My first salaried leadership role within a local church was serving as the church evangelist whilst studying part time at Bible College. It was in many ways very frustrating! I felt that the church was expecting me to do the evangelism on their behalf whilst my idea was that the role of the evangelist was “to equip the saints for works of service” Ephesians 4v11, i.e. they should be doing the evangelism not just me. This led to some tensions even within the leadership team!
It was in this context that I heard a sermon based on Luke 5v10, our calling to be fishers of men. The preacher, Simon Petit who was from South Africa, explained that in Africa fishermen always fished with nets never with rod and line. A team of people would lower the nets in the sea and then pull the nets on to the shore catching lots of fish. The idea of a single fisherman catching single fish just didn’t exist in his context and more importantly didn’t exist Jesus’ context.
I suddenly saw that the teaching I had received, the teaching that I had in fact myself passed on, that we needed to go out as individuals catching people one at a time was not what Jesus had in mind at all when he called us to be fishers of men. It was us reading the scripture through the lenses of our western individualistic culture.
It helped me see why the church was expecting me to do the evangelism for them. They knew they were not up to it; they just were not equipped to go out as individuals and win individual people for Christ. They were right! They knew that the church was called to evangelism and saw that I had some level of gifting in it so expected me to do it on their behalf. However I too couldn’t deliver what was expected on me.
What was needed was a totally different evangelism strategy. The answer was for the church to be made up of various fishing teams where people worked together to win not just individual people but groups of people. Such an understanding is releasing for everyone.
This insight has been the heart of all that I believe about how a church should operate. It underpins the heart of what we are trying to build in Hope Church.
WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON
Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.
He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.