Luke 5: 1-11


Last week – Thinking Like a Fish.

This week – Thinking Like a Fisherman

The topic under consideration in both messages is the church’s task of disciple-making. Last week I read from Luke’s gospel about Jesus’ call of his first disciples. That story is our text for today as well.

Fishing in Canada

For 25 years I made an annual, week-long fishing trip to the primitive back woods of Canada. I drove 13 hours to Shelbyville, KY. The next day we drove 24 hours to Armstrong, Ontario.

We flew into the backwoods in a seaplane that always got us there but never inspired confidence. In 25 years we only crashed once and that was on take-off in a squall.  We were 20 feet off the water when a gust of wind literally blew the plane back onto the surface of the lake.  It was serious enough to break off a portion of one wing but no one was hurt.  Two hours later we were picked up by another plane.

We slept on beds that sagged in the middle and took baths in the lake where the water temperature was never more than 40 degrees.  Well, you didn’t have to bathe in the lake.  You could take a bucket bath on the dock with the wind blowing at gale force.  It wasn’t an improvement.

We carried machetes to fight off the mosquitoes; a bone saw to amputate any limb that suffered snake bite; and industrial strength pepper spray to keep the bears on the porch and out of the cabin.

Some people have wondered, “What are they thinking?”

That’s a good question for a congregation that would become “fishers of men”.

What are you thinking?

How and what does a fisherman think?

Catching Fish as a Metaphor for Disciple-Making

Last time I suggested that this fishing trip recorded in Luke’s gospel tells us what Jesus has in mind for his followers.

“From now on, you will be catching people”.

This fishing experience is a metaphor for disciple-making. The fishermen were fishing at night in the shallow water.  But Jesus tells them to go back out during the day…and fish in the deep water.

As a metaphor, deep water and fishing during the day are symbols of the church’s need to go beyond what we’ve always done and learn new techniques and new approaches in the ministry of disciple-making.

We have to move out of the shallow water where the people come to us and go out to them, in the deep water. We have to move out of the shallow water of the past and into the deep water of our future. We have to move out of the shallow water of our comfort zone and into the deep water where we are not so sure of ourselves. We have to move out of the shallow water of traditional outreach and into the deep water of innovation and experimentation.

It will require a different way of thinking.

Last week, I suggested that we have to think like a fish. We have to think like the people we’re trying to reach. If we don’t know who they are, what they are thinking, what they are looking for, how they process religious concepts … we will never be able to present the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that will be heard and embraced.

Thinking Like a Fisherman

We also have to learn to think like a fisherman.

There are three important aspects of how a fisherman thinks.

1. Good fishermen are adaptive.

They are flexible in their thinking. If you read a lot of fishing magazines and books about fishing…as I have; if you listen to successful fishermen…as I have; there is one thing you will read over and over; there is one thing you will hear again and again.

As circumstances and conditions change, good fishermen change the way they fish. They are willing to learn, to experiment, to take a risk.

Poor fishermen, on the other hand, always stick with what they know.

2. Good fishermen are focused. They have a singleness of purpose.

Oh, they will have a boatload of gear, a wealth of experience, a long list of strategies, and several good excuses in case they have a bad day. But, but they will have only one purpose… catching fish.

So, anytime you hear a person say things like, “It was a beautiful day to be on the water” or “It was a lot of fun being out with the guys” or “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work” …it means only one thing.


3. A good fisherman is convinced.

He always thinking he will, indeed, catch fish.  He is not just confident, he is convinced. This is more than positive thinking.  It is a mind-set; a predisposition; second nature. Harolyn calls it an illusion of grandeur. But it’s not an illusion; it’s a way of thinking.  It’s like the tendency of a fisherman to exaggerate the size of the one that got away. He can’t help it. It’s the nature of the beast.

To become fishers of men, catchers of people, we have to think like a fisherman. We have to be adaptive, focused, and convinced.

This is Difficult to Do

But, again, this is a tall order.  We’re not used to thinking this way about the mission of the church.  We don’t think this way about disciple making.  For years we have thought little about it.  And changing the way we think is a difficult task.

20 years ago in the church I was serving, the Session decided to make changes in the worship service so that it would be more “user-friendly” for visitors. We started printing the words to the “Lord’s Prayer” in the bulletin.

Now, that is a common practice in churches today…but 20 years ago…it was asking for trouble.

