Summary: Most messages on this parable discuss it from the standpoint of the four soils. I want to look at it in terms of what it teaches us about doing ministry today. I find at least eight principles that both challenge and encourage us.
Lessons for Modern-Day Sowers of the Word
Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
The last few days I have been meditating on the famous parable of the seed and the sower. It is obviously important because is found in three different places in the gospels (with Jesus’ explanation in parenthesis):
Matthew 13:3-9 (18-23)
Mark 4:3-8 (14-20)
Luke 8:5-8 (11-15)
Context is all-important in understanding this parable. It stands first in a list of seven stories Jesus told in Matthew 13. Verse 1 tells us that Jesus gave these parables on "that same day." What same day? Go back and read Matthew 12 and you’ll see that it happened on the same day that the Jewish leaders accused Christ of working miracles by the power of the devil (Matthew 12:22-32). Jesus then pronounced judgment on that wicked and adulterous generation (vv. 33-37). The die was now cast; the religious leaders had made their choice. They will now do whatever it takes to get rid of Jesus.
This story is placed first in Matthew 13 because it reveals something crucial about the response to Jesus’ message. After the public controversy with the Pharisees in Matthew 12 when they accused Jesus of doing his miracles by the power of the devil, one logical question would be, “If you are who you say you are, why doesn’t everyone believe? And why did the religious leaders reject your message?" That question rings across the centuries in many different ways. Why does a wife believe and her husband reject? Why does one brother become a missionary and the other a pornographer? Why do two children raised in the same family end up with completely different values? How is it that the same Word of God produces such differing results in the human heart?
Most messages on this parable discuss it from the standpoint of the four soils. I want to look at it in terms of what it teaches us about doing ministry today. I find at least eight principles that both challenge and encourage us.
1) Build Your Ministry on the Word of God.
Jesus said the seed is the Word of God (Luke 8:11). It’s the only thing that has the power to change the human heart. Preaching alone won’t do it because we cannot talk people into a new heart. Our words have no power in and of themselves. Programs won’t do it. The contemporary American church is mostly programmed up to its eyeballs. The typical church is stratified with programs for children, youth, adults, singles, newlyweds, newly-divorced, newly-remarried, single parents, older singles, senior adults, and we offer classes for those struggling with bad family backgrounds, abuse issues, addiction issues, plus we have sports teams, choirs, drama teams, Internet teams, and affinity groups for everything under the sun. Years ago I heard Dr. W. A. Criswell say that the church should be the social center for the congregation. We’ve certainly followed his advice--and with a lot of good results, I should add. I don’t denigrate the stratification of the modern church. It’s necessary in our day to reach people where they are. And if we don’t reach them, we can’t win them or train them or send them out to minister to others.
But it’s possible to mistake busyness for godliness and activity for spirituality.The only thing that produces lasting growth is the Word of God. Preaching and programs without the Word may produce quick growth but it won’t last. We need Word-centered ministry—and that must start from the pulpit on Sunday morning. Preachers who preach about everything under the sun except what God has actually said rob their congregations of the one thing they desperately need.
I’ve been around long enough to see the trends come and go. Here’s a short list:
Sunday School campaigns
Church growth movement
The Third Wave
Revival of traditional worship
Cell group movement
The Emerging Church Movement
And that’s just off the top of my head. I should add that I have been deeply involved in some of those things—including the bus ministry when my brother Alan and I started a bus route for a church in Oxford, Mississippi in the summer of 1973. I’ve helped start contemporary worship and been trained in Evangelism Explosion and I went to several of the big Promise Keepers rallies.
Here’s what I want to drive home. Be a student of the trends. Study your culture. Learn from what others are doing. Don’t reject things out of hand without looking into them. But above all, never substitute a trend or a fad or the hottest new thing for the simple, systematic teaching of God’s Word. Without the Word, our churches may grow but they will not produce fruit that lasts.