We fishers of men are the only fishermen who don’t throw any back. At least not normally. We once had a waterfront home on the South Carolina coast. The fishing was the best I’ve ever done. But occasionally while fishing for dinner we would catch sharks. Sharks are edible, and in some cultures a delicacy. But you probably would not like it. We Americans like fish that doesn’t smell or taste like fish, and sharks really do.
Every church planter will eventually have to decide to throw a fish back over the side. It’s a sort of ecclesiastical catch and release. Many of the fishermen who actually fish for sharks carry a gun with them to dispatch the shark in the water before pulling him into the boat. A live six-foot shark can bite your leg off just as easily in the boat as out. So it’s best to recognize a dangerous animal and treat it accordingly before bringing it aboard.
A few years ago, when one of my church plants was fairly new, we were having an evening meeting. My wife and I arrived early, as did another couple. We were enjoying some fellowship in the foyer of our newly built facility when a man walked in and asked if we were having a meeting that evening. When he heard we were, he was pleased and explained that he was looking for a church for his family. I greeted him kindly, at which point he launched into a tirade about the church he had been attending. The pastor was shallow … they were only interested in his money… they were unfriendly … there was a lot of theological error being taught.
There was a time in my ministry when I would have done everything possible to retain that guy. But this was my seventh plant, and having had sharks in my boat before, I knew what had to be done. I told him how sorry I was for his experience. Then I slipped my hand gently under his arm and slowly began walking him to the foyer door. As we reached the door, I pushed it open and escorted the gentleman out. While doing so, I said, “You will not like our church either; you need to keep on looking.” I spoke kindly in a soft but firm voice. My purpose was not to wound or hurt the man but to protect our precious flock. It was a painful but necessary action.
Let me change my metaphor … the church has at least three types of creatures: sheep, goats and wolves. If you don’t learn to distinguish them from each other, you will experience a great deal of personal pain and professional frustration.
Not everyone is right for your church. In this matter, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you pick up a shark/wolf who is bad-mouthing their last pastor, you may be sure they will be bad-mouthing you to someone else before long. And when they leave, they very often will take three or four families with them.
“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28)