I don't think we can improve on Jesus' plan for reaching the world.
He preached to the masses.He ministered to individuals.He poured himself into a small group of key followers.He invited an even smaller group to be his disciples.
That small group of 12 men (which eventually became eleven after Judas defected) was the real focus of Jesus' earthly ministry. After he returned to heaven, they became the foundation for the church he was building (Ephesians 2:20).
Every pastor needs to do the same thing. Find a group of key men and women and pour yourself into them. Teach them. Training faithful men, and training faithful women. Pray with them. Listen to them. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Challenge them. Encourage them. Meet them early in the morning. Call them late at night. Send them a weekly email. (Well before email the phone or personal visits) Bring them into your confidence. Let them see your heart.
There is only one thing wrong with this plan. It takes a long time and it takes a lot of energy and you have to be really committed to it. This isn't a quick-rewards program.
I was meeting with a few pastors when the discussion turned to the importance of pastors meeting with a group of key leaders, men and women who seem to be good soil capable of producing much fruit for the kingdom. One pastor who is already very effective in his ministry said, "I'd like to do that but I just don't have the time. I'm overwhelmed with too many things to do already." That wasn't an excuse because he's not an excuse-making sort of man. It was a sober statement of reality. He really didn't have the time. One of the other men in the room commented, "It must not be very important to you or you'd find the time to do it." He didn't argue and he wasn't offended. A few months later when I saw him, he said, "I want you to meet my men." And he introduced me to a group of 8 men, each one handpicked and prayed over. They were meeting weekly to read theology and pray together. And after some period of time, each man will pray about it and handpick his own men to repeat the process.
Again, this isn't fancy or flashy but it's exactly what we ought to be doing. The best ministry is always life on life. A passion for God is better caught than taught.
When you find the good soil, cultivate it! Work with it so that eventually there will be a multiplied harvest for the Lord.
8A Without prayer your ministry cannot be effective.
We do the sowing, the seed must do the work, but it needs a receptive heart to bring forth fruit. What does a farmer do with unproductive soil? He plows it up, throws out the rocks, pulls up the weeds, waters the ground, and plants it again. God farms the human heart like that. Jeremiah 4:3 says, "Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns." Things don't have to stay the way they are today. Remember what God promised to disobedient Israel in Ezekiel 36:26, "I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."
A new heart!A spiritual heart transplant!
That goes beyond the parable Jesus told and it takes us into a realm of enormous spiritual promise. The farmer cannot of himself transform rocky soil into good soil. Generally speaking most places have more rock than soil.
- You could never get rid of all the rocks. But God can!
And this is why the final word in the ministry belongs to the Lord and not to us. After all, we were all once like the seed sown by the path. But God in his mercy intervened. He removed the heart of stone and gave us a heart of flesh. He did for us what we could never do for ourselves.
If God can do that for us, he can do it for anyone.
Over the years we have had men and women who became like the prodigal son. Years would pass and all of a sudden they would show up at your door steps. Or you would receive a phone call, or they would drive up in a 18 wheeler.
I suppose that for many years, those who knew this young man despaired that his life could ever change. You may have a prodigal son or daughter in your life at this moment and it seems impossible that they could ever return to the Lord. But with God all things are possible. This is why we keep on sowing, keep on watering, keep on praying, and keep on waiting. We believe God can do things that are far beyond our expectations. He's done it before. He can do it again. And he's doing at this moment all over the world.
This parable ought to teach us both patience and hope. We need patience because some of the seeds we sow will never produce the fruit we hope for. But others will produce one hundred times more than we ask or expect or dream for. And this is why we preach and pray and keep on sowing the Word. There is good soil out there even though it's not always easy to find.
If we keep on sowing the Word, we will reap a harvest in God's time, by his grace, for his glory. Amen.