As Christians, where can you have effective community?
I learned to fly fish on the same river that Brad Pitt works in the movie A River Runs Through It. But unlike the characters in the film, my skills are far from extraordinary.
For me, fishing is a quality-time sort of hobby and not something I do alone. When I go, I wade along the bank of Montana’s Boulder River with my dad or my brother by my side.
My eye has been trained to cast the fly toward calm pools of water near the riverbank or just downstream from a large submerged rock. Inevitably I get my line tangled in a bush, but I know I won’t be stuck for long because help is right around the bend.
My dad and brother have become masters at untangling flies. They have me to thank for that.
Eventually, I discover the rhythm of a good cast, and as the hours pass I find I am no longer thinking of fish, bushes, even technique: I’m just fishing. Time slips away as I watch the line work its way downstream over and over again.
Recently I’ve been mulling over a connection between fishing and community. As I replay my river memories I am struck by the fact that the companionship is what made the experience significant.
I would never choose to fish alone. I think God has hidden a life lesson in that for me.
Christians know we’re called to do a different kind of fishing -- the spiritual kind.
Jesus said to 2 of the apostles, Peter and Andrew, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).
My first job after graduation was doing that full-time as a missionary at Montana State University in Bozeman.
While serving with the Campus Crusade for Christ team there, I learned to break up the university in my mind’s eye into ponds. We defined ponds as natural places where people gathered.
The pond I was given to fish was Hapner Hall, a women’s dormitory on campus. A teammate and I faithfully worked to cast the line of spiritual conversation into that pond.
As a result, we met and mentored many women who were interested in discovering more about faith and developing a relationship with Jesus. As spiritual fishermen, we had our nets full of fish.
But my life looks different now. My job has changed.
I moved away from my beloved Montana and now reside in Florida. I don’t fish as often as I used to, in either the physical or spiritual sense.
On the Boulder River, my dad, brother and I always knew where to cast a line; at Montana State, we knew to focus on individual dorms. The principle doesn’t appear to translate to my current life.
Typically, I will put in a full day in the office, drive home, make dinner, resisting the urge to pass out on my couch before heading off to Bible study or some other commitment for the evening.
At the end of the day I’m too tired to think about fishing. It feels like one more obligation that I need to add to my list.
But what I am being reminded of is that I’ve been wading, unaware, through ponds all day. Let me explain.
I know ponds are just places where common interests and daily life intersect. Business offices, neighborhoods, coffee shops, carpools and classrooms; these are a few.
And someone on the shore has got to offer the line of salvation to people in need of a Savior. I need to be intentional, because it is not likely that people will approach me to ask about Jesus.
But community, I’m convinced, is to be coupled with fishing. Reflecting back on my fishing trips, I am reminded that right beside me stood my dad and my brother. We were fishing. Together.
As Christians we are called to community. We cannot live the Christian life alone. We are not effective alone. We are social by design.
But as a creature of comfort, I find myself curling up in a cozy group of Christian activities and meetings. I’m not venturing beyond my Christian comfort zone to engage with non-believers.
Why would I? One doesn’t think about stretching the legs of faith when an environment is cozy and warm.
However, the purpose for Christian community is not to escape from the world or to avoid being stained by its influence. Among other things, community creates a place to refuel and refocus.
When my friends and I walk closely with Jesus, we remind each other of the kingdom and our role to love others. Without this active Christ-centered community, it is easy to get distracted.
So with the help of a friend, I recently sat down to brainstorm how to bring the 2 ideas together. How can I combine fellowship and fishing?
We started by thinking through the places where we already spend our time. If I am honest, much of my week revolves around coffee.
My first step can be as simple as greeting baristas by name. In a world of drive-thru’s and abbreviated conversations, I want to establish trust through casual conversations with my baristas.
By being intentional with these small opportunities, I hope to become a safe person for deeper conversations about sin and our Savior. This is a pond that my friends and I already visit regularly; I just want to fish more intentionally.
Coffee shops aren’t the only pond through which I am wading. A few friends and I attend a great Zumba® fitness class at a local dance studio. Dozens of women of all different ethnicities and shapes come to move to the rhythms together.
As we brainstormed, my friend and I grew more excited about what could happen when we become more intentional with this opportunity. In the next class we plan to introduce ourselves to a few women and see where the relationships go from there.
These first few steps are simple but significant. I sense the Holy Spirit challenging me to live with intentionality. Eventually these little efforts will grow into relationships, and hopefully the trust that we build with these people will give way to spiritual conversations.
If we as a community work to expand our influence in the lives of those who do not yet know Christ, then our community will grow like the one in the early church: “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
I don’t want to separate community and outreach. I’ve done that before; it’s exhausting and lonely. I have been called by God to be part of a community of fishermen who display His love and share His truth with the world.
I am once again seeing my life as a series of ponds. My next step is to grab my buddies and go fishing.