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Catch-and-Release Preaching

Some of the fondest memories of my childhood are of going fishing with my dad. To enjoy each other's company and build up our relationship, we would head down to the lake to enjoy some catch-and-release fishing. Before we made it to the lake, we had preparation rituals to accomplish. The night before, we would quietly stalk night crawlers in our back yard to use for bait. In the morning, we would check the tackle box to make sure we had all the right tools for the job. If it was the first day of the season, we would head down to the local bait shop to get a license and maybe some extra worms if my stomping had scared away too many night crawlers the previous night.

When we got to the lake, we would carefully bait our hooks or choose our lure. Then we would cast and wait. When we got a bite, the real thrill began. There was so much excitement in fighting a fish, wondering how big it would be when we got it out of the water, and sharing in the thrill for whoever was reeling in one. After the fight was over, we would take a good look at our prize, take it off the hook and throw it back in the water. The people who were there to keep the fish would look at us as if we were crazy; but we always threw them back, because we had no need of fish. We wanted the pond to stay well-stocked so we would have enough fish to fight. On occasion, we got exactly what we wanted because we could tell the same fish would bite over and over again.

Although this story is a fond memory, I hope my fishing strategy never resembles my preaching strategy. When Jesus told His disciples He would make them fishers of men, He wasn't talking about catch-and-release fishing. The fishers in the group caught fish for the sole purpose of keeping them. Although those fish would die because they had been caught, Jesus' style of fishing leads to life for those who are caught. Jesus intended for His disciples to keep their catch, not throw them back into the environment they had come from before they were caught.

Finding Our Bait
Just as my father and I spent the previous night collecting our bait to catch the interest of fish, we as preachers must have something to catch the interest of our congregation. As we live life, we will experience many things that can serve as sermon illustrations that we can store as bait. I like to store mine in a Word document where the Find function can bring me to any key word or topic in a moment. Others use a more traditional hard-copy system in a filing cabinet. Whatever system you choose, it is bound to be better than hoping the story will come to mind in your sermon preparation. These illustrations will bring your sermon to life and catch the interest of your congregation so the members will recognize the Bible really does have something to say to them. A sermon without illustrations is like a naked fish hook floating in the water; you're not going to get very many bites.

Preparing Our Tackle Box
Next we prepare our tackle box. Instead of hooks, weights and bobbers, we make sure we have the tools of exegesis. We have our grammars and commentaries to help us arrive at the best exegetical understanding of the passage. We read for context. We ask ourselves, "What was the author trying to convey to his original audience?" Without accurate exegesis, we have nothing important to say. Without good exegesis, we are men making casting motions with our fishing rods, even though it's not attached to a fishing line. We may appear to be going through the motions, but we are not actually accomplishing anything.

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