Reading Romans 15 today, Paul's words jumped out at me. In verse 20 he stated "My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else".
Reading this, I was reminded of a conversation recently with church planter, Al Parker about building a church by reaching those who are unchurched and don't know Christ instead of trying to attract those who are already churched to come our church.
Al laughed recalling what a mentor pastor of his called "fishing in an aquarium". He claimed this was what most pastors do to build their church. They fish for fish that have already been caught! What a great analogy. As I thought more about the metaphor and how it related to the way most churches seek to grow, I took the analogy a little further to explain why we find ourselves fishing in aquariums instead of oceans, rivers and lakes.
- Fishing in an aquarium is a lot quicker and easier than out in the ocean or river.
- You don't have to know a whole lot about the different kinds of fish you may encounter or the specific bait you'll need to use. Just drop in a line or better yet you can just get a little net and reach in and pull them out. Aquarium fish are usually pretty docile.
- You can stay in your own controlled environment. No need to travel outside of your local area or comfort zone.
- It's also much safer. You definitely know what you are fishing for in an aquarium. Out there in the ocean you might catch something that bites or can attack you. Think of all the things that can happen when you are out in a boat on the high seas or in a river!
- You can easily lose the fish and be really disappointed when it breaks your line or eats your bait.
I better stop there. I don't think that Jesus had fishing in an aquarium in mind when he called his followers to be fishers of men. Thank God that Paul followed the Holy Spirit's direction and went to those who never had heard about Jesus. Is it the church's job to fish in the open waterways or just transfer fish from one aquarium to another? How do we help our members become fishers of those who do not know Christ?