Outreach Takes Patience

When Jesus invited a set of brothers to join his outreach committee, he told them about the work that they would be doing. He did so by comparing it to work with which they were already familiar. “I will make you fishers of men,” he said. It’s a metaphor with which you’re undoubtedly familiar. But have you ever stopped to wonder what Jesus meant?

Perhaps his point was that outreach, like fishing, takes work. Perhaps his point was that people outside the church, like fish outside the boat, are quite happy where they are and don’t want to be caught. Perhaps his point was that outreach efforts, like fishing trips, don’t always produce the same numerical results even when the efforts are the same.

Perhaps Jesus meant all of those things when he compared outreach to fishing. Recently, I came to a greater realization of one more facet of that metaphor. Outreach, like fishing, takes patience.

My interaction with Barbara started out as one of those experiences that seemed too good to be true. It was almost as if the fish was swimming up to the edge of the boat and asking for permission to jump in. Barbara called the church office, said that she lived in the neighborhood, and asked if a pastor could stop by to meet with her. As I drove over to her house later that week, it seemed like this would be the shortest, most successful fishing trip ever.

It wasn’t. I arrived at her house at 9:30 a.m. I didn’t leave until after 1:00 p.m. I would love to tell you that I led her through a rich, deep, law-gospel presentation that lasted the better part of four hours. But in reality, she did most of the talking. She had a lifetime of interesting experiences to relate – from her birth aboard a naval ship shortly after World War II to her four decades of service in the FBI – and she wanted to make sure I heard all of them. In fact, we didn’t get to law and gospel until the very end of our time together. Outreach took some patience.

But it went deeper than that. During the course of our conversation, I asked how she knew about our church and what made her decide to call. Recent family struggles had prompted her to desire a deeper relationship with God. She decided to call us because of the postcard she had hanging on her refrigerator. It was our Christmas mailer from 2008. For nearly three years she hung on to that postcard without acting on it. When life circumstances caused her to turn to God for answers, she finally did. Outreach took some patience.

That’s a bitter pill for me to swallow. In fact, that’s the reason why fishing never became a favorite pastime, despite my dad’s best efforts. It takes too much patience. Doing outreach requires time and energy. Doing outreach requires money. Doing outreach requires personal risk. And if those outreach efforts don’t show results quickly, it’s easy to become impatient, to try something drastically different, or to give up altogether. So it’s good to remember that outreach is like fishing. In fact, just before Jesus made that comparison, Peter expressed beautifully the patient trust that outreach, like fishing, requires. “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5).

Rev. Jonathan P. Bauer

Jonathan Bauer serves at Good News Lutheran Church, Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.

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