I just had a fascinating conversation with my brother-in-law, Andy, about discipleship.
Andy farms and knows all about tractors (especially a certain green brand).
We were talking about how people respond better to teaching when someone has taken the time to work with them personally in their spiritual life. In the middle of the conversation, Andy said, “its just like preparing the soil.”
(Disclaimer –I know nothing about farming. So if I get this wrong, please remember, it’s the thought that counts!)
Andy explained that, in farming, there are several methods of soil preparation: No-till preparation, Minimal-till preparation, and Sub-soil-till preparation.
No-till preparation is just what it sounds like. You plant without tilling. It saves time and money (at least at first) because you don’t have to run your equipment (and fuel) over the land before planting.
Minimal-till preparation could be anything from “scratching the surface” of the ground to going 6-8 inches deep. This loosens the soil up and makes it easier to plant.
Sub-soil-till preparation goes even deeper. Andy shared that many times, ground that is only tilled 6-8 inches can still be hard underneath. This keep roots from being able to penetrate deep and blocks nutrients from being absorbed. Over time, the topsoil can wash away –along with the minerals, leaving shallow-rooted plants “high-and dry.”
Andy said that the more soil preparation you do, the better your crop will turn out in the long-run. Basically, he said, every farmer has to choose whether or not to make the investment on the front end. Sub-soil-till preparation, he explained, is more costly and harder work that no-till or minimal-till. But -Andy continued to share- the benefits outweigh the cost.
Isn’t this just like discipleship?
I hear a lot of ministers (after preaching or teaching) say they have “scattered their seed” and they hope someone “took it to heart.” Similarly, I hear church members say, “I brought a friend so that the preacher can plant a seed in them.”
Maybe, like a farmer (2 Timothy 2:6), the best work we can do is “soil preparation” before we teach or preach (Hosea 10:12). Yes, it’s harder work and costs more time and energy –but the benefits are worth it!
Here’s some practical ideas for “tilling up hearts” (for everyone –not just preachers)
1) Get involved in people’s real life & let them get involved in your real life.
You can’t break up a hard heart from a distance. It takes time and attention. “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”
2) Have spiritual conversations around real life.
Spiritual conversations are most effective in the middle of real life circumstances. People are most receptive to Truth when they have questions driven by real life events. In the farming world, you’ve got to plant the seed at the right time –when the soil is ready.
3) Be prepared to exhort and rebuke.
Ouch. The “R” word… Seriously, a real friend will confront people with their sin out of love for their friend. Preparing soil also means ripping out weeds. It is tough, but necessary work.
The “E” word is much more pleasant, although I’m not sure we practice it nearly enough. Exhort means to “strongly encourage someone.” If someone has allowed you into his or her life, you’ve been given a great privilege. Don’t miss the opportunity to encourage them in living for Christ. Give them positive feedback in how to live a God-honoring life.
So, what will it be? No-till, minimal-till, or sub-soil till? The deeper you go, the greater the harvest.
For my pastor/preacher friends: This means we can’t just hide behind the pulpit or lectern and say, “I’ve done my part.” No, we must reach out into the real lives of our people and live among them as Christ took on flesh (Philippians 2:7-8) and lived among us (John 1:14).
If you aren’t a pastor/preacher, you have just as much responsibility to “till the soil” as your pastor. In fact, you are in partnership with your pastor. Instead of just bringing a friend to church so a “seed can be planted” by a pastor or teacher, why not “prepare the soil” so the seed has a place to take root?