7 May, 2015 Andy Mason
The longer I’ve done ministry, the more I’ve felt the huge obstacles in evangelism, and the more I’ve felt the difficulty of reaching people with the Gospel. For a start, the personal obstacles are intimidating. We talk with people who have years of mental illness behind them, or abuse, or they’re addicts; or they’re incredibly successful, or they’re deeply secular, or they’re preoccupied with their careers. Overcoming these obstacles can seem impossible. On a deeper level, the spiritual reality is overwhelming: for all these people - whatever their surface issues - are spiritually dead. How do we talk with spiritually dead people when they have no interest in the Gospel?
In reflecting on the Parable of the Sower, I’ve been struck by the image used for the Gospel: ‘seed’. This is, in many ways, a picture of weakness and fragility. The seed can be eaten, stamped on, ignored and burnt up. Which of us in ministry doesn’t know this? People stamp on the seed all the time, or Satan seems to take it away as soon as it’s sown. At times, you can feel weak and pathetic as you try to reach people with the amazing good news of Jesus.
But there is strong comfort in knowing that we’re not the first to experience this. Don’t the Gospels give us a big picture of the weakness and fragility of Jesus’s ministry as well - as He’s rejected, misunderstood, ignored and despised by people around Him? Here we see the true Sower of the seed who seems to harvest much fruitlessness along the way.
The seed, though, is also a picture of tremendous power. The obvious point in the parable is that the seed has life in it. When it gets in the good ground it does something ordinary and amazing at the same time - it grows! You may see nothing at first but, if you wait, something will be slowly happening underneath - and eventually it will show itself. We’re reminded here that there are often slow-dramatic effects from Gospel sowing that take generations. Plant a tank in the ground and you get nothing; but plant a seed and you can get a whole forest - but the forest won’t come quickly! The Gospel will powerfully bear fruit, but we may not get to see it.
Maybe what we need in evangelism is to hold a vivid picture of this weak-powerful seed in front of us, so that we will neither be hyped up by unbiblical expectations, nor discouraged by the resistance all around us. We need to combine visions of both power-evangelism and weakness-evangelism if we are to sustain ministry in the long term.