I’m no fisherman. I dabbled when I was younger. I caught some flatfish off the beach at Ramsgate with my Grandfather and was very excited about it. I think they were flounders, but it was a long time ago now. Truthfully that was probably the pinnacle of my fishing career. Other attempts consisted of boring days with little or nothing to show, unless you count a little skill with sticklebacks and a small net on a pole! Mind you the photograph accompanying this blog shows a more recent success!
Despite this abject failure at fishing I know, like so many people know, that the method of fishing one should use depends on the type of fish you are trying to catch. So shark fishing requires different equipment and methods to fishing for trout. Fly fishing is different to Spearfishing. Line fishing can happen in a variety of ways and styles, and Netting is different again.
Jesus called his first followers and said “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people” (Matthew 4:19). This was put in a way they could understand since some of those first followers were fishermen. Different fish require different fishing techniques. Different people require different ways to reach out to them with the good news of Jesus. Sometimes this is a very gentle one to one conversation, being alongside someone, building a relationship with them over a long period of time, and sometimes what is required is reaching out with challenge offering a point of decision. When the good news of Jesus is heard there is no one way of response but instead God draws people to himself in a variety of different ways.
This week Billy Graham died. I was privileged to share in some of his ministry in the United Kingdom when he held big rallies and also privileged to see him in a slightly more intimate setting of a press conference. I found him a humble and gracious man who sought to be a servant of God. It would be wrong to characterise Billy Graham’s ministry as only large rallies, but these did form a great portion of his ministry and many people over the decades responded to the call to follow Jesus that he offered. Of course some of those who will have responded will have turned away eventually, perhaps having been caught up in the moment. The parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23) makes it clear that Jesus knew this would be one result of reaching out with God’s Kingdom. It is not confined to evangelistic rallies. However, there are so many in the churches across the world today who can point back to an initial commitment to Jesus being made at a Billy Graham Crusade.
Such crusades became very unpopular in Britain for a while. Some people still argue that they do not “work” (whatever that means). But I want to say that different fish require different forms of fishing. I want to thank God for all that he did through Billy Graham. I want to say that we should not dismiss means and methods of outreach, mission and evangelism, maybe just because they do not appeal to us and our inclinations. Instead we should celebrate that God reaches out through the followers of Jesus, who he calls to fish for people, in a variety of ways.
Today I celebrate that Billy Graham has been one of those fisher folk and I pray for many more.