I’m writing this during a two-week study leave along the South Texas coast. This is where I’ve come the last few years for brief periods to work on my books. Each day I spend several hours writing, interspersed with periods of walking, running, reading, swimming, and sleeping. Occasionally I take a day off for fishing. I called a pastor friend of mine to see if he might join me. He ended up talking to a professional fishing guide from his congregation, and then before you know it we were out on the bay with an expert fisherman.
I’ve fished hundreds and hundreds of times in my life, often with very experienced people. This marks only the second trip with someone who fishes for a living. It’s amazing to watch an experienced person at work who knows his craft.
What struck me was his knowledge of the fish we were seeking to catch and his continual focus on the waters around us. He knew every feature of the bay—the deeper waters, the underwater ridges, the sandy bottoms, the grassy beds. He saw signs I hardly noticed—the gathering of gulls, the circling of frigate birds, the swooping of terns. He knew the weather and how it affected the habits of fish—wind, rain, clouds, temperature, pressure. He knew the seasonal habits of the redfish and had a vocabulary for their behaviors—where they breed, when they herd, and how they corral in the deeper waters. He constantly evaluated the water, noticing when it was murky, muddy, sandy, clear. He knew the time and effect of the tides and currents.
Whether we were cruising along with engines running, silently trolling with a small electric motor, drifting with the wind, or anchored to a particular location, he constantly focused on the water around us. As we talked and laughed and snacked and focused on things in the boat—adjusting our reels, tying our lines, messing with our bait—he was always looking outward, focused on the water, attentive and aware of nuanced changes that we never noticed.
And he knows the fish—what they’re hungry for and when, what scares them and what attracts them, what causes them to herd up or to scatter out, how they behave in a school as compared to how they behave alone. He is a master of his trade. Amazingly, despite awful, windy weather and an unusually rocky ride, we managed to catch fish while hardly anyone around us hooked a single thing.
Why did Jesus approach people who fished to serve among his first disciples? Did their craft require a patience and attentiveness that he thought important for the work of ministry? Did their manner of knowing the context, studying the features and behaviors so carefully, prove to be vital for this emerging way of life?
What does it take to learn the craft of being fishers of people? Knowing the context is critical—the hungers, behaviors, habits, and needs of those who live in the communities that surround us, and to know the seasons of their lives and how their habitat affects them. And a continually renewed outward focus is important—an awareness of the mission field and all that affects it.
Well, back to work. Fish well, my friends.
Yours in Christ,