This has been cross-posted from my personal blog, www.jimdoepken.com
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22)
We’ve been engaged in a month-long sermon series on evangelism called “Go Fish!” It’s been a powerful experience. While I’d love to say that it’s been powerful because of my dynamic sermons explaining the theology of evangelism and exegeting the biblical texts, I really think the most powerful part of the journey has been when we’ve had laypersons share their faith after the message. It’s been beautiful. It’s been personal. It’s been varied. There was laughter and tears. While this made sense considering our topic, the main point was to help people realize that they each have the ability to put into words what faith, a Scripture passage, church, or salvation means to them. If we’re all going to be “Fishers of People” as Jesus calls his disciples to be, then we all need to find ways to share our faith with others. We all need to find ways to fish. And, frankly, part of that means being able to express what one’s faith is.
Along the way we’ve seen that, while evangelism has often been seen as going door to door with “Bible tracts,” leading persons through the “Romans Road” of salvation, that it’s much more than that. Salvation and relationship with Jesus is more than making a “decision” for Christ but following as a “disciple” of Christ. And moving in that direction happens by way of relationships and calling pesons to journey with us.
The series culminated in our “Change the World Weekend” this past weekend; a United Methodist event where churches got out of their buildings and engaged the world with the love and service of Christ. I will confess here and did confess to the congregations I serve that this is important to me. It’s a passion of mine. And I said on Sunday that there are many ways persons “fish for people” — how they evangelize, how they offer Christ to others. And I made clear THIS IS HOW I FISH. I’m a believer in Shane Claiborne’s notion that persons are drawn to Christ more by fascination than by force and that the greatest evangelistic method is having Christians engage and love the world with the love and grace of Christ in tangible ways. That’s why I get involved in so many community committees and projects. That’s why I try to be there for school-related events with my kids. That’s why I try to ask questions about the surrounding community and its needs. That’s why we have a fledgling missional community called “Downtown Grace” — trying to grace our downtown area with the grace of Christ.
So, this weekend we set out to Change the World, to love and grace our communities. And I am thankful. Here’s what we did:
- 10 persons scrubbed and organized the Food Bank for 2.5 hours (a ministry to the poor and hungry in our own community of Seward)
- 5 persons spent 3 hours in the sun scraping and painting a Fire Station (a ministry to those who are already serving that community)
- 7 persons spent 6 hours cleaning of the beaches and watershed area (a ministry of creation care that partnered with others already engaged in that mission)
- Numerous persons baked goodies and delivered them to the local vocational school (a ministry of outreach to the students and staff)
- Numerous persons baked cookies to be handed out around town as a gift of pure love and grace and about 15 people spent an hour handing them out to business owners, workers, tourists, and passers-by.
- 6 persons spent an hour and a half offering to clean bathrooms for local businesses as “A Bathroom Brigade” (a ministry of service)
I frankly don’t know how many persons were engaged in these activities. I don’t know how many cookie-bakers we had. I’m not sure how many bathrooms the three teams of cleaners cleaned. I’m not exactly sure how long the beach cleaners were at their job. But I know that, for our two small churches, we put in about 120 person-hours of effort to be engaged in our communities. That’s 120 hours of visibly practicing the faith that we share and teach and learn about on Sunday morning.
Now, I don’t know if anyone we served had a “come to Jesus” moment out there. I don’t expect our churches to be filled next Sunday with new believers or those who, all of a sudden, became “fascinated” by the faith we displayed. I have a longer-term perspective on faith development than this.
But I do know that, at least this past weekend, a whole bunch of people in our communities got to see the Body of Christ in action, loving the world around them. We surprised many of those we served. We grew closer to each other as we worked together. It was a blessing to all.
And that’s the best type of fishing there is.