Becoming a Fisher of Men
By Jacob Riggs
I have a confession to make: I am a pastor, and I am not good at evangelism. It’s not for a lack of information. I’ve read the books. I learned to draw on a napkin in Bible college. Others, who seem to win someone to Christ every day, have challenged me. I’ve been convicted about my apathy for the lost by sermons. But I’ve never been good at it.
If you’re like me, it can be discouraging not to be good at something so central to what it means to follow Jesus. After all, He said, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17).
Many Christians are like me. We have sufficient information about Christ. We have a serious relationship with Christ. But we don’t make significant impact for Christ in the area of evangelism. Often we feel guilty and ashamed about how bad we are at evangelism. In my opinion, the accuser of the Brethren has a foothold in the Church because of this.
Let me drive a stake in the heart of the condemnation you may feel right now and remind you of two simple truths: first, in Christ, you’re not guilty anymore (Romans 8:1). Second, Jesus’ call for us to fish for men was not a demand to “be D.L. Moody or fail to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Consider Mark 1:17 again: “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” When it comes to evangelism, it’s not about where we are but about what we are becoming. Are you taking steps to get better at evangelism? Then you’re likely following Jesus.
Personally, I’ve gone through several steps where the Lord has developed me into a fisher of men. I’ll never forget one step when Bert Tippett challenged me as a student at Welch College. Wow, do I miss Bert Tippett! We met once a week or so and talked about my relationship with the Lord, and what steps I needed to take to grow in godliness. During one of those meetings, I told him I had never led someone to the Lord.
Mr. Tippett shared a simple step for me to take. He said, “Start by telling someone you’re a Christian.” That sounded simple enough to me, but even that step was nearly paralyzing.
One of Satan’s tactics to discourage us from sharing our faith (and especially the gospel) is fear. He is hell-bent on crippling us through the unknown. For me, that unknown has always been, “What will people think of me if I share the gospel?” That’s what the Bible calls the “fear of man.” As a result, Satan had victory over my life for a long time when it came to evangelism.
The fear of disappointing Mr. Tippett outweighed the fear of a stranger’s perception, however. So, after work one day, I saw my opportunity in a hitchhiker. We made small talk on the way to his house while I sweated. “How far away do you live?” I asked. It was code for, “How long can I put it off before I actually go through with this and tell you I’m a Christian?” After procrastinating until the last possible second, as he opened the passenger-side door and stepped out onto his driveway, I rolled the window down, leaned over the center console, and semi-shouted, “Oh, by the way I’m a Christian!” He looked halfway “weirded out” and all the way confused and, after that dreaded awkward pause replied, “Ssso am I . . .”
As uncomfortable as that encounter was, I took a step of faith that day. I learned that talking to people about my faith isn’t scary. Most of the time people don’t really care anyway. That gave me freedom.
Another step happened recently after talking with Joe in my office. A member of Central Oaks (the church where I pastor) brought him to me because he heard Joe wanted to know the Lord. Joe saw a baptism at our church and knew he needed to be saved from his lifestyle of alcohol and partying. As I walked through the gospel with him, it became apparent that God had been working in his life. All I did in that moment was help Joe confirm what was already true in his heart and life.
If Satan can’t paralyze us from fear, he’ll do so by making us feel inadequate for such an incredible task. These crippling feelings of inadequacy are completely wrong and completely right at the same time. It’s right because, of course, we are inadequate for such a task. I can’t save anyone, and neither can you. We can’t even convince people they’re lost. But this tactic of Satan is also completely wrong. The question is not whether or not we can save people, but whether or not God can. God is powerful enough to save anyone—and wants to—even when using inadequate people like you or me.
The step I took that day gave me confidence. It made me realize evangelism isn’t about me saving people; it’s about God giving me a small role with those He is saving. The humbling thing about evangelism is that we are too weak to make an impact. In that, Satan is right. But the emboldening truth that left scales on Jesus’ heel is God uses the weak things of the world to confound the wise (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).
All of us in Christ are equally loved and chosen by the Father, but we are all on different levels in our growth toward godliness. (Although I don’t expect any of us are as far along as we put on.) Don’t expect to lead 20 people to Christ this year if you’ve never shared the gospel, but don’t let the enemy condemn you for it. Ask the Lord, “What step do you want me to take to get on the path of fishing for men?”
Perhaps you simply need to start by telling someone outside church or your Christian circle that you’re following Jesus. Maybe you need to make a goal of initiating five spiritual conversations a day. And, it’s okay to start with Christians, because it’s alarming how little we actually talk about the Lord outside of the “designated” times for doing so, in preaching and Bible studies. Join some kind of class or club or league where unbelievers are likely present. Take a step of some kind, remembering that opportunities and boldness are available for those who seek them.
What would it look like if you and I lived in freedom from the condemnation we often feel for seeing small fruit from evangelism? What if we saw fishing for men as a step down a path rather than an enormous, unattainable goal? What if we lived with otherworldly confidence—not in our own abilities but in God’s desire and power to save people while using us to do it?
I’m currently praying for friends from India who work at a local coffee shop. I study there several times a week and try to learn their language (Gujarati) and answer their questions about the Bible when they ask. They call me “Pujari,” which is a Hindu temple priest. I also play softball with some guys in a very non-church league. They know I’m a pastor and some call me “Father Jake,” which makes me laugh every time. I’m prayerful that the Father will use me to lead someone from the team to Christ.
I’m not the most fruitful evangelist you have ever met, but by God’s grace, I have had the opportunity to lead a few people to Christ over the past several years. I’m thankful Jesus is leading me down the path to fishing for men without guilt and with confidence in the Father’s work of saving sinners. I don’t intend to boast; many are much more faithful and fruitful. I simply want to encourage you, whoever you are: there’s more room on the “fishing path” if you’ll take the first step.
About the Writer: Jacob Riggs is pastor of Central Oaks Community Church in Royal Oak, Michigan. He and his wife Lynsey have two daughters: Caroline and Meredith.