Sowing Seeds of Good News

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The history of church planting in our country is a colorful one.

In our early history, when our country was being settled, immigrants came from the Old World to the New.  And they needed places of worship.  So, naturally, many Roman Catholic congregations; as well as many Congregational, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and other Protestant congregations were formed.  During this time, too, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America was born.

Later, around the beginning of the twentieth century, after many so-called mainline denominations had been well established, there was the rise of what I shall call the preacher movement.  This is where a preacher, usually a gifted one, would write a sermon, stick it in his back pocket, and go out to the streets to preach it.  Once the preacher had gathered enough listeners to call the gathering a congregation, he’d start a church.  The Mormon Church essentially began this way—as did many Baptist churches and the larger fundamentalist movement.

Again a shift in church-planting methodology was seen after the end of World War 2.  Mainline denominations continued to spread in numbers of congregations.  But growth in overall numbers slowed and even stalled out.  The preacher movement continued as well.  But the tide was turning here too.  Now, after two devastating wars and the loss of many lives around the world, humanity’s attitude had taken a pessimistic turn.  The focus of church planting turned outside of the church, really, to parachurch youth organizations.  Young Life and Youth for Christ formed during this time.  Also, numerous youth camps such as the mega camp I used to work for, Hume Lake Christian Camps in California, began around this time.

Next, in the 1980s and 1990s, came an intense focus on demographics.  Who was our target audience?  What cities around the country were prospering economically?  If we were to plant a new congregation, where would the ideal place be in order to achieve sustainability most quickly?

And if we’re after sheer numbers, we could argue that this worked.  Saddleback Community Church—founded by Rick Warren in 1980 and reaching 10,000 members by 1990—arose out of such demographic sensitivity.  Bill Hybels founded Willow Creek Community Church during this time too.

But I add this.  Today Bill Hybels and his pastoral staff say that they went about church planting and growth all wrong.  Their focus was numbers.  And numbers they got!  But they saw way too little growth in Christ.  Real followers of Christ, they say—real disciples—are lacking.

Which brings us to today.  How do we plant churches today?  Or, perhaps a better question to ask, should we plant churches today?

I came across an article this week from Leadership Journal[i] called “9 Reasons not to Plant a Church in 2012.”  Written in January of 2012, it states that there has been disillusionment in the past decade or so with the overall church planting movement.  It then lists the nine reasons for not planting churches.  The preacher model, it says, where one gifted preacher goes out and gathers a congregation, goes against the biblical model of Jesus sending out teams.  Studying demographics, it argues, excludes many segments of society from hearing the good news.  Church plants, it claims, simply redistribute churchgoers from one congregation to another but do not bring in the unchurched.

So, good question.  How are we to plant churches today?  Should we plant churches today at all?  Or, to ask a broader question, what should our outreach look like?

Jesus told a parable, saying, “A sower went out to sow some seed.”

I love this parable.  Don’t you?  There’s a lot to learn from it regarding individual discipleship.

There are four soils.  Our hearts are like one of these soils.  The first is hard like a road.  The word of God falls upon these hard hearts and is not even considered.  The second soil is rocky and shallow.  People in this category are likewise shallow, so when rocky times come they forget the good news of God’s word.  The third soil is decent enough, but thorns and thistles grow in it too.  So when God’s word takes root, it is eventually choked out by the thorny concerns of wealth and pursuits of happiness without God.  Only the fourth soil is where the good news lands, takes root, and multiplies.

And this point rings loud and clear in our postmodern, individual-focused ears:  Our hearts are to be like the fourth soil.

We are clear about how this parable applies to us, as individual disciples of Christ.  But what about when it comes to the Church?  How does this parable apply to church planting?  How does this parable apply to outreach—to illuminating San Antonio and the world with the light of Christ?

To answer these questions we need to shift our focus a little—from the soils and their various conditions to the sower himself.  Who is this sower?  And what is he trying to accomplish?

To answer the first question then, the sower is us.

“Oh, no it’s not,” you say; “there you’re wrong, preacher.  The sower is clearly Jesus.”

Fair enough, I answer; I see your point.  Let’s say the sower is in fact Jesus.  But what is the sower in this parable trying to do?  He’s trying to plant a crop that yields thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times the original.

And the original is no shabby quantity!  He’s scattering seed on the road, in the rocky soil, among the thorns—everywhere!  He has an abundance—a point to which I will return.  Present point is, he’s got this over-abundant original quantity—already seemingly more than he can handle on his own—and he’s hoping to multiply it by a hundred: he’s going to need some help!  And if this sower is Jesus, as you yourself suggested, then who will help him but his disciples?  And who are his disciples but us, the Church?

We are the sower.

But it’s not just about the seed.

So, to answer the second question: the sower is hoping to plant and sustain a healthy, productive crop.

And where does a healthy, productive crop come from?  Why, from the plant itself.

Do you see?  Churches are the plants that produce the seeds of good news for the world.  And only healthy churches will produce thirty-, sixty-, or a hundredfold.

But plants have a life, don’t they?  Some plants live for only a short time.  Others, like the Giant Sequoias up in the mountains by Hume Lake Christian Camps, live and thrive for thousands of years.  Either way, though, new plants must come along in order to keep the seeds coming.

Now let’s return to our question about church planting and other forms of outreach.

From this parable I think it’s rather obvious that churches are the healthy, productive crop Jesus has in mind.

I think it’s rather obvious, too, that churches should be in the business of producing seeds of good news and spreading them across the world.

But there is something about outreach here that isn’t so obvious, something I’ve already said:

You are the sower.

It’s not just the preacher who sows.  It’s not just the clergy.  It’s not just the people and institutions that are involved with establishing new church plants and maintaining them.  Outreach is so much more!

Look again at the sower of this parable.  He spreads seeds of good news far and wide.  The picture is one of carelessness, even recklessness.  He scatters seeds seemingly everywhere—on the road, on rocky soil, on weedy soil, and on good soil.  He has an abundance.

So do you.  You are blessed beyond measure.  You commune with the King of kings, week after week, at his very Table.  You have a community right here that loves and cares for you even when you feel ornery and alone.  You have hope where many others have none.  These are the seeds of the good news of Christ.  And there are so many others!  And you carry them with you wherever you go.  An over-abundance of them!

So scatter them all around you.  Fling them about you carelessly, recklessly, even thoughtlessly, wherever you go.  Someone calls your name from behind and you turn suddenly.  There, in that sudden turn, hundreds of seeds are shaken loose from your clothes, your hair, your pockets; and you’re not even aware of all the good news that has fallen from your person.  That’s the picture here, right?  This is outreach.  This is how you and I are going to illuminate San Antonio best.

It’s not about demographics.  It’s not about being a gifted preacher.  Outreach is about Christ in, on, and all round you.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: