I don’t imagine many would argue against the idea that we have no real responsibility for what the nature of someone’s “soil” for receiving the seed of the gospel is like. (We’ve all heard the parable, right? Some seed fell on the road, and the birds ate it up; some fell on the gravel, and shallow roots caused the sprouts to wither and die; some seed went into the weeds, which choked the young plants and stole their nutrients; and finally some seed fell on fertile soil, and it grew strong to produce a bumper crop.)
I’m not saying the manner in which we sow the seed doesn’t matter. It absolutely does. Presenting the gospel with a judgmental or arrogant heart is essentially like coating a seed in cyanide before you plant it. But more often, the seed’s growth is dependent on what condition the person’s heart is in — the soil.
When someone shows himself to be anything other than fertile soil, it’s frustrating. For me, it’s tempting to permanently dismiss that person as infertile ground and go on about my way. “You had your chance” has run through my mind on several occasions, especially when I was met with any level of hostility. Because bringing Jesus into a conversation takes courage. Why put myself through more stress than necessary?
In the very least, I checked the person off my list with the “It’s on him now” mentality and decided that if he ever changed his mind or decided to quit being such a screw-up, he knew where to find me. I presented my faith… I tried. Now I can kick the dirt off my shoes and leave town, right? That’s in scripture…
Well, yes it is in scripture. But the instruction Jesus gave to the disciples for what everyone in the group knew would be a brief mission trip doesn’t necessarily correlate to how we treat our everyday friends and neighbors. If the church had the “you had your chance” mentality, we would be in serious trouble as a body of Christ. Some churches actually do take that stance, and that’s even more frustrating. They might as well park a cement mixer right outside their doors and call themselves road pavers.
The fact is, soil changes. Constantly. Before I began to follow Jesus, I cycled through all the types of soil, myself. I have fertile soil now more often than I used to, but to be perfectly honest, I still recognize my fair share of rocks, weeds, and even the occasional road.
Paul was among those who heard Stephen give quite an elegant testimony about Jesus to the Sanhedrin Council. Then he happily watched that crowd stone him to death. Stephen didn’t just scatter seed on the road. That seed was hitting solid granite. But even that “soil” wasn’t hopeless, was it? Jesus came back around for Paul and turned him into fertile soil over the course of a single day.
Church should be a place where gravel will not only be invited to come back to, but where it will want to come back to. It should be where hearts like pavement are welcomed again and again… all in hopes that God will somehow make them fertile soil.
Talking about Jesus to our unbelieving friends isn’t meant to be their last chance for salvation. It shouldn’t make them feel so uncomfortable that they aren’t willing to remain friends with you, either. Paul says that the Gospel will sound foolish to some people. And that’s okay. Our goal as a friend and as a church should be to keep praying, keep inviting, keep encouraging, and keep loving until the soil of their heart is able to let the seed grow.
And so that brings me to Christmas Eve. It’s the time of year when road and gravel will be more fertile than possibly ever before. So even if you’ve asked them before and received an awkward or even a rude response, invite them to church with you. God may have recently scattered some fertilizer. As someone on staff at a church, I can promise you that our goal is to make it a place they won’t mind coming to… or coming back to.