There is much concern in the evangelical church world today about the future of the church in North America. Most developing trend lines are not encouraging. The percentage of Americans claiming no religion almost doubled in the past two decades, climbing from 8.1 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008. The trend wasn’t confined to one region. Those claiming no religion (aka Nones) made up the only group to have grown in every state, from the secular Northeast to the conservative Bible Belt. The Nones were most numerous among the young: a whopping 22 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds claimed no religion, up from 11 percent in 1990. The study also found that 73 percent of Nones came from religious homes; 66 percent were described by the study as deconverts. Young adults are abandoning church at an alarming rate. It’s interesting to ponder spiritual hunger and to look at these trends through the prism of the parable of the soils.

Jesus told a parable about a farmer who went out and sowed seed. What he does flies in the face of much of the modern practice of agriculture. A large field of corn in perfectly straight rows is a beautiful sight to behold. The farmer in Jesus’ story was not interested in straight rows. He was only interested in getting the seed in the ground. We can imagine him with a bag over his shoulder reaching in and scattering the seed all over the field. He then would go back and plow it all under. Jesus said that as seed is scattered, there are four things that can happen and three of them are bad: It can fall on the path, fall among thorns, fall in stony soil, or fall in fertile soil thereby producing an abundant harvest.

You would think the farmer would be more careful to minimize the risk in scattering the seed. You could say that as the farmer sows the seed, he should notice these things and take them into account. How is he supposed to know there is a huge rock 3 inches under the soil in this one spot?

There are some things the sower just can’t know. In the same way, as sowers today go out to sow the seed, they really don’t know the condition of the hearts of those with whom they are speaking. The temptation may be to decide who’s interested in hearing the gospel and who isn’t. Sometimes we presume to know information that no one can know. Jesus proclaimed the value of scattering the seed far and wide without unduly obsessing about where the seed goes.

In parables, there are hooks that tease the mind into active thought—something that doesn’t seem to fit. In this story, it seems that it is how indiscriminate the sower was scattering seed. The fact that some seed falls in places where it will produce no fruit doesn’t diminish the power of the seed. The act of scattering the seed indiscriminately probably means the seed will get into fruitful places where it would not go otherwise. Some seed will fall on hard hearts where it will be rejected immediately. Other seed will fall in hearts that seem interested, but the cares of life and the evil one come along and steal it. Sometimes it falls in thorny soil, and people get busy with life and the pressures of daily living and the seed grows quickly but soon withers.

Seed that falls in a good heart, though, produces an abundant crop, 30, 60 or 100 times that which was sown. In 1974, if you were told Chuck Colson would go on to become a much-admired Christian statesman, you may have said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Thank God for men such as Tom Coe and Sen. Harold Hughes who were faithful to sow the seed in an unlikely place as they ministered to Colson in the fallout of the Watergate Scandal. The seed penetrated an unlikely place, and what a harvest that has come through his life!

Into what tough places are you sowing seed?

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