My father had a green thumb. My grandfather on my mom’s side also had a green thumb. And me? Not so much. But it used to be “not at all” so there has been progress! In the last few years, I have been successful at keeping plants alive in my house and am trying to develop some gardens around my house.
But I have to admit that I prefer sowing to plowing. I don’t like to take the time to fully prepare the soil for the seed or for the plant. I’m eager to see the fruit of the sowing but not so eager to do the work of soil preparation. Consequently, when the plant withers or dies, I’m quick to blame the soil or the seed. But over time, I’m looking more at myself as the sower.
I read a book recently that talked about the Parable of the Sower from Matthew 13, and described this parable with three main characters: the sower, the soil, and the seed. We are the sowers, as believers. The seed is the Word of God. The soil is those hearing the Word of God, non-Christians. This parable is really about the soil, as it is described as hard, rocky, or thorny. The soil is the main character.
But too often we focus our attention on the sower, and make the sower the main character. We focus on the presentation of the message, how and when and where to do it. We practice the four spiritual laws, the sinners prayer, and other tools for a quick save.
And just like me in my garden, we neglect the plowing.
Plowing happens as we live our lives. Plowing happens in the words we speak, the actions we take, the gospel that we live every day in our work and in our communities. Our life is a gospel. The plowing that we do by loving our neighbor creates trust and an opportunity to sow. And sometimes the life we live on a daily basis does not line up with the words we say when sharing about our faith. When our words and actions do not line up with our proclaimed values, we have a problem.
When we do evangelistic events or crusades, we are sowing seeds without plowing. Statistics tell us that only 6% of those saved at a crusade will ever step into a church, and only 2% of those saved at a crusade remain committed to their faith for the long-term. The seeds have been sown, but the soil has not been prepared to receive the seed. So we blame Satan. Or we blame the soil.
But we teach in different churches and schools across Africa, we often ask people how they became a Christian. The overwhelming answer we receive is that they heard about Jesus through relationships – family, friends, co-workers, and others. That shows the effect of plowing. A good sower, an experienced sower, would never waste seed on a rocky or hard ground. A good sower would never intentionally sow on hard ground.
Maybe the Parable of the Sower would be better titled The Parable of the Soil. That is where the focus needs to be.
That is why we, at Discipling Marketplace Leaders, spend so much time seeking to equip Christians to be the Church every day of the week, in every sphere of influence. We teach “life-on-life evangelism” and we are also starting to use the term “whole-life discipleship.” If every Christian is living the gospel in every workplace, and understands that the gathered Church is to prepare them to be the church in every sphere of influence, then the plowing will be done more thoroughly and seeds planted will have a better chance for growth.
St. Francis is credited as saying, “Preach constantly. When necessary, use words.” Too often we focus on the words and neglect what we are preaching as a spouse, parent, family member, neighbor, co-worker, employee, and so on.
One of the lines we use when teaching (to create some cognitive dissonance) is that “the biggest barrier to evangelism is evangelism programs.” The reason for that we say this is because the brain wants to segment and organize and compartmentalize life. So we do an evangelism event, and our brain then checks off evangelism and says that we are done until the next event. Or we wait for the evangelism committee to come up with events and until then we are not engaged. But life-on-life evangelism recognizes the opportunity to plow wherever we spend our time.
Plowing is more difficult than harvesting and it takes more time. We often work alongside people six hours a day or more, five days a week. We have the time and the ability amongst our co-workers to plow, to fertilize, to water, to remove rocks, and to remove weeds. We also have the ability to do marketing of our faith, to use business terms. It’s not enough to tell customers how wonderful Jesus is, but we have to demonstrate for them how the product works, and how this product will make their lives better. People need to see and experience a new product before they will buy it. Our lives declare the worth of God. Our work is a witness. Good work is a good witness. Bad work is a bad witness.
Dr. Herbert Kane, a professor from the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, said this:
You are writing the Gospel, a chapter each day,
By the things that you do and the words that you say,
People read what you write, whether distorted or true,
What is the Gospel according to you?
May God help us to become better plowers!