After 2 or 3 Sundays, Vivian Collins asked, “Why are we printing the words to the Lord’s Prayer in the bulletin?”

I explained our reasoning but she was not satisfied. She wrote a less-than-kind letter to the session giving us a piece of her mind. “In my way of thinking”, she wrote, “Printing the words to the Lord’s Prayer encourages sloth and promotes ritualism. People will no longer memorize the prayer if it’s printed out for them. Plus, instead of praying, they will be merely reading. “

Three years later, Vivian Collins had not changed her way of thinking. She said to me one Sunday after worship: “I’m getting used to it, but I still think it’s wrong.”

Here’s something I shared in one of my daily messages.

Someone said that the two most difficult things to do in life are:

  1. To climb a fence that is leaning toward you.
  2. To kiss a girl that is leaning away from you.

As a boy growing up in Up the River, NC, I climbed a lot of fences that were leaning toward me. And it was tough. Kissing a girl that is leaning away from you?   I did that too.  Come to think of it every girl I tried to kiss leaned away. That should have been a sign.

Here’s something else that tops the list of the most difficult things to do. Have you ever tried to get on a horse with a snake in your hand?  I only tried that once.

As an adult I’ve discovered that the hardest thing for me to do is change my mind; change the way I think.  I’ve come to realize that I’m a hard-head.  And worse, I live and work with hard­ heads.

But, we’re in good company. Most of our biblical heroes were hard-headed. They didn’t want to change their ways of thinking either.

Moses – left Egypt because he had killed an Egyptian soldier. God found him in the desert and told him to go back and have a talk with Pharaoh.  Moses didn’t think that was a good idea.

The prophet Elijah– escaped the wrath of the Queen of Sheba who had issued a burn order…catch him and set him on fire.  God found him too, hiding in a cave and said what?  Go back!  Elijah’s response is still popular today, “You gotta be kidding me.”

King David thought he would build a great house for God but God had to straighten out his thinking.

Peter, in the NT, is the poster boy for hard-headedness.

And Paul? He had as many wrong ideas as good ideas.

Something like 90% of Jesus’ messages has to do with changing how we think.

Good News! The Difficult is Doable

But, here’s the good news! All these biblical characters did, eventually, change their way of thinking…and that’s why we remember them today as heroes.

The difficult is doable. That’s one way to read the Bible.  It’s the story of God making the difficult doable.  And we need to remember this as we take on difficult tasks.

I was talking with a colleague recently about the difficulties facing the church and he said, “We have a mountain to climb but God has not brought us all this way to have us not trade on the mountains we’ve climbed already.” That is an example of thinking like a fisherman…adaptive, focused, and convinced. And, it’s so true.

In our personal lives, most of us have struggled; some of us have struggled mightily.

Maybe we’ve been all the way to the edge of despair; maybe or hearts have been broken; maybe our hopes have been dashed; maybe someone we thought loved us has betrayed us; maybe…maybe…you fill in the blank.

But all along God has picked us up and patched us up; sometimes a little less for the wear, in one piece but only barely; and sometimes stronger than we were before – because we’ve been through the valley.

How can we not trade on that?

And in the life of our church; God has not brought us all this way only to say today: I’ve had it! I’ve carried this church for 50 years and now you’ve used up your allotment of amazing grace, you’ve had your share of Holy Spirit power, you’ve had all the peace that passes understanding you’re going to get, and the love that will not let you go has let you go after all.

No, that is not what God says; and that has not been our experience.

Throughout the history of the church and without fail in our own chapter of that great history,

God has been there, building, encouraging, sustaining … making the difficult doable.


Making disciples is difficult, but it’s doable. But, it is doable only if we think of ourselves as disciple-makers; only if we see ourselves as Jesus sees us, as “catchers of people”

In order to become “catchers of people” we have to think and act like one who “catches people”. In keeping with the fishing metaphor – to make disciples, we have to think like a fisherman.

Years ago I had a bass boat and I fished faithfully one day each week. I would be on the lake when the sun came up and fish until it was so dark I couldn’t see the water in front of me.  Sometimes I come home without having caught a single fish.

On one occasion Harolyn asked. “How can you keep fishing all day long when you’re not catching anything?” My answer was. “The next cast!”

On the next cast I’ll try a different lure, or vary the retrieve, or try a different spot. I’m always sure that the next cast will catch the big one.

That’s how a fisherman thinks: adaptive, focused, and convinced. It catches fish. And, it catches people.