Fishing Without Bait

Across Resurrection Bay IImage by wenzday01 via FlickrOn Saturday, my wife and I were gifted with a wonderful Silver Salmon fishing trip out of Resurrection Bay near Seward, Alaska.  I am not much of a fisherman.  I like to cook fish.  I like to eat fish.  I even like to catch fish.  But I've not been a big fan of the whole process it takes to get a fish on your line...a process that often involves a lot of standing around in water...waiting...and waiting...and waiting.  But fishing from a boat is different.  Even if you don't catch anything, you've still had a boat ride.

So, we went out at 5:30 AM on Saturday with two other "anglers" and a guide in a small skiff.  We traveled out to the Bear Glacier area and started fishing from the boat.  In order to catch these ocean salmon, we trolled for them.  A herring was attached to a couple of hooks on a line and were put down about 37 feet.  Then we put the poles in holders on the side of the boat and waited as our guide moved the boat slowly through the water. The idea is that the salmon see the herring and say "Ooo, lunch" and take a bite.  And after letting the hook set we were to start reeling them in.

I had not fished for silver salmon before.  I knew they tasted good and I'd heard they put up a good fight.  And it was fun catching them.  By the end of the day (1 PM), I had four and my wife had five.  (She always has a better day when we're out fishing together.  That's a normal occurance.)  That's three short of the limit, but a good amount of meat for our freezer.  The weather wasn't very nice although the rain kept off of us while were were fishing.  It was a good day.

What I wanted to share was something that happened later in the day.  See, it was not uncommon to feel a little tug on the line and have the fish swim away with the bait and have to load up the line again.  At one point I was having a long dry spell, with no nibbles or bites or anything.  I said out loud that I was going to check my line because, "I haven't had a bite in so long, it MUST be because I have no bait anymore."  CLEARLY, that had to be the issue.  It COULDN'T be just coincidence.

As I was getting ready to reel up the line, the guide told me to stay put.  We were just entering a section where we had pulled up a few fish before.  This was a "hot spot" for us and I should have my line in the water.  He said he would check all of our bait after we get through that prime fishing area.

We slowly made our way through and, when we got on the other side he asked to check our lines.  I pulled up mine to find that I had, indeed, been FISHING WITHOUT BAIT  I have no idea how long I had been "baitless" but I clearly wasn't going to catch much without bait.  It was a totally ineffective way to fish.  I'm not saying I COULDN'T have caught anything...but the chances would be against it.

Well, what about the church?

In the church we are to be "fishers of people."

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. (Mark 1:16-20)

We are to bring the Good News to the world, offer the message of salvation, to bring Christ, both crucified and risen to those around us.  And how often are we using totally ineffective ways of doing it...thinking we're reaching out to the unchurched or the dischurched or the previously churched or the young or the single or the often are we "fishing" and we have no bait?  I am not saying that every church needs to be "cutting edge" and finding the latest and the greatest outreach tool...the latest and the greatest "fishing gear."  However, it is good to pull up our reels every once in a while and see which tools we're using to spread the good news check our bait.

My guess is that in your church and mine we have some programs and processes in place that, perhaps, once worked really well at "catching fish" -- bringing in members or guests -- but is not working now.  Worship style can be part of this.  United Methodist Women or Men's groups can be part of this.  Even the old standby of "Youth Group" can be a bait that just doesn't work the same way anymore.

Instead of leaving our baitless hooks in the water, we need to explore more effective ways of fishing for the people Jesus would have us fish for.
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