by Marti Fischer
When wanting to get away with something without her husband knowing, my Mother-in-law often used to quote an old saying, “When the cats away,” she would say, “The mice will play.” Well … while John is away from his desk, let me tell you a story about an orthodox instrument of God, someone you know very well.
It will not be difficult for people who know John and his ministry to imagine how uncomfortable John is with the intersection of independent ministry and entrepreneurship.
Consider the origins of John’s ministry. John was the son of the choir director of a well-known evangelical church in southern California, destined for ministry. He grew up with that bubble of destiny about him. In 1969, with a BA in Social Sciences from Wheaton College, in Illinois, and with the album “Cold Cathedral” to his credit (the first contemporary Christian album released in the United States), John was selected for the internship program at Peninsula Bible Church, Palo Alto, California, pastored by Ray C. Stedman, and focal point of the Jesus Movement in Northern California.
With this undocumented preparation for entry into Christian ministry, along with a substantial academic class-load taught by the pastors, John was steeped 24/7 in spiritual principle, becoming laser-focused on living out and teaching the Bible. (For this, be it noted, John raised monthly support for his earthly needs amounting to $300 a month).
He was unemployed when he married Marti, who, thankfully for the undertaking at hand, held an executive position at United Airlines. Through John’s record label, he secured a booking agent – the first act of obtaining employment or income John had taken in his life, initially at no cost to him, but for a 20% commission on the gross. With his guitar, Bible, and boxes of albums and cassettes for sale in tow, John launched from nothing into what everyone else assumed would be a viable independent ministry with his blend of music and speaking.
The sheer courage of striking out on this utterly untried path and sticking to it, entirely alone, is incomprehensible, especially to the many who know him.
As an indicator of John’s utter unpreparedness for entrepreneurship, when John received his first engagement contract, for a fee of $500 plus travel and expenses, John fell to his knees in a paroxysm of guilt at this extravagant amount and prayed, “Oh Lord, make this right!” He never got over that.
Had John been groomed to be a performing artist, the process would have oriented him to quite a different attitude toward the business side of his career. After all, a musical profession, which John was in, requires a sharp eye on revenue and a clear-eyed embrace of self-promotion. But John received a minister’s training, was licensed and ordained as a minister, and continues to this day with a pastor’s mindset. Not just a pastor’s perspective, though — John’s utter focus on what has come to be called The Gospel of Welcome — Grace Turned Outward, has the reach of a gift we are less comfortable with — of the prophet, of someone burdened to do what they do, and say what they say, whether paid or not.
John is a watchman, one who climbs to a high vantage point to see the danger in the distance before anyone at ground level is aware of it. As a prophet, he is the voice of God and the conscience of society, and he is a champion and guardian of the covenants. John is a social critic mandated by God to speak truth to power and challenge corrupt leaders. Yet, also like other prophets, he is powerless. John declares God’s word with no means of enforcing it. All he has is influence. John has charisma without power. Thus John’s winning, attractive and charismatic way of communicating, whether through music, speaking, or writing, is how he leverages his talent to win people over to the truth, with little knowledge of how to sustain these methods in the real world. He is, after all, first and foremost, a prophet.
Similarly, this immunity to self-promotion and allergic reaction to marketing and strategy is the flip side of his gifting — his ability to walk unarmed onto any platform to disarm defenses and opposition and change lives. John realizes that he should think about “the business side,” convinced that it is his responsibility to take thought for ministry expansion, and berates himself mercilessly for not doing so. It is no use. John’s capacity for self-promotion ends where it began, with those boxes of albums and cassettes to sell after his concerts, a strategy found suitable for the Girl Scouts.
John ought to be well-established atop the pile of his music, writing, and teaching. He is a distinctive voice among biblical evangelicals for cultural engagement, where he might well share the global stage with some of his good friends who are household names (and who would love to work with him). But John is still operating in a homemade mode. He is working as hard as he initially did, still smiling and thankful, wanting opportunities to increase his reach. So, John goes from very early morning until late at night, with no time to write a book or a song, inured to financial stress, obscurity, and the nagging conviction that he is not doing enough.
. . . . . . . .
So John Fischer of the Catch Ministry is a man over his head, doing everything he knows to carry on. His ability to handle plans or money, make a new way in the world, or make steady stepwise headway in these areas is overwhelmed by the constant state of emergency. For eight years, John has had the look of a bad bet. How else to explain the six-year pattern (since Marti became CEO) of denied proposals for investment in ministry expansion and infrastructure?
But John never aspired to be a “bet,” and he certainly isn’t a bad one. Where thoughtful plans are in place, he is an excellent bet indeed, for the one thing that is true about John is that people find him and respond to him and his prophetic ministry.
John studies his Bible. John prays. John pastors, counsels, thinks, listens, and speaks. And, in compact form these days, because of time constraints, John writes. His service in the Catch Ministry, therefore, is entirely devoted to those activities appropriate to a spiritual and not an administrative pastor. His expertise does not include ministry expansion strategy and infrastructure initiatives. Nevertheless, the Catch Ministry remains John’s effective flock, and he delegates the Ministry’s growth and expansion plans to others as in Marti and the board.
John is the Pastor of the Catch Ministry and the thousands that show up on its virtual steps. The platform is vital with its own life, concerns, and needs. No longer is John’s ministry sold in bits out of the trunk of a car. It must be seriously regarded and funded into viability — and under one of the more successful launchers and sustainers to benevolent partnerships and ministries in the nation … another unorthodox instrument of God you know very well.
Think of the Catch Ministry as of the early Christians, who, bereft of real estate, met anywhere and everywhere, worshiping among their enemies and speaking their languages. It is the true endpoint of the moment John and Marti became husband and wife. It was never their intention to carve out a niche inside the church; together they purposed to join their gifts and energies take the church and its gospel to the streets. That is where they are now.
Thus it is not a ministry for everyone. It is an unorthodox ministry for unorthodox instruments of God everywhere. And as bearers of Grace Turned Outward, it is a ministry for you.