What does it look like to save the lost?
Is it evangelism, bringing the life of our risen Savior to those still dead in their sins?
Or is it discipleship, teaching rescued souls how to live abundant lives, walk in joy, grow deep roots and be eyewitnesses filled with the power of Holy Spirit to share the Good News?
The answer is a loud and emphatic “yes”!
The Scriptures use two illuminating metaphors for each of these pursuits that, when put together, give us a complete picture of both the process and goals of ministry.
The first discerning metaphor is fishing. In the place and era during which Jesus began His earthly ministry, fishing as a vocation was commonplace. It was unremarkable but critically important to the survival of the population, and everyone was familiar with it. Jesus first used the metaphor when addressing Peter and Andrew and inviting them—both fishermen themselves—to join Him in ministry.
He told them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19, NKJV). In other words, Jesus prophetically unlocked their thoughts and imaginations to what they already knew: “You know what it is to sow your nets in the water and reap a harvest of fish. I’m going to teach you how to sow the Word and reap a harvest of souls.” Jesus was a gatherer, and He knew the eternal importance and inherency of spreading the life-saving truth of the gospel.
The second insightful metaphor is that of a shepherd or guardian. God shows us throughout His Word the power and importance of learning how to take care of His sheep. Jesus, our example in life and ministry, declared Himself to be “the good shepherd … [who] gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). As a nurturing guardian, He is the one who cares so deeply for the single sheep who wanders away that He will leave the 99 to rescue him from harm (Matt. 18:12-14).
We cannot successfully be guardians without determined gatherers, and the efforts of the gatherers would go to waste without nurturing guardians.
Yet so often, these are treated as mutually exclusive, or worse, as a hierarchy of sorts. Over the many decades during which I have traveled the world preaching to the lost, I’ve seen evangelists who feel very comfortable being fishers of men but don’t give much thought to being a shepherd of the flock. They nearly take the attitude of “let the sheep take care of the sheep.” I’ve seen pastors who love to guard the flock in their care but can become so protective that little to no thought is given to growing it. They may occasionally go out to care for one lost lamb, but that is not often their priority.
It is normal and natural for us to feel inclined toward one approach over the other. After all, for many of us, it is our very gifting that causes us to tend more toward evangelism rather than discipleship.
The God who empowers us to fish also equips us to shepherd.
To live out our calling well as believers sent into the world to preach the gospel and save the lost, we must do both. For the kingdom to expand, we must be gatherers, but for the church to be the church, we must be guardians of the flock. These pursuits may seem at odds with one another at times, but Jesus balanced them well, and so can we.
Shepherds and fishers of men have different gifts and priorities, but the end result of each is to bring the person or persons they are ministering to closer to their Creator. When we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading—at times to be a shepherd caring for, listening to and protecting God’s flock, and at other times to step out as a fisher of men reaching the unsaved—God will be glorified and souls will be set free, redeemed and healed.
You’re beautiful. I see Jesus in you.
Have a great week!