Dennis and Jean farm in northeastern South Dakota, where I grew up. They’ve engaged in some innovative land management practices that have changed the way they grow crops. In a video where they explained these no till practices, Jean said, “You start to see the yield differences because your ground is doing what it’s supposed to be doing.” Did you catch that? “You start to see the yield differences because your ground is doing what it’s supposed to be doing.”
Which leads me to Jesus’ parable about the sower and the soils in Mark 4 and Matthew 13. A great crowd listened to Jesus but almost nothing was taking root. Seed-stealing birds, shallow soil, and choking thorns meant most of them would be “ever hearing and never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven” (Mark 4:12).
But that began to change on Pentecost when infertile hearts of Jews and Gentiles alike turned (repented) and were forgiven and healed. The Holy Spirit softened calloused hearts and breathed life into those dead in sin. That’s how the gospel miraculously makes hard, stony, and thorny soil fertile, multiplying the seed-word that was first planted.
Now, most of us farm a field of professing believers. Yet every pastor knows how vulnerable our fields are. Hearts redeemed by God are still prone to be hard, stony, or thorny. Thus, we who farm God’s field (1 Cor. 3:9) employ prayer, Scripture, love, perseverance, and every means of grace at our disposal to protect and cultivate the spiritual grain entrusted to us.
In Jesus’ parable, Satan is likened to birds stealing away seed on the hard path so that the word never even germinates. I pastored a few such people. Gospel seed landed on them but never did anything. I remember a very pleasant guy who came to church often but when I took him to lunch he very nicely made clear he didn’t really believe any of it.
Others profess faith yet their hearts are dangerously hard-packed. For such people, pastors function as scarecrows, doing our best to shoo off diabolical efforts to steal away what the Spirit is sowing till it takes root.
Other times pastors are rock-pickers, like farmers, who must constantly clear fields of stones that seem to push their way up through the soil each spring. It’s back-breaking work but without it there won’t be a harvest. The rocks, Jesus said, are “trouble or persecution because of the word.” Well-rooted believers will persevere, but the immature will “quickly fall away.” Their initial joy in hearing the Word lulls us into thinking all is well and forgetting how vulnerable they are to trouble. Good pastoring means guarding young believers closely, contending for them in prayer, and discipling till they become mature in Christ.
Finally, pastors are weed pullers for those whose faith might be gradually choked off by “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things.” We not only warn our people of the briars and kudzu that threaten their spiritual health, we also usher them often into the garden of our delights in Christ. We help them abide in the Vine in order to “bear much fruit” through obedience, asking for all we need, and loving one another
The measure of any church is not the size of the crowd but the fertility of the soil. Like Jean said, “You start to see the yield differences because your ground is doing what it’s supposed to be doing.”
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.