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A man in Biblical clothes holding to minnows in one hand and a plastic goldfish in the other.
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This Is One Messy Fishing Failure—But It’s True!

Have you ever planned an event so monumental that you knew it would be a crazy success—or a crazy failure? Then you’ll get a chuckle out of this children’s minister’s seeming failure, and how God ended working through her mess!

One Whopper of a Fishing Tale

I guess I’ve always felt that, sooner or later, it was going to happen: the one colossal ministry disaster that would forever brand me as “that crazy children’s director we once had.”

Maybe this was it.

The Event

I was asked to come up with an idea for an evening Sunday school event. I prayed a dutiful—if somewhat abbreviated—prayer for God’s guidance. At that instant, a Fishers of Men Night popped into my head. Sounds like a safe concept, right? A real fishpond in the parking lot! Every child would catch a fish to take home and eat. Now that’s a multisensory experience! (Suffice it to say I’ve since learned that instantaneous popping is not necessarily an indication that the Holy Spirit’s cooking up a good idea.)

But being a real advocate of hands-on learning, I thought this particular “inspiration” was not to be denied. Besides, it would be fun! It would be exciting! It would be creative!

What it was, was a mess!

Finding the Fish

I called trout-fishing outfits to book a date. After 10 long-distance calls, I found someone who could set up a tank for $250 and sell me the 9- to 11-inch fish for $1.25 apiece.

“By the way,” the man said, “I don’t advise doing this in the summer. The water needs to be cool.”

I guess since I couldn’t afford his price, I thought I didn’t need to heed his advice. I chalked it up as a bad attitude.

Undaunted, I found another guy who sold fish but wasn’t in the tank business. His fish cost the same but were two inches longer! That gave me the incentive to find my own tank. I said I’d get back to him later. By the way, was he mumbling something about the weather in July?

I advertised our need for a free above-ground pool for three weeks with no response. It was now the end of May, and local stores were selling small pools. Why not? It was cheaper than renting, and we could sell it afterward. We got a great deal on a 12-foot pool.

The Set Up

Behind every intense-type children’s director, you’ll likely find Wonderful Spouse (very akin to a superhero) who’ll spend a couple of days assembling an above-ground pool. Now, how could I have known that we’d have to haul in some dirt?

Meanwhile, back at the fish farm, the trout had now grown longer so the price was higher. Twenty dollars a pound was starting to sound like a bargain. I ordered 150 of the 14- to 16-inch trout, and my friendly fish farmer said he could lend me an aerator. He could also sell me chemicals to dechlorinate our city water.

He might’ve also reminded me about cold water; but at the time, I was thinking of ways to get around buying the chemicals. Someone mentioned that the ballfield sprinkler system was on well water. Because of the automatic timers on the sprinklers, we’d have to fill the pool on Friday. All we needed was 100 yards of hose.

Mind you, all the usual stuff had to be taken care of during the fish negotiations. I had to write puppet scripts, hire puppet performers, publicize on the cable channel so we could reach more people, photocopy handouts, coordinate plans with the music minister, and consult sound technicians.

The Day of the Event

Finally, all that was left to do was pick up the aerator and a few blocks of ice to cool down the water that had had three days to warm up. The aerator was almost half the size of the pool. Wonderful Spouse was able to rig heavy piping to hold it up, but the piping punctured the pool lining in a few places. So we lowered our pool price by a few dollars.

Three hours to go and the water temperature was 76 degrees—after we put in our ice! It needed to be 55 degrees.

The whole community was on its way to see 150 trout floating belly-up in a leaking pool churned by a 200-horsepower aerator!

Wonderful Spouse took care of buying out the ice reserves of three supermarkets and a gas station while I got the puppet team settled in. The fish were trucked in; but after 750 pounds of ice (that’s not a misprint), the temperature had only dropped to 67 degrees.

The Turnout

We waited for all the people to arrive. My senior pastor said I was calm and focused when I presented the lesson. That could only have been the result of the Holy Spirit controlling all bodily functions of a person in the thralls of STSD—Simultaneous Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’m not sure what caused my STSD. It could’ve been the result of 150 terminal trout, or it might’ve been that only 10 families came out for Fishers of Men Night. I must’ve regained part of my faculties later, because I have a vague recollection of children complaining that the fish, also suffering from STSD, weren’t biting very well.

Our youth pastor is a remarkable example of Christlike mercy. He took one look at me, removed his watch, and climbed into the fishy water which, although not cool enough for fish, was plenty refreshing for a human being. Someone handed him a net and he caught fish for the kids. Well, I suppose nets are more biblical than fishing poles anyway.

Fish were flopping everywhere. There were gleeful screams from the children and fathers. Mothers, however, expressed concerns about fish slime. Should I let them know that at the current cost per person I could’ve sent them all out on a Lake Michigan charter boat? Nah. I knew the fish weren’t the only things flopping.

The After Effects

I didn’t go into work on Monday.

There was someone, however, who did not stop working; who never wavered in accomplishing his purposes no matter the circumstances; who had worked through, around, and despite a frazzled children’s director. Reports came in Tuesday from throughout the community and neighboring city.

Because families went home with bags of fish, they had to do something with their excess fish. People asked neighbors for advice about cleaning and preparing fish. They gave fish to unemployed friends and had neighborhood fish fries. And they all talked about Sunday school!

A couple of our families were cleaning fish in their front yard when four teenage boys came by. The teenagers asked where they’d caught the fish. One fisher replied, “In our church parking lot.” Seeing the surprise on their faces, another fisher followed with, “Haven’t you heard about fishers of men?” Then she was able to tell them about her faith.

God re-enacted the story found in the fourth chapter of Matthew right here in Spring Lake, right before our eyes. In God’s power and wisdom, he took the little we had to offer and used it to spread the gospel in ways we could never have foreseen.

When you think about it, I guess God’s an advocate of hands-on learning, too!

Ann Miller still works at her church in Michigan where they have a swimming pool for sale…cheap.

Want more articles for children’s ministry leaders? Check these out.

4 thoughts on “This Is One Messy Fishing Failure—But It’s True!

  1. Aw~ I love this “hands on” messy lesson! This will preach too…what to do when fish aren’t biting…
    Thankyou for sharing! Proud of you!

  2. Elsa J Lucas, First Moravian Church

    If I read this yesterday, April Fool’s Day, I would have thought this the best April fool joke of all times! Great story and even if a couple of teenage kids got the message it was well worth the effort. Perhaps I would use plastic fish with a coupon for a fish sandwich at one of the fast food places. I know, it wouldn’t be as much fun but I’m really “chicken” to try this one. God Bless.

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