Front Range Angler is the name of the fly shop in Boulder where I bought one of my fly rods. I needed that rod, because at the end of a glorious day hooking brook and cutthroat trout on a dry fly, I fell at the top of a waterfall and lost my old rod over the falls. But that’s another story.
They call the mountains west of Boulder and Denver the Front Range. My cabin is in these mountains. I’m a Front Range angler. I fished some as a kid, with a spinning rod. Caught a few fish, but never got the bug. My best friend, David, has always been an avid fly fisherman. I tried it a few times in north Georgia, but he wasn’t much of a guide. I don’t know whether to call his style speed fishing or stream running, but we would get to the stream, and bang, off he would go. I would be standing there wondering what to do next. I learned why they call it fishing and not catching.
A friend of mine has on his email signature, Be Fishers of People, You catch, He cleans. I think most of us feel reticent about sharing our faith, and witnessing to God’s movement in our lives. We don’t know how; it feels very unnatural. We don’t have a coach at the moment when God creates an opening for sharing. We stand there, like my early days on the stream, wondering what to do next, as the moment passes us by. Further, I think many of us hesitate to look too deeply into our giftedness, unsure and not quite trusting what God might lay in front of us as a calling.
One of our first summers out here, my friend David was coming to Colorado, so I hooked up a guide for a day of fly-fishing in the wilderness near the cabin. David, my son, Andy, and I spent the whole day with the guide, and I still didn’t catch a fish. Fishing is not nearly as much fun when you don’t even get a strike. Finally, at the end of the day, with the guide pointing exactly where to cast and critiquing my every move, I caught a six-inch trout. Some triumph, but it was a start. By the end of that summer, I was hooked. I was catching fish, and I had the fishing bug.
Over the last ten years, I’ve been out a few more times with a guide, and maybe a hundred times with my son and friends. The coaching from the guide got me through the learning curve. I’ve gotten to know the high mountain streams of the Front Range. I know the water levels; I know the flies that catch fish. I even got a thermometer to check the temperature. I know where to go when, and I love being out on the stream in the Indian Peaks Wilderness or Rocky Mountain National Park.
Since I came to the church as an adult, perhaps I have more of a heart for the unchurched than most Lutherans. Furthermore, my ten years in a sales territory taught me how to make “cold calls.” Over time, I’ve grown more comfortable sharing about God’s hand in my life and talking to others about Christ.
I hear talk and read about wonderful fly fishing spots around the country. I got a book called 50 Places to Fly Fish before you Die. Every summer, my son Andy and I try to fish one of these great rivers. We’ve been to the Henry’s Fork, the Arkansas, the Colorado, the Poudre, the North Platte, the Encampment, the Middle Fork of the Salmon, and many smaller streams to try our luck. And despite the great reputation of these places, I never have that much luck. I don’t know the water, and the fishing was always great yesterday. I never have as much fun as I do on the small streams within 30 miles of the cabin. And I don’t catch a fraction of the fish.
Perhaps that’s why at Cursillo they drill home the point to bloom where you’re planted. God has a plan for us, and has uniquely gifted us to live out a calling to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. It is in the web of our work, our family and our friends that we can most effectively live out God’s calling on our lives.
Witnessing brings to mind images of street corner preachers yelling, “Have you been Saved?” Richard Stark’s The Rise of Christianity uses modern sociological methods to demonstrate that throughout history the Christian faith has spread through our social networks, by inviting our friends and family. Our ability to bring strangers on the street to Christ is just about nil.
A lot of churches have members who travel significant distances to come to church. That confuses them when the church tries to discern who they are trying to reach and serve. I encourage churches to look at the Percept data for their served area. We should know best, and be best equipped to serve, those in our immediate community. Our unique calling is rooted in a place.
I encourage churches to look at the community within a three-mile radius of the church. Those are the people you might reach with signs and banners, direct mail and other advertising efforts. Church leaders who think an advertising message can break through the clutter to reach those who live five or 10 miles away in an urban environment are kidding themselves. We can certainly reach people who live in the far neighborhoods inhabited today by some of our members. But it will only happen one way--when the members who live in those neighborhoods invite their friends and family. Unfortunately, Lutherans on average invite someone to church every 26 years.
Many churches over time slowly disconnect from their immediate neighborhood. This is an often fatal mistake that slowly creeps up on the church. The neighborhood starts changing--people of different background, culture, ethnicity, or even language start arriving. Churches often hunker down, becoming fearful of the changes, and the life slowly ebbs away. Churches are either getting older and smaller or younger and larger. They do not stay the same.
Just as God has uniquely gifted each of us for a purpose and a calling, I think He has done so with each Body of Christ. Your local church is gifted with diverse abilities, talents, experiences and knowledge. When we discover and put those gifts to use, we can discern a calling for the entire Body of Christ that it is uniquely gifted to perform in the place God planted the church. He would have us put our gifts to use in the environment where we can do the most good. As I’ve discovered, the fishing is always best near the house, where I know every crook of the creek.
Another familiar Cursillo mantra reinforces this point. We have infinitely more credibility with our friends and relatives than we do with strangers … if we have time for friends. The trouble is, who has time for new friendships? Recent studies show many of us live our lives with few close friends, and even fewer confidantes. Yet, we will be most effective witnessing to God’s grace to those in our closest circles. We know when friends are in seasons of joy, or in the depths of despair. We know the environment. We have the most influence where we invest the most time in relationship. We can see when the seasons change, and be there for each other.
In my patch of the wilderness, I’ve been out when the current was a torrent and a trickle. Been there in the beautiful sun, and seen storms that leave us wet to the bone. Some streams fish well during the snowmelt, some are only fishable in autumn when the waters drop. The key is getting to know the environment and keeping track of what you learn, so you can be more effective. Becoming more aware of oneself, and one’s surroundings. Success breeds success. The week before I lost my rod, I caught over 40 fish in the same stream. The day of my mishap, I caught about 20 before the fall, on a stretch that had been twice as productive the last time. Each trip goes into my journal. Therefore, I can learn from my experiences.
I get an email devotional from PurposeDrivenLife.com. I still remember one from a while ago entitled, “Please don’t send me to Africa,” because it tapped into my own fears from years past. John Fisher writes these devotions and I find them quite useful. Fisher writes, “I grew up with a kind of warped Christianity that taught that if I was passionate about something, it was probably wrong. God was the great killjoy in the sky. Virtue was painful. The good usually felt bad. The bad (we were told) felt good. Denying yourself meant never doing anything you really wanted to do. Conversely, if you hated doing something, that was most likely what God was calling you to do. “God, please don’t send me to Africa” was a prayer you’d better not pray, because that was the first place He would probably send you if you prayed that prayer. As you might imagine, this kind of thinking turned out a generation of very dull, boring Christians who were always suspicious of having fun. Where do you think the Church Lady on “Saturday Night Live” came from, anyway?
For many of the early years of my Christian walk, I wondered, “Do I have to sell everything, give it all away and go live in a mud hut in Africa to serve God?” The question tormented me. The reality is that God did make each of us for a purpose. What I have found, though, is that He uses my life experiences, my gifts and relationships to do His work in my life. He has not uprooted me from everything I’ve learned, from my community or my family. He has shown me how He can use all these things for His purpose, if only I let Him.
I think that, for the great majority of us, God’s plan involves the community where we live, work and raise our families. We know the water; we’ll do a much better job of catching fish. Wade in, the water’s fine. Ask Him for a word to speak at the right time. Follow that nudge to do something to serve another’s need. Remember, be fishers of people. You catch, He cleans.