Bam! Swoosh! I never saw it coming. In an instant, a fifty pound salmon grabbed my bait and swam furiously upstream. A moment later he broke the surface and shook free from the hook. It was powerful, beautiful, and depressing – all at the same time. Some people catch fish and let them go. I was intent on eating this one! I invested a lot of money in this trip, and I wanted something to show for it.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but that experience, and those emotions, are powerful metaphors for ministry. As pastors and churches, we invest a lot in “fishing” for men. We train. We develop programs. We give up our time. Like some fishermen, we put our whole heart into completing the task of making disciples as Jesus commanded us. For months we might not get a bite. Sometimes a little one nibbles at the bait, but we wonder if we’ll ever land a keeper.  It gets discouraging.

About the time we’re ready to give up, we get a hit. “Bam!” We land a trophy fish. He has all the markings of a quality catch. “It’s about time!” We feel satisfied with ministry. We are encouraged. We can’t wait to show people how God has used us. The last thing on our mind is letting him go. Unfortunately, that mindset shapes the whole trajectory of everything we do. Instead of preparing him to catch other fish, we stuff him with information about what it means to be a fisherman. We are intent on plugging him into our ministry, so we fail to prepare him for God’s mission.

God never intended for us to hoard fish. He sent us out to fish for men so they could join us in fishing for more. Ministry isn’t about displaying our trophies. It’s all about catch and release. To do that, we need a plan. Here’s some simple ways you can release leaders to multiply your impact:

  1. Teach them core convictions to guide them. “Developing leaders without core convictions is like raising children without boundaries.” Our goal is to build an army, not an audience. To do that, we need to raise up leaders with solid theology.
  2. Focus on developing character. We want to produce leaders who can pour themselves into others. Without Christ-like character, they have nothing of value to pour out.
  3. Train them in core competencies. Make sure they know how to carry out the task of serving others.
  4. Invest in the relationship. Help them see what it means to live in community, to be transparent and live with authenticity.
  5. Coach them. Guide them toward fulfilling God’s call to reach the nations rather than filling a position in your church.

If you’d like help in fleshing this out, if you want to stop hoarding fish and start releasing them, please contact me at cjewell [at] garbc [dot] org You can also access more information through a booklet entitled “Multiplication Today, Movements Tomorrow” by Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im. (Some of the ideas expressed here were gathered from this booklet)