December 10, 2006
By Alan Dowd
“Come, follow me,” Jesus shouted to Andrew and Peter as they threw a fresh net into the water, “and I will make you fishers of men.”
Although few modern-day followers of Christ fish for living, the metaphor has held up over the centuries. Simply put, it fits. Being a fisher of men is a lot like being a fisherman. Both require time, preparation, planning, and especially patience. Both demand long hours and hard work. And sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to either job. Some fishermen go hours, days or weeks without even a nibble, while others seem to haul them in by the dozen.
However, these aren’t the only reasons Jesus compared spreading the Gospel message with fishing. Like the first disciples, we tend to focus on the catch itself. And for good reason: As the Great Commission commands, we are to go and make disciples of all nations. But what happens after the catch is as important as the catch itself. Many of us mistakenly think our work is done, but if we look at things from the perspective of the new Christian, our work is far from over.
Fighting for Life
In a very real sense, life after salvation is like being a fish out of water. Just think about it: Like his finned counterpart, the new Christian probably fought to stay in his old world, where things were comfortable and life was easy. The Holy Spirit may have even hooked him by surprise. It’s a thrilling feeling to have your world and future changed in a heartbeat. But it’s downright scary to go through that experience—to pass from one world into another—and find yourself alone.
God doesn’t intend for it to happen like this. He knows that life after the catch is too hard to survive alone. Consider Paul, who was definitely caught by surprise. He needed someone to guide him through those first days after the catch. That someone was Ananias, who looked past Paul’s past and ministered to him. Jesus calls us to do the same for His newest, most vulnerable followers.
They are vulnerable to everything from the world they left behind. That’s the way our enemy operates. In fact, the feeling of peace, contentment and fulfillment brought about by salvation is often followed by a hard, painful realization that things have to change. In a sense, there’s a catch to the catch. Trying to balance unreasonable expectations for the life just begun against the very real need to leave the old life behind is not easy for the new Christian.
After witnessing to a friend for nine years, I was thrilled (and relieved) when he finally gave his life to Christ. I expected a similar reaction from him, but like a fish on the hook, he found himself being pulled into a new world and in a new direction. He felt totally out of place. In fact, he felt like he couldn’t survive outside the water because he would “disappoint God.”
That’s why the work after the catch is so important. Jesus sends us not to push or pull new believers, not to set unattainable goals for them, and certainly not to catch them and toss them back—but to walk beside them and reassure them. There are great theological definitions for discipleship, but it’s really just another word for friendship between brothers and sisters in Christ.
So how can a disciple help a new Christian get accustomed to life outside of the water?
-First and foremost, we need to stick around after the catch. An old formula for evangelism calls us to “make a friend, be a friend and lead that friend to Christ.” Discipleship takes things one step further, by calling on us to maintain that friendship after salvation. Only a disciple—a friend in Christ—can offer evidence that God helps us through times of doubt. Only a friend in Christ can reassure the new believer that the doubt and struggle are part of belief. After all, the very name God chose for His people—“Israel”—means to struggle with God and overcome.
Proverbs reminds us, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”God made disciples for the tough times—not the easy ones. And as Peter and Andrew learned, the toughest times often come after we pull the nets out of the water.
Jesus asks us to be like Him—to be patient and willing to give the new believer space. I had trouble keeping this balance with the friend I mentioned earlier. I was under the false (and rather prideful) impression that the only way God could work in my friend’s life was through me. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. Although I still sometimes wonder if I ever found the right balance, I have found solace in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:
The Lord assigns us each a task, Paul explains. One plants a seed, another waters it. But it is God who makes it grow. In other words, even as I remain a part of my friend’s life, I may not be the one who delivers Christ’s peace to him.
-Second, we need to give new believers oxygen—the Word. Nothing breathes life and hope into a new Christian (or an old one, for that matter) like the Good News. The Word literally saves: “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned,” Jesus promised. The new Christian needs to hear this good news until it chases away the enemy’s lies. But giving a new Christian a Bible and sending him on his way is something like giving a teenage driver the keys to an 18-wheeler and expecting him to drive like a Teamster. He won’t be able to succeed without guidance and practice.
The Bible is an intimidating and overwhelming thing. In supporting new Christians after the catch, I’ve found that one-year Bible studies and good books about the Good Book can break the Bible down into digestible pieces, allowing young Christians to grow more confident in exploring the Bible. As their confidence grows, so will their interest. And as that interest grows, so will their hunger. Familiarity does not breed contempt, at least not when it comes to the Word—it breeds contentment.
One-year Bibles and daily devotionals can form a crucial bridge between living in the water and living in the Word. Of course, these should be supplemented by a good church, where the Word is taught and explained.
The Word also transforms: “Sharper than any double-edged sword,” as Hebrews explains “it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” But to extend the fishing metaphor, a disciple should not use the blunt tools of this doctrine or that to make sure the new believer is “scaled and cleaned.” As Paul wrote long after he was caught by surprise, we should “accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.”
-Finally, we need to reassure the new believer that life outside the water will never feel quite right. After all, Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. Indeed, salvation is just the first step on the road to His kingdom. We will feel out of place until Jesus returns to put everything back in place.
It’s imperative that new Christians be reassured of this. If not, they may just drift back into the world—or perhaps just as bad, they may separate themselves from the world. Christ wants something more for them. He wants to transform them from fish into fishermen.
See I Corinthians 3
Hebrews 4: 12