Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sowing the Seed and Reaping a Harvest

Is it enough to share the gospel with a lost person? Must we also reap a harvest? I’ve heard the following statement in some form many times: “Christians are responsible for sowing the seed, but they are not responsible for reaping a harvest.” In one sense the statement is certainly true. We cannot force people to surrender their lives to Christ in repentance and faith: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink.”

The Great Commission, however, says the following:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (NASB)

Christians are commanded to “make disciples” (mathēteuō, μαθητευω). A disciple (a Christian) is a person who has committed himself to forsake all and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23, 14:33). This forsaking and following involves repentance and faith. The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message describes repentance and faith: “Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.” True disciples eventually bear good fruit. Some of our seed inevitably falls on soil that is hard, rocky, or thorny. We should try to sow our seed on the good soil, the soil from which will come a good harvest (Matthew 13:3-23).

Notice that Paul both sowed the seed and reaped a harvest on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:21):

“After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.”

In Acts 14:21, the word for “preach the gospel” is “euaggelizō” (ευαγγελιζω), and the word for “make disciples” again is “mathēteuō” (μαθητευω).

In regard to resistant people, sometimes it is said that we can only share the gospel with them and that we cannot harvest such people. That is true. Some Christians find themselves in the midst of a resistant people group. We should always look for receptive individuals in our sphere of influence, but as a general rule we should focus our efforts on receptive groups, not resistant groups. Jesus said that we should shake off the dust and leave when we encounter resistant people (Matthew 10:14):

“Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.”

Notice He referred to both individuals (“house”) and groups (“city”). Group resistance was emphasized by Jesus in Luke 10:10-11:

“But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet we wipe off in protest against you; yet be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’”

Notice that the apostle Paul followed this principle on his first missionary journey (Acts 13: 46, 51):

“Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.’ . . . But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.”

Donald McGavran said,

“Evangelism can be and ought to be directed to responsive persons, groups, and segments of society. . . . Correct policy is to occupy fields of low receptivity lightly. The harvest will ripen someday. . . . They should not be heavily occupied lest, fearing that they will be swamped by Christians, they become even more resistant. . . . While holding them lightly, Christian leaders should perfect organizational arrangements so that when these lands turn responsive, missionary resources can be sent in quickly.”

McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, Third Edition, ed. C. Peter Wagner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 187, 191.

The culture in America has changed, and it is now generally more resistant to the gospel than it used to be. In an extremely receptive culture, any biblical method will work, so methodology is not very important. In an extremely resistant culture, virtually no method will work, so methodology is not very important. In the middle range, in which a culture such as America’s is neither extremely resistant nor extremely receptive, some methods work while other methods don’t work, so methodology is very important. Within our American culture, there are both somewhat resistant groups/individuals and somewhat receptive groups/individuals. Our primary evangelistic focus should be on the receptive groups and individuals. That’s a biblical strategy. Ed Stetzer commented on such a focus:

“Focusing acknowledges that people generally prefer to come to Christ without crossing social, racial, or economic boundaries. Every international missionary is aware of this and focuses on a selected receptive group of people.”

Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006), 144.

Our country is now a large mission field. Our people must view themselves as missionaries to their own culture and thus focus on receptive groups and individuals. This view of church membership is the essence of being a missional church.