Jesus used the "Fish Miracle" to tell the disciples that they would become "fishers of men" (Luke 5:1-11; cf. Matthew 4:18; Mark 1:16). They liked fishing, and Jesus wanted them to continue, but to change the species. He says, in effect, "You have been catching minnows; I call you to catch men."
"Catching people" seems a strange term for evangelism. We catch fish for our good (to sell or eat), not the good of the fish. But the word Jesus used means "to bring life to people" (Jeremiah 16:16-18; Amos 4:2). Christians fish for souls, not to hurt them by removing them from their element, but to save them by bringing them into a different element. It is like transferring fish from a contaminated lake where they are sure to die soon, to a lake of clear, fresh water where they will never die. We rescue people from the world's deep waters of guilt and despair. We help them find God's "water of life" (Revelation 21:6), including peace and contentment. Our motivation for "fishing" is not personal gain but love of souls (Hebrews 13:17; 2 Corinthians 12:14, 16). We want them to be in heaven with us.
A good fisherman possesses qualities that make him a good soul winner. Consider these:
A fisherman must go where the fish are. He cannot stay at home and watch fishing shows on the Sports Channel. He can't just read magazines about fishing or spend his time looking at Wal-Mart fishing tackle. If he wants a "fish fry," he must go to the lake and put his hook in the water! Likewise, we cannot just sit in our church buildings fellowshipping or in our homes watching TV and expect to save many souls. Jesus said, "Go" not "Wait" (Mark 16:15). We must talk to our friends about Christ and visit those who visit us. We must send out the message via television, radio, mailings and the Internet.
A fisherman must be patient. If he is restless and quick to move, he will never catch many fish. A fisherman is not guaranteed visible success. He may come home "empty-handed" (cf. John 21:3). We are not guaranteed immediate success as soul winners either, but we must not quit because the first friend we invite to services turns us down or the first Bible study we teach bears no fruit. We must not discontinue supporting missionaries because they don't have many baptisms or stop having Gospel meetings because only a few come. We have to work harder, pray harder and be more patient.
A fisherman must work and persevere. He can't sit in his favorite chair, watch television, drink a coke and catch fish. He must get his tackle together, change clothes, drive to the lake, unload the boat and tend to a hundred details. Once there, he may get wet, but that's all right. He has been wet a thousand times. Nobody said that it was going to be easy. Fishing is hard work. Real fishermen get up early and stay out late. They don't quit when the weather changes. They don't stop because they run out of bait. They think more of fishing than eating. They will let the sun blister their faces and mosquitoes eat them alive, but they hang in there if the fish are biting. The good teacher must not be discouraged when nothing seems to happen when we "go fishing." We may go days, weeks and months without a nibble, and then a person becomes interested in the Word. One lady invited her neighbor to "church" forty-nine times (by actual count) before she went. She later became a Christian.
A fisherman must have courage. One must be brave to fish on large lakes and in the oceans because of the dangers of storms and drowning. A Breton fisherman prayer says, "Lord have mercy upon me; my boat is so little and Thy sea is so great." A fisherman risks his life to face the sea's fury. Paul said, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). Our brothers and sisters through the ages have died for their faith. We may not risk our lives, but we do take risks to fish for Jesus. We risk ridicule, embarrassment and hurt feelings to share the Gospel (cf. Galatians 1:10).
A fisherman must have an eye for the right moment. He knows there are good times and bad times to fish. He knows where the fish are. He knows what kind of fish bite when, and the bait they like. He knows what bait to use in spring and what bait to use in fall. He makes it look easy to those sitting on the bank, but a lifetime of knowledge goes into it. Fish are crafty and a fisherman has to use his wits. The good teacher chooses his moments carefully. He watches for ways to turn the conversation toward spiritual things as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman (John 4). At times, our friends will welcome the truth, and at times, they will be too busy with other things or even resent it.
A fisherman fits the bait to the fish and varies his methods. One fish will rise to one kind of bait and another to another. Three methods of fishing were used in Jesus' day. There was (1) fishing by hook and line. The disciples in Luke 5 were (2) fishing with a casting net (amphiblestron). This net was circular and might be nine feet across. It was cast into the water from the land or while wading in the shallows. Lead pellets weighted the circumference so it sank quickly to surround the fish and it was drawn up quickly before the fish knew what was happening. There was also (3) fishing with a drag net (sagene), which was pulled behind a boat, or better, between two boats. Paul said, "To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22).
A fisherman must keep himself out of sight. If he shows his presence, even his shadow, the fish will likely be scared off. A Christian also tries to keep himself out of sight so that the sinner can more clearly focus on Jesus. We do not preach ourselves, but Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:5).
A fisherman must have faith. Normally, a fisherman does not see fish in the water. He prepares his line and casts the bait on faith that there is a fish there. He's not always successful. He casts over and again whether he gets a strike or not. If one place proves unproductive, he moves to another. He repeats his casts endlessly. He seems content if he takes one fish every hundred casts. So it is with a soul winner.
The Savior's hook is a cross. Do you have it "in the water?"