In the 18 years that I have been in ministry and the 10 years that I have been a pastor, this past week was one of the most “freeing” weeks of my ministry. As an under-shepherd, often times I felt as if it was my “personal responsibility” to “go after” the sheep that left the fold. After all, Jesus left the 99 for the 1 (Matthew 18:12-14). Or how about David as he explained to Saul about chasing after the bear and the lion for attacking his fathers sheep (1 Samuel 17:34-35)? I made it my mission to make sure that all the “sheep” were accounted for. Yet at the same time, “chasing sheep” became the very thing that was burning me out. Sadly enough, this has burned out and kept out many of under-shepherds in their tenure of ministry. (Maybe you as well are feeling the same way as you are reading this. If so, stay with me.)
To continue the story, I went to San Antonio last week to attend a House Church Conference. I actually went to go hear and see author and speaker Neil Cole. In one of the sessions he discussed some points and insights concerning biblical discipleship. In this discussion, he came out of Matthew 13 which is the chapter of the “Parable of the Soils”. As he presented this passage, he began to break down the “4 Soils”; 1.) The Seed That Fell Beside The Road 2.) The Seed That Fell On The Rocky Places 3.) The Seed That Fell Among The Thorns 4.) The Seed That Fell On Good Soil. Let me explain it like this: First you have the “Hard Soil”- Unreceptive to the Gospel, demonically distracted. Next you have the “Shallow Soil”-Committed to what feels good or right at the moment. Next you have the “Weed Infested Soil”- Distracted by worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth and materialism. Finally you have the “Good Soil”- Receives the Word, germinates, grows and reproduces. As we notice, only 1 out of 4 soils will bear real fruit. In other words, it’s like saying that most of our pastoral ministries will have a 75% failure rate! Only 1 out of 4 will actually “get it”. For 10 years that has been my struggle and discouragement. However, I realized that that should have not been my discouragement at all, it should have been life affirming! This fact reflects the reality of our life experiences. Sadly enough, we have congregations that spend their time, talent and treasure to accommodate for “bad soil” so that the sheep won’t run! I know that may sound a little insensitive or non-evangelistic, however the reality is that we have spent hours in ministry feeling responsible for their lives. We feel that as under-shepherds that it is our responsibility to make sure that we personally bring back those who are “slipping away”. Hence we begin to develop and/or create new programs to keep them excited, or bend over backwards to make sure that their needs are met, or spend hours out of the day counseling and encouraging them to “please serve Jesus”. Yet in the mean time putting our family to the side to make sure that the one who’s heart really isn’t with serving Jesus and worshiping the Lord get’s all the adequate attention he/she needs. Here’s the kicker; Christ did not make true discipleship to be like this! He told us already that 1 out of 4 will be good soil and the other 3 will be thrown to the side, in the thorns or amongst the rocks. We must learn to spend our lives and invest our time in those who truly desire to bear fruit, and let God deal with the bad soil! Satan has a sly way in making us feel responsible and burdened for “the bad soil/seeds”. Thus, our entire ministry, if broken down by time invested, will show that the majority of our time, talent and treasure was given to those who had an issue with submitting to God’s Lordship in return for desiring attention and becoming a spoiled congregant! Not any more! As of last Saturday, the Lord truly released and relieved me of the duty and feelings of the obligation to “chasing sheep” ( or bad soil) and in turn invest my life and heart in those who mean business with God! When we begin to invest in those who’s soil and seed are good, by spiritual nature they will multiply themselves. When multiplication happens, healthy spiritual and numerical growth will occur. If we as pastors and leaders of our respective congregations become obedient to the role the Lord mandates for us to live by, we will be less burned out and more on fire to invest our lives in those who truly want to grow. We are called to multiply, but we multiply with good soil/seed. In the mean time let’s allow the Lord to deal with the bad soil/seed, so that in His timing and His showing, they too may broken by God to become good soil/seed. He does a better job at it anyway!
I conclude by saying that on Monday, (the day I usually call, email or text those who I haven’t seen at church on Sunday) I didn’t contact or chase any sheep. In retrospect, I called, emailed and text men of God who have a desire for God’s word and a passion to bear fruit. What a change of response from what I have been used to for 10 years!
Investing in good soil- Pastor Sammy