Jesus has called us to follow Him, He has promised to make us more like Him and He has given us a purpose and a mission. All three of those are found in His statement, “Follow Me, and I will make you fish for people!” (Matthew 4:19).

There are three major phrases in that statement by Jesus. Let’s review them.

  • First of all, Jesus says, “Follow Me.” A disciple is someone who has made a decision to follow Christ. They thought it through, have repented (which means a change of mind) and surrendered their life to Jesus. This deals with the head.
  • Secondly, Jesus says, “I will make you.” A disciple is being changed by Jesus. As we follow Jesus He changes us internally. We gain a new heart that begins to desire new things. Our values begin to align up with God’s kingdom. Our motives and emotions are reflecting God’s values more and more. We become more other-centered rather than self-centered. There is a distinction about us that says we love God and love people. Jesus is making us and transforming us into His image. This deals with the heart.
  • Third, Jesus says He will make us “fish for people.” Jesus saved us for a purpose. You have a mission. You have a ministry. You have a job to do in God’s kingdom. You have been created in such a way and have been given a spiritual gift that equips you to reach and minister to other people (Eph. 2:8-10). This deals with your hands.

When Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fish for people,” He was addressing our head, heart, and hands: what we think, how we feel, and what we do. This was a call to total life transformation. In this article we will examine the last part of Jesus’ statement and what it means to “fish for people.” If you are going to “fish for people” then what are some Biblical principles we can apply to our ministry and mission of making disciples?

Fishing for people is Jesus’ mission

In the Great Commission Jesus said it this way, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). In Luke 19:10 Jesus described His mission by saying, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Whether Jesus is talking about fishing for people, going and making disciples, or seeking and saving the lost it all means the same thing. Go after people.

As His followers, we are to continue what Jesus started. Jesus calls us not only to come to Him, but to go for Him. This mission of fishing for people, also known as the Great Commission, is so significant that Jesus repeated it five times, in five different ways, in five different books of the Bible (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; John 20:21; Acts 1:8). It is as if Jesus was saying, “I really want you to really get this!” Fishing for people is Jesus’ mission. It’s His heart and passion.

For you as an individual and us as a church body, it should be your heart and passion. When you became a follower of Christ you also became a part of the mission of Christ. Fishing for people is Jesus’ mission!

The question you need to answer is, “What are you doing that is making disciples? How are you helping Jesus to seek and to save the lost? How is your life fishing for people?”

Fishing for people is helping others to mature in Christ

“Fishing for people” is more than simply leading someone to Christ. It is a disciple making phrase. “Fishing for people” is another way to say “go and make disciples.” Fishing for people involves leading them to Christ and helping them to grow in Christ. It is reaching and teaching people. Let me show you this with two statements by Jesus.

In the Great Commission Jesus said, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Notice fishing for people involves reaching them (going, baptizing) and teaching them.

In John 21 Jesus and Peter are having a conversation about Peter’s love for Jesus and Peter’s role in feeding the believers with God’s Word. In this conversation Jesus asked Peter three times if Peter loved Him and each time Peter said yes. Each time Peter replied yes, Jesus would say “Feed My sheep.” At the end of this conversation the Bible says in John 21:19, “After saying this, [Jesus] told him, ‘Follow Me!’” (HCSB). This brings us back to the original call of Jesus when He said, “Follow Me and I will make you fish for people.” Part of following Jesus and fishing for people is spiritually feeding those who come to know Christ. This is helping them to mature in Christ.

Later on, Paul echoed this passion and mission when He said, “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. I labor for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me” (Col. 1:28-29, HCSB). Paul was fishing for people. He was sharing the gospel and when someone believed He began to teach them God’s Word so they could grow.

Here’s the question you need to ask yourself: What are you doing to help people grow spiritually?

Fishing for people requires others to help

Fishing for people is both shared and specific. One part of it is a responsibility you share with every other Christian, and the other part is an assignment that is unique to you. Don’t think you have to fish for people and make disciples all by yourself. Even though you have a unique role in fishing for people, Jesus sees this as a team approach.

