We took our two daughters fishing last Saturday for the first time. They are 4 and 3 years old, and they were so excited! It was a humid but pretty day, and the bass were biting. We were fishing from the bank with simple rods and reels—using minnows for bait, and the girls loved to reel the line in. It didn’t even seem to matter if there was a fish on it or not! They just liked to turn the crank on the reel. But before long, they wanted to do it by themselves. So we let them.
Later in the afternoon after we’d all taken a lunch break, we were back down at the pond again. Our youngest daughter was getting help from a friend who would cast the line out and let her reel it in over and over again. By this time, she was using a child’s floatable fishing pole that had an artificial lure on it. As I stood about 20 feet away doing some fishing myself, I suddenly heard her cry out. My first thought was that she was falling in or had been hooked or something like that, but as I wheeled around to see what was happening, I caught just a glimpse of the Dora the Explorer pole as it sank beneath the surface of the water.
A fish had, in my daughter’s tearful words, eaten her fishing pole! To be honest, I couldn’t help but laugh. It was one of those funny, precious, heartbreaking sights all at once. She was so upset that the pole was lost and we couldn’t get it back. But we should have known better. She’s not that big or strong yet. We should have know that if a big fish ran with her line it would take the pole with it. We didn’t intend for this traumatic experience to happen, but we weren’t really doing anything to avoid it, either.
In Matthew 28:19-20, 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 all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (ESV). We in churches of Christ have a rich heritage of being evangelistic. Baptizing people so that they can experience forgiveness and a renewed relationship with God is one of our primary concerns. But sometimes we make the same kind of mistake that I made with my daughter last Saturday. Sometimes we don’t stick around to make sure the young and weak are thoroughly equipped to maintain their faith on their own.
If I had taught my daughter better and stayed with her until she showed she could handle things by herself, she probably wouldn’t have lost that fishing pole. I wonder how many people we have lost because they were left alone too soon. We need to be better at making disciples. Teaching and nurturing and guiding must continue even after people are baptized so that they are prepared for life’s surprises. It’s one thing to watch my daughter lose a fishing pole; it’s quite another thing to have tender disciples disappear from our fellowship because they were devoured by life’s challenges.
Let’s commit to doing the work Jesus told us to do. Let’s go out and make disciples by baptizing them AND by teaching them to live according to the things Jesus taught us. This takes time, patience, and commitment, but it’s what we’re called to do. Even once people grow in faith and become mature disciples, we still don’t leave them all alone. But at least they will have grown enough that they can hang on tight and not let go when sin and suffering tug at them.
Jesus hasn’t left us, and we shouldn’t leave one another. If we mimic what Jesus modeled, then the people we disciple will end up becoming faithful fishermen themselves.