- Wednesday, May 04, 2011
"Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times" (Mark 4:3-8).
As you know, Jesus' parable of the seed and soils is one of the most preached passages in Scripture. Yet beyond its deep spiritual meaning, it serves as a powerful metaphor for why our preaching often yields little fruit. For the savvy pastor, this parable provides more than anesthesia, easing our pain by explaining the reason of lean preaching harvest. It also can serve as a stewardship insight that propels us to focus more on soil preparation in order for the seeds we sow to bear significant fruit.
I grew up on a farm in Iowa and remember my dad making "oat dolls." He'd wrap seeds of oats in a cloth and tie it off in a 2- or 3-inch ball so they didn't not fall out, which gave it the "doll" look. Dad put it in a pan with a little water and placed it on the windowsill for sunlight and warmth. After a set number of days, he'd untie the doll and count how many of the seeds germinated. By tabulating the percent of sprouts, he could determine how productive this seed would be and whether it was suitable or not for planting.
Most of Dad's effort wasn't invested in better seed development. He put a majority of his time and energy into soil preparation. He sent soil samples to the Federal Department of Agriculture at Iowa State University to find out the chemical make up of the soil and what it needed for certain crops. Then he'd plow, disc, add chemicals and fertilize the soil so that when the seeds were planted at the right time, they'd stand the best chance of producing a good harvest.
Most pastors invest a lot of time and energy into seed preparation, only to wonder why they see such little outcome after years of planting. The typical pastor spends more than 20 hours a week in message preparation and delivery. Multiply this by 300,000 congregations in the United States. Factor in an average salary of $40,000 per year. The result is a weekly investment of around $15,000,000 for sermon production in America. How's our return on investment?
Forget the economics. Anyone in ministry more than a decade understands the frustration of wondering whether our people are getting it: board members gone wild, staff implosions, betrayals, bickering, mediocre stewardship, church hopping and the pettiness we see in ours and other congregations make us wonder how effective preaching and teaching really are. While Bible conservatives may criticize watered-down content as the cause, lukewarm spirituality is also rampant in their tribes, disguised by pious talk and camouflaged in doctrinal parroting.
The bottom line is that most Christians, in spite of great preaching and teaching, merely transition from spiritual Pampers to Depends. They never grow up. We confuse longevity in church (chronos) with maturity (kairos). Is the problem the overwhelming power of sin or the underwhelming umph of the Gospel or our preaching? Or could there be another factor here that we've overlooked? While I'm all for better preaching, more effective communication, and continual honing of expository skills, most of us would do well to assess how we're doing in soil prep.
A few years ago, Daniel Goleman and his colleagues popularized the concept of emotional intelligence (EI), the study of how people succeed and fail in their ability to read others socially and self-awareness as to how they are being perceived. After Emotional Intelligence, they authored a potent book called Primal Leadership, explaining how a leader's emotional intelligence impacts his or her effectiveness. While emotional intelligence is related to a Christian's ability to communicate spiritual fruit, there's a factor beyond EI that I've termed spiritual intelligence (SI).
After 50 years of attending church and 25 years of leading in it, the issue that amazes me most is how few people mature in spite of decades of sermon hearing, Bible studying and ministry involvement. I've come to realize the main reason we don't see more maturity in our people is not flawed doctrine, mediocre preaching teaching quality, sin or an unwillingness in our people. Lack of maturity is primarily a result of flawed ministry methods.
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