  • Look at Matthew 4:18 again, “As [Jesus] was walking along the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon, who was called Peter, and his brother Andrew” (HCSB). Jesus called them together to fish for people. Look down at verse 21 where the Bible says, “Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John” (HCSB). Jesus called those two men to fish for people. Those four guys along with others would work together as a team leading people to Jesus and making disciples.

This principle of team ministry is taught all through the Bible. You see it in how Paul describes the church as a body with each member having their own role but needing each other to function correctly (1 Cor. 12) and you see it with Jesus as He sends out the disciples two by two.

You have a place on the boat fishing for people. Discover that place and then give it 100%. God is calling you to fish for people and you don’t have to do it alone.

Fishing for people involves your uniqueness

Fishing for people is both shared and specific. We’ve already looked at the shared aspect, now let’s look at the specific aspect. You have been uniquely designed for specific ministries.

Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation – created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (HCSB). God has a unique plan for your life, therefore He uniquely made you, created you, and gifted you for specific good works.

1 Corinthians 12:4-7 says, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all.  There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other” (NLT). God has equipped you with a spiritual gift to do what He wants you to do. The way you will do it will be different than anyone else, but along with the spiritual gift God has given you a certain passion for certain kinds of ministry (Rev. 17:17, Philippians 2:13) abilities to do what He wants you to do (1 Cor. 12:6, Ex. 31:3, 2 Cor. 3:5), a personality that is required for that ministry (1 Cor. 2:11; Job 10:8; Psalm 139:14-16), and life experiences (2 Cor. 1:4) that will help in that ministry. (For further reading on how God has made you unique for your particular purpose and ministry I suggest my article Discovering Your Design). 

God intentionally shaped and designed you for ministry. You are a unique tool in God’s hand when it comes to making disciples. There are certain people in your life that you are perfect for when it comes to fishing for them. They like you, they listen to you, and they respect you.

With that said, every believer needs to be intentionally involved in fishing for people. Every believer should be able to say, “Here is how I am personally involved in fishing for people.” What is your gifting? What is your passion? How do you personally fish for people?

Fishing for people has eternal significance

It will impact the eternal destiny of other people, so it’s more important than any job, achievement, or goal you will reach during your life on earth. The consequences of your mission will last forever; the consequences of your job will not. Nothing else you do will ever matter as much as helping people establish an eternal relationship with God and helping them grow spiritually.

This is why we must be urgent about our mission. Jesus said, “All of us must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent Me, because there is little time left before the night falls and all work comes to an end”(John 9:4, NLT). The clock is ticking down on fishing for people, so don’t delay another day. Get started on your mission of reaching out to others now! You will have all of eternity to celebrate with those you have brought to Jesus, but you only have your lifetime in which to reach them.

For most people, this does not mean you should quit your job to become a full-time evangelist or missionary. God wants you to share the Good News where you are. As a student, mother, preschool teacher, salesman, or manager or whatever you do, you should continually look for people God places in your path with whom you can share the gospel.

Let me add something here about urgency and Jesus’ statement, “quickly carry out the tasks assigned us.” This is why I believe the church’s organization, leadership structure, and decision making processes should be effective and efficient. One of the reasons why some churches lose their effectiveness is because they make good decisions to late. There needs to be a sense of “quickness” in doing ministry.

Fishing for people gives your life meaning

Someone once said, “The best use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.” The truth is, only the kingdom of God is going to last. If you fail to fulfill your God-given mission on earth, you will have wasted the life God gave you. Paul said, “My life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the Good News about God’s wonderful kindness and love” (Acts 20:24, NLT). There are people on this planet who only you will be able to reach, because of where you live and what God has made you to be. If just one person will be in heaven because of you, your life will have made a difference for eternity. Start looking around at your personal mission field and pray, “God, who have you put in my life for me to tell about Jesus? Who have you put in my life that I can help grow as a believer? Who have you put in my life that I can encourage in the things of God?”

