw (rest and recreation), you can get more done, more easily. In the the context of fishing and evangelism, this could be called “mending the nets”. For some, an improvement in diet and/or excercise could be helpful to keep you at your best. Regarding diet, I believe that there is a great deal of misleading information on the topic – I suggest you read the book “Why didn’t my grandmother get fat – and why did I? By David Mason-Jones, email David@journalist.com.au ., and also visit www.biblelife.org/ .
An example of the need for peace and rest, and its recuperative effects, comes from 1Kings 18:20-19:8. Elijah the prophet had just called down fire from heaven and defeated the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. But then he ran from Jezebel when she threatened to kill him. Quoting from MacDonald (1995), “At length he rested under a broom tree, despondent, defeated, and depressed. It is interesting to notice God’s treatment for this severe depression: rest, food and drink; more rest; more food and drink. Thus fortified, the prophet traveled in the strength of that food 200 miles in forty days… and nights, to Mount Horeb (Sinai), where God had given the law to Moses.”
Even though I haven’t called down fire from heaven lately, I think I’ll take a nap.
This Darter is taking time to dry out its wings, before the next fishing trip (the same bird as in the photo above).
If you have ideas or suggestions, please feel free to comment.
MacDonald, William. 1995. Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. Thomas Nelson. ISBN 0-8407-1972-8. Page 1771.
Ibid. Pge 381.
Fish trap photos – another innovative way to catch fish. The fish come in to the lagoon or estuary at high tide, and are trapped during the following low tide. The photos are presented here to stimulate your imagination, in the hope that readers may invent some novel (but not deceptive ) ways of evangelising.