Breaking up the hard ground (more reflections on Mark 4:1-20)

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At Bearwood Chapel, we had a partnership with OM and over several years hosted a number of teams.  As part of that partnership I was involved in training OMers in aspects of mission.  One of the things I would sometimes do is take the team members into our car park.  I would say to them:

“If I asked you to plant a garden, where would you plant it?”

They’d look around, most of the drive was tarmacked over. So they would look to where there was a little garden already.  They’d point there. Of course that was the best place to plant.  The soil was ready and clearly fertile.

However, there was one problem.  There was already a garden there.  What if I wanted a new garden, or to expand the size of the garden? That would give us a problem because it took us into the area where the tarmac was.  So, then I would ask them:

“What would you need to do to grow a garden here?”

And they would answer that they needed to break up and remove the tarmac, then after that they’d need to build in the beds before finally filling them with soil. Even once the soil was in place, they’d need to ensure it was well nourished and fertilised as well as clear from weeds.

The parable of the sower isn’t primarily about evangelism techniques. If it were, then we’d be told about how the farmer ploughed the ground, removed the rocks and got down to do some weeding.  Yet it does remind us that if we are serious about the Gospel then we are going to encounter the full range of responses.

It will seem to us that there are places which look much more fertile for Gospel growth. After all, that’s why the church has been strategically targeting particular parts of our cities for church planting over the past few decades. But we are not just told to go and share the good news with the easy to reach. We are sent to the hard places too.

So, what does that mean? Well, as I explained to the OMers, it means that often Gospel work will be long term and hard work.  Sometimes it will feel (as one of their directors once put it) like all you get to do is scare the birds off. Sometimes it will feel like you are toiling away to remove obstacles, preparing the ground.  You’ll go to places and it will feel hard because no Christian has bothered to do anything there in years.  The estate we live on for our first 12 years up in the Midlands had not seen any outreach from local churches for years, their only encounter was with cults and sects.  A lot of places will be just like that.  So, you’ll have to do the ploughing, breaking up the ground, preparing for a harvest that seems many years away.

And yet, there’ll also be plenty of occasions when the seed goes in and takes root. You’ll discover that people are ready and open to hear and respond to the Gospel. Enjoy those moments too.

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