Fishing for people means moving from being a disciple to making disciples

This is exactly what Jesus means in the words that He says right after “Follow Me.” If you’ll remember, He told those four fishermen, “Follow Me, and I will make you fisher for people.” Notice in His invitation that Jesus does not tell His disciples what He will call them to do. Instead, Jesus tells them what He will cause them to do. The commands He would give to them could only be accomplished by the work that He would do in them. As these disciples followed Jesus, He would transform everything about their lives: their thoughts, their desires, their wills, their relationships, and ultimately the very purpose for which they lived.

And this is where things get really interesting. “Follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fish for people” is imagery familiar to these disciples’ long-standing vocation, Jesus summoned them to an all-consuming mission right from the start. More important than searching for fish all over the sea, they would spread the gospel all over the world. As a result of being disciples of Jesus, they would make disciples of Jesus. For every one of these disciples, following Jesus would lead to fishing for people. Not surprisingly, the book of Matthew ends with Jesus on a mountainside, saying to these same disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with your always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).

Somewhere between Matthew 4 and Matthew 28, Jesus had caused these disciples to become disciple makers. He had transformed these followers into fishers of people, and by the time they got to that mountain in Matthew 28, they were eager to tell everyone about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Having been forgiven of their sin and soon to be filled with God’s Spirit, they would give their lives not simply to being disciples of Jesus, but sacrificially to making disciples of Jesus. Fishing for people would become central for them – and costly to them.

Clearly, the overflow of transformation in these disciples was multiplication through these disciples. As Jesus transformed their minds, they became convicted that people needed to hear the gospel. As Jesus transformed their desires, they longed for people to hear the gospel. As Jesus transformed their wills, they were compelled to give their lives proclaiming the gospel. As Jesus transformed their relationships, they loved people enough to share the gospel with them, even though it cost them everything they had.

Jesus had transformed their very purpose for living – every disciple was sacrificially committed to making disciples – and the trajectory of their lives was never the same.

Fishing for people is glocal in nature

When I say “glocal” I mean Christians have a combined passion to make disciples of people who are “local” and “global” – they are glocal in nature. When you actually believe Jesus’ words and realize Jesus’ worth, then you understand that His aim does not revolve around you alone.

Christians sometimes say, “When Jesus died on that cross, He died just for me.” Without question, there is truth here, for Jesus personally died for you and me (Galatians 2:20). But we must not stop there. According to Jesus’ own words, He died so that “repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). Far beyond just dying for you and me, Jesus was dying to purchase people “for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Disciples of Jesus know that He is not merely a personal Lord and Savior, worthy of someone’s individual approval. Disciples of Jesus know that He is the cosmic Lord and Savior, worthy of everyone’s eternal praise.

So disciples of Jesus can’t help but make disciples of all nations. If we truly believe Jesus’ words and know Jesus’ worth, then we are compelled to be part of this task.

Together, we spend our lives telling hundreds of millions of people in America and Europe to turn from sin and trust in Jesus because He’s worthy of their worship. We make disciples in Africa, where there are over three thousand animistic tribes worshiping all kinds of suspicious spirits and false gods, who do not deserve glory. We make disciples in Japan, Laos, and Vietnam, where there are 350 million Buddhists following Buddha’s practices when Buddha does not merit their praise. We make disciples in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, where there are over 950 million Hindus worshiping millions of worthless gods. We make disciples in China, North Korea, and Cuba, where over a billion people have grown up in Communist environments that deny the very existence of the God who reigns above all. We make disciples in Central Asia and the Middle East, where over 1.5 billion Muslims are following a false god.

We not only care about those around the world, but we also care about those we go to school with and work with. We have a glocal mindset when it comes to fishing for people for Christ.

We make disciples among all of these peoples and among the toughest of these places because we know in our minds, hearts, and lives that Jesus had died on the cross and risen from the grave and that He alone deserves to be exalted as Lord.