Evangelism: You Till, You Plant, and Hopefully You Reap
My Daddy was a farmer when I was a young kid. We were a subsistence farming family, which means we pretty much lived off the crops and livestock my parents raised. Some of my earliest memories are of tilling – planting – reaping. Times were especially difficult in bad crop-years when my parents tilled, planted, but reaped very sparingly. But that’s life for a subsistence farming family.
Years later, those tilling – planting – reaping experiences from life on a little rented Tennessee farm helped me to understand evangelism. You have to know how much tilling the soil needs and when is the right time to reap, otherwise you end up with weeds and cockle burrs, not the fruit you want to see.
Jesus used the kinds of figures of speech He knew his hearers would understand. That’s why he chose agriculture metaphors so frequently. Most of us today, even the so-called “city slickers,” still understand that good fruit comes from proper tilling and wise planting. And a successful farmer knows that tilling is hard work and planting that produces fruit is based on wisdom gained from experience, tried and tested experience.
The Good Soil Evangelism & Discipleship Scale – Bottom Half
Even though we generally tend to read from the top down, plant growth is a bottom to top process. It’s out of dark-rich soil that the healthiest plant life emerges into green stems that blossom out beautifully and produce fruits and vegetables that bless our lives in multiple ways.
Any tilling experience falls on a continuum scale from “moderately hard work” to “EXTREMELY hard work.” I watched my Dad drive a mule-pulled-plow through fields that had been tilled for many generations. The sweat from his brow told me that was hard work, even though the soil was tilling-friendly. But I’ve read stories of my ancestors who broke “new ground” for their subsistence farming—cutting trees, digging up stumps, chopping the biggest roots, and plowing through the remaining roots. And some of my ancestors who moved west, found that prairie land was so challenging that special plows and teams of oxen were required to break up the soil.
Evangelism in an Islamic, postmodern, Spiritist, Hindu, or Buddhist culture is “new ground.” North America is, day-by-day, becoming more like the new ground of previously unsettled prairies or forests. The soil is becoming increasingly hardened, and the roots are becoming larger and more resistant to the “plow” of the Christian gospel. “Nuff said.” I think you know what I mean. If not, take a good look at what we call the “Tilling Level of Evangelism.”
As true believers in Jesus Christ living in North America, we can no longer just scatter the seed of the gospel superficially, often we need to till the soil in pretty much the same way foreign missionaries like William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and Amy Carmichael did many years ago:
- Model the love of Christ and pray for the Holy Spirit to remove the Satanic veil that blinds them from understanding and embracing the message of the gospel.
- Challenge their core worldviews, not by angry confrontation, but by clear Genesis-to-Revelation Bible teaching that helps them understand the BIG Story of God’s plan of redemption.
Perhaps I should add: (3) Be patient and give God time to work.
“Plant potatoes only on Good Friday.”
“Bury nails, hairpins, and other metal objects around a plant.”
“Hitting or beating a plant will make it bloom.”
“Singing or talking to flowers helps them to grow better.”
“To get sweeter tomatoes, add sugar in the planting hole.”
The list of myths of “do’s and don’ts” about planting seems to be endless. Most of them are based on the correlation of experiences someone had, long ago, that evolved into an old timers’ law of planting. Someone, no doubt, did plant potatoes on Good Friday and enjoyed a bountiful harvest of potatoes later in the year. Bingo! Somebody added sugar to the planting hole and the tomatoes were sweeter than normal that season. Farmers’ Almanac picked up the myth and the rest is history.
But just because someone gave a simple tract to a Muslim and he converted to Jesus and Christianity, don’t turn that into an “old wives’ tale” and make it a best practice as to how to plant gospel seeds.
Wise “planting evangelism” doesn’t start on the lowest levels of the scale. Remember—tossing seeds on to hard, rocky, or thorny soil doesn’t generally result in fruit. That’s what Jesus said.
On the other hand, there are still many people in North America who are at or above level -5. So, here’s a rule for evangelistic planting: Discern where your unbeliever friend is on the bottom half of the Good Soil scale and begin tilling or planting there. If he or she already (1) realizes there is only one true God, (2) has been exposed to other foundational Christian concepts, and (2) is interested in Jesus and the gospel—morph up to the next level, the Reaping level of evangelism.
Unfortunately, God doesn’t always promise that tilling and planting will result in reaping—the salvation of unbelieving sinners. But often the reaping will occur later, and another Christian will be there when it happens. So don’t be discouraged if your unbelieving friend doesn’t respond positively to your gospel conversations. If the gospel has been delivered clearly, the Holy Spirit will do His work, and your unbelieving friend will probably be counting the cost of a faith response to trust Jesus.
*Some gospel concepts, such as there is one true God, people are sinners by birth and choice, sin has separated us from this Holy God, there is a penalty for sin, Jesus is God’s Son who died on the cross, and by placing our faith in Him we can have and enjoy eternal life.
The more I’ve learned about evangelism, the more I have realized that we can and should rejoice with every opportunity we have to “bump an unbeliever up the scale.” That’s a phrase we use to describe when a Christian helps a non-Christian come closer to a personal faith response than he or she was prior to the gospel-based interaction. If we can go no further, we just need to rejoice in that little piece of spiritual fruit and trust God to bring another Christian into our friend’s life whom God can use to take over where our efforts stopped.