By David Leavell
President, Tennessee Baptist Convention
I have to admit, I’m not much of a fisherman. I’m a wannabe at best. Generally, I’m unwilling to take the time to become a fisherman — enough time to break away from the daily grind, enough time to purchase the equipment, enough time to know where the good fishing holes are found and enough time to even know what kind of fish I like to catch, clean, and consume (although, I usually don’t discriminate when it comes to eating!). You may feel that way about golf or hunting, football or baseball. You just don’t think it is worthy of your time and pursuit as a hobby.
Well, I don’t like fishing, but I do love catching fish! That’s where my church members and close friends come into the picture. I go to Heber Springs, Ark., a couple of times a year with a friend and my boys. This friend is a passionate trout fisherman. I believe he wakes up almost every morning thinking about catching fish or the next time he can go fishing. I absolutely love going fishing with him. Why? Because it’s not really fishing, it’s catching! He knows the rivers where we need to go, where “the big ones” can be found, the optimum weather conditions, the baits that are most appealing to the fish and what kind of hooks, lines, poles, and weights are the best. When I go fishing with him, I don’t have to think. I just do what he says do and it usually turns out to be an amazing day — a great day outdoors, great fellowship, a limit of fish and new memories with a good friend.
Jesus used fishing as an illustration of discipleship. In Mark 1:17, Jesus told His freshman class of disciples, “Follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men.” I cannot escape this illustration and its application in my life. If I’m not fishing for souls, I’m not following Jesus. This is a “bookend” that Jesus placed at the beginning of His public ministry. He put another “bookend” at the conclusion of His ministry. We call it the Great Commission! Both send the same message: Followers of Christ make it their passion to help other people come to personal faith in Jesus Christ. To put it in business terms, satisfied customers tell potential customers how they can be satisfied. It is the classic “word of mouth” promotion that every successful business enjoys. That is what the Lords wants His followers to do: Tell the message of salvation through your personal experience with Christ.
That’s where the John 3:16 Challenge comes into focus. The challenge is for every Tennessee Baptist to share John 3:16, once a week with a lost person, with the intention of leading them to personal faith in Christ. This is a way we can fulfill the Great Commission. This a way we can grow in discipleship. This is a way God’s kingdom can be expanded and extended.
As I travel across the state and share this challenge, I find the gospel message and its simplicity resonate with Tennessee Baptists. We understand that God has called us to be His hands, His feet, and His mouthpiece. He has called us to partner with Him for the souls of mankind.
But truthfully, we Baptist folk can silo ourselves in at work and at church. Our routines naturally will only include people who are like us if not monitored closely. While that is natural, it is not the life God has called us to as believers in Jesus Christ!
Thus, one of the greatest challenges about the John 3:16 Challenge may not be in the sharing of the passage or your personal testimony. The greatest challenge may be finding people who are far from God.
I know, that sounds ridiculous. Lost people are all around us, everywhere we go. We observe them daily. But that’s all we do many times. We watch them, and many times, complain about their lostness, but do nothing to change the trajectory of their spiritual lives! God has called us to engage lostness. That takes intentionality. I must purposefully break away from “my” routine to get to know people that don’t know Jesus Christ. Volunteering at a hospital, being a coach in a recreation league, inviting the neighbors over for a meal, going on a mission trip or disaster relief trip, anything that intentionally gives you points of intersection with others who are lost and in need of a Savior.
Recently, I took my mechanic and his fiancée to dinner with my wife. The goal of the evening was to get to know them. We had a delightful time. We didn’t get into a spiritual conversation, that will come. We sought to engage a couple that we don’t normally connect with.
And it cost me the price of dinner for all of us! Even if it costs you a dinner, choose to engage others for Christ’s sake, ENGAGE them! It is key to becoming the follower of Christ that He desires you to become.
This could very well be the hardest part of being a personal witness for Christ. If we fail this challenge, we will be disobedient to our Lord’s command. If we don’t evangelize, people all around us will die in their depravity and sin. If we don’t engage people around us, Tennessee will become increasingly lost and dark.
It’s time for Tennessee Baptists to go fishing! Join me in the 3:16 Challenge!