There are lot of discussions about the decline of the church, of the irrelevancy of the Christian message and how the Church needs to engage in today’s cultural narrative in order to communicate the gospel.
The biggest problem with today’s evangelism is that it mostly absent. Many churches and influential Christian leaders stopped sharing the gospel. They have exchanged the gospel message with a cultural narrative.
Today, we witness a confused church with confused and conflicting messages. Many churches and Christian leaders are stuck in the gluey cultural narrative. They desperately want to be viewed as loving, inclusive, accepting and culturally competent. This desire drove them into narratives contrary to the gospel message. In the Western world the church fights to remain visible. But being visible and being powerful is not the same. The salt is most powerful when it’s not visible. We are supposed to be the salt of the world.
Now, I know that this is an ugly generalization, but if we compare the message of the Church today with the message of the Church in the past, we see a significant difference. In the evangelical church we see a strong tradition of gifted evangelists and a bold emphasis on the proclamation of the gospel along with a movement of mobilizing and training lay people to share their faith. This bold, clear, gracious voice is definitely fading away.
In a big proportion we’ve exchanged the message of the “eternal gospel” to cultural and political messages. [The “eternal gospel” (Rev 14:6-11) is God’s invitation which is proclaimed from God’s throne room to join the multitudes of worshipers; and it’s God’s warning about his coming judgement while offering a rescue through Jesus Christ.]
The author of Ecclesiastes offers a relevant warning to the church today to stay faithful to the task we’ve been commissioned to do: proclaiming the gospel (Mk 16:15) and making disciples (Mt 28:18-20).
He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.Ec 11:4-6 (ESV)
Here are three warnings for today’s church from the ancient past:
Don’t let the ‘wind’ scare you. Don’t focus on what you can’t control.
“He who observes the wind will not sow…” says the Preacher (Solomon, the son of David). The wind is part of the environment of the sower. It does impact where the seed will fall, but it will not impact the power the seed caries. If we focus on the wind, we will never sow.
Today, we are obsessed with “the wind”, with the environment that surrounds the church. We are obsessed with the culture. The church talks more about the cultural, political, social issues than about the gospel. We’ve exchanged the gospel-proclamation to talking about all other issues: gender, race, culture, economics, etc. We made everything a gospel-issue while we have stopped proclaiming the gospel itself.
The cultural environment (the ‘wind’) that impacts the sowing scared us so much, that we’ve stopped sowing. We are so occupied with the “what ifs” (“What if the culture reacts a certain way?” “What if what we say is not relevant anymore?”) that we forgot that we are not wind-observers, but gospel-sowers. We forgot that our job is not to “change the wind”, but to “sow the seed.” We are overly concerned about “how will our message be received?”, “how will it land in the hearts of people?”, “how can we change or influence the culture?”.
We had not been commissioned to change the culture, we had been commissioned to deliver and model a message. The culture will never be changed by us embracing the cultural dialogue – it will only be changed by sowing the seