The Parable of the Sower
“2 And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, 3 “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4 as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. 6 And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. 8 Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” 9 And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Mark 4:2-9
Recently I had occasion to facilitate a discussion about evangelism in a public setting. The conversation also focused to some degree on personal relational evangelism. One of the attendees approached me after I finished speaking and asked me my thoughts on making disciples compared to scattering seed.
I love the heart behind the question and the desire on the part of the person asking. His clear desire is to be about the business of obeying the command of the great commission. Furthermore, the framework of the question is indicative of a heart that wants to do it well. This is commendable, and it is my desire to see more Christians pursue this mindset.
In the parable of the sower we see a man who desires to harvest bountiful crops of fruit. He goes about scattering seed in what appears to be an almost haphazard way. As the growing season progresses the apparent foolishness of his methodology is exposed as some of the seed seems wasted. Still more of the seed is choked out as it grows up amongst weeds. However, some of the seed seems to have landed in good soil and produces the desired result.
The question we are forced to contemplate is this:
If the farmer was wise why wouldn’t he concentrate the totality of his seed sowing on the fertile ground? Doesn’t wisdom dictate that seed should be scattered where the results would be guaranteed?
Indeed, this is the conundrum of modern evangelism. Wisdom would seem to dictate that we pursue preaching the Gospel to the most receptive and likely to believe people.
Onesimus and Philemon Disciples of Paul
10 I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, 11 who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. 12 I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will. 15 For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. Philemon 10-16
That seems almost simple and complicated at the same time. Christ was clear in the Great Commission that we are to be about the business of making disciples. Disciple making is a dedicated process wherein we spend seemingly unquantifiable amounts of time coaxing less mature Christians along.
Each of us should be discipling someone else as we are also being discipled by another. Generally, disciple making can be understood as teaching another. While we may not be personally gifted teachers, we are still responsible to be teaching those around us.
The beauty of disciple making is that it works to encourage the one doing the teaching. They observe, in tangible ways the effects of personal relationships between believers. The younger, less mature believer is encouraged as well. There is great comfort in knowing they can lean on the more mature Christians.
There is maybe no more tangible picture of this outside of the Gospels than what we see in Philemon between Paul, Philemon and Onesimus. Philemon was converted under Paul’s preaching and then discipled by him. Onesimus was on the run from Philemon when he encountered Paul. Paul then discipled Onesimus. He then sent Onesimus back to Philemon and expected Philemon to disciple Onesimus.
Accordingly, we can draw a roadmap of sorts from this brief letter by Paul. We see that discipleship is an intimate and deeply personal relationship that flows from the preaching of the Gospel. It is in this context that we can begin to understand the importance of seed scattering.
Seed Scattering and the Sovereignty of God
The parable isn’t just about understanding the different types of soils and the results of the seeds landing in them. There is an almost heady imagery of the Sovereign work of God in the parable. The sower represents the Christian as he goes about proclaiming the Gospel to all people everywhere. The trust is that God will work to accomplish His ends through the proclamation of the Good News.
The act of spreading the seed of the Gospel will look different for each of us. No two sowers will sow the same. Subsequently, Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3, some of us will plant, some will water, but it is God who grows the seed into a fruit bearing plant.
If we understand seed scattering in this context it will begin to paint a different picture for us. We will begin seeing seed scattering not as distinctly different than disciple making but intrinsically linked to it. We will see seed scattering as an iconography of what it means for each Christian to Advance the Gospel into the world in hopes of making disciples.
Penultimately we will grasp the parable of the sower as a New Testament image of Isaiah 55:11.
To Separate Seed Scattering from Disciple Making is to Misunderstand Both
The ability to be a disciple making Christian rests solely on the work of being a seed scattering Christian. 1 Corinthians 3 tells us all to be about the work of planting and watering.
I believe that we confuse the preaching of the Gospel to be the beginning of discipling. I recently read a deleterious book that distinguishes between pre-conversion disciples and post-conversion disciples. This mindset is flawed and misunderstands what Paul was saying.
As we scatter seed we may never see that seed watered and harvested. Furthermore, our seed scattering may be God working to water the previously planted seed of the another. In an even more powerful way we could even see our seed scattering be the means by which God harvests.
When we Advance the Gospel, we should be joyfully expectant that God is working according to His plan. If we set our eyes on this understanding it frees us from performance anxiety. Certainly, we should be laboring for accuracy and precision in our preaching. However, we are freed to be seed scattering Gospel preachers ready to see God harvest the work someone else may have started.
Well over ten years ago I labored weekly with a young man named Ted. Every Wednesday night for two or more years I would proclaim the Gospel to him. Each Wednesday night he seemed on the cusp of repenting and believing the Gospel. Finally he believed.
Seed scattering produces disciples.
This may be an over-simplified answer to what is essentially a deeply important theological question. However, it is how I have come to understand the matter. I do not see the two issues as separate but as fundamentally one. It is incredibly important that we see it rightly.
Furthermore, we should always seek to be seed scattering disciple making Christians. I will never be able to thank Matthias the way I should for asking the question the way he did. It humbled me and caused me to think on the topic to a depth that I had not gone to before.
I have not seen much fruit in from my preaching. This has left me dejected at times. Over the course of my Christian walk I have seen two people come to Christ in tangible ways. The sweetest of those conversions has been that of my son. It has been humbling to scatter and water that seed as God has brought the harvest. This question has brought the focus of seed scattering into a proper context for me.
So, my beloved reader. Go about the business of seed scattering and trust God for the results. While you do that look carefully for the one you can disciple along the way.
Soli Deo Gloria!