Tuesday, September 30, 2014
One sows and another reaps
Evangelism for us is more helpfully understood in terms of market gardening and times of ripening, rather than a combine harvester in a field – even if Jesus did talk about fields “white for harvest”.
EVANGELISM is both a sowing and a reaping process.
Do you not say, “There are yet four months, then comes the harvest?” Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.”
Much of the teaching on evangelism we have received has majored on the whiteness of the fields for harvest. Some are. Some are ‘months’ away. Some we are sowing now, and some still need hard ground to be prepared.
Jesus makes an interesting point about the sower and the reaper working together – one sows, the other reaps. His immediate context is what the prophets of past generations had sown into the Samaritan people; they believed in one God, and were expecting a Messiah and a Saviour. So the woman at the well had this understanding, even though she was leading an immoral life. Then Jesus revealed Himself to her and was able to reap her into the kingdom.
A lot of our evangelism makes the ‘ready to reap’ assumption – an assumption that in past generations was more realistic than it is today.
If you saw a farmer taking a combine harvester into a field that was full of rocks, unploughed and not yet sown, you’d think he was a bale short of a load. But we do that – an evangelist is invited to a church to hold a mission, expected to attract non-Christians who have never been through the door before and give an altar call. If there’s a lack of response, then the evangelist is no good, and the church is disappointed. That remains as a hindrance to any new initiative.
A country church had been running a little restaurant in the nearby town which was full most days. But they closed it, saying that they had only seen four converts in as many years. “How many people who used the restaurant saw Christians and their faith more positively,” they were asked. “Hundreds and hundeds,” they replied. So it represented a wonderful sowing strategy, but as a reaping strategy, a restaurant might not be the best thing. Another church rented the biggest theatre in town and put on an ambitious Christmas pantomime. It was full to capacity for a run of several days, and more than half of the audiences were non-Christians. Yet the church was devastated because no one was converted. Again, a great sowing strategy, but they expected the results of a reaping one – no wonder they were disappointed.
The other dimension of this is having well worked out sowing strategies, but not thinking through how to connect them to a reaping one. We expect too much, too quickly without understanding the process people have to go through before they can make a proper decision for Christ. At an earlier time when the culture was more Christian, the process was simple. With people now coming from lower and lower levels of awareness of God, more process is needed! The bridge of friendship and trust has to be carefully built up, and the danger is that we will give them a ‘gospel truck’ that is too heavy for the bridge that we have built.
We need to work out a strategy that recognises the need for removing the rocks, engages in the ploughing and sowing and watering, and sees harvesting itself as more of a staged process.