So what’s wrong with the harvest? We discuss this a lot. We are all concerned. As we compare our baptisms to previous years we grieve the decline.
So what’s the problem? There is nothing wrong with the seed! The gospel is still the power of God to salvation. We all agree on that.
The standard answer is is that it’s the church – the sower. If we would get our priorities in order, we would do a better job of reaching our nation. No one could argue with that. …and I am not trying to say otherwise here. We have several challenges before us. A couple of examples:
We are out of ideas on methods. We don’t want a canned presentation. So we have replaced booklets and memorized presentations with… nothing. Three years after adopting the Great Commission Resurgence, no one is creating easy ways for novice witnesses to share their faith. We are told only to be passionate about the gospel and start churches.
In the New Testament the churches struggled with bringing their members out from the world from which they came. We struggle today with irresponsible members who were spoiled by their parents and many whom, into their thirties, still think they are in the youth group. They are looking for someone to take care of and entertain them.
But there is one other consideration: the soil. Jesus told us this would be a variable. For example, we know that when our missionaries go to some countries they see terrific results. People come to Christ in great numbers (those same “powerless” people who cannot reach people in America). Other people groups not so much. So, consider how the soil in our nation has changed:
People used to be joiners, now they seek privacy. (Francis Schaeffer foretold this in the 70’s as he described how people would seek a redefined sense of peace as being left alone.) The only person people will tolerate on their front porch these days is the pizza delivery boy.
People have fewer children. It is a lot easier to lead your association in baptisms when families have three and four children than when they have one or two. After all, in the “good old days”, where do we think all those baptisms were coming from? If it wasn’t for immigration, our population would not be growing; most segments of the American population are not reproducing at replacement levels. So now, you have to reach more households to have the same number of people in attendance as you did a few decades ago.
The increase in the number of women in the workplace has brought changes to church life. This has greatly reduced the number number of available hours for the work of the church. People compare our baptism numbers to the fifties and sixties; in those days we had two week Vacation Bible Schools. Sometimes, it just takes time for the message to sink in. We face the dilemma of having a crock pot message in a microwave culture. They won’t give us enough time!
There is more to do than there was but a few years ago. Travel teams for baseball, fall ball, Sunday soccer, more places to go, more things to do. With our higher standard of living and more credit cards, the church competes for peoples’ time.
We live in a time of information overload. Regardless which medium we use, how do we get people to listen when they are constantly bombarded with multiple messages every minute? Consider your own e-mail inbox. We have been learning to work harder at developing personal relationships, but that takes longer before you see results and it may not work after all that (people created in the image of God are worth our time whether it “works” or not, but I am addressing the problem of reaching people in strategically significant numbers.)
Pluralism has continued to increase. Political correctness and “tolerance” has become part of the national religion being promoted by the education system, government, and the media. It’s more difficult to espouse a faith that makes claims of truth – absolute truth – against that headwind.
The fact remains: the soil does matter. Jesus said so. In terms of individuals, and not society at large as we’ve just discussed, He said there were four kinds of soil. There is the person with the hardened heart, the shallow self, the one whose spiritual life is choked out by tangled priorities, and, yes, the good soil, which bears fruit and reproduces. Clearly, over time, the percentage each kind of soil is represented in the general population will change. The mix in one place will be different in another. Soil erosion may take place in a culture and good soil turn to bad. Our task is to test the soil samples and do our best with the mix of soils before us. No excuses; just do your best with what you’ve got.
Jeremiah was told the people wouldn’t listen to him. But the problem wasn’t Jeremiah. And while the church may not be in Jeremiah-shape, it wouldn’t hurt to be honest about the soil being a part of the equation. It may be, that like Jeremiah, a small remnant may have to walk a nation – one that is finished – to the finish line… loving and warning them all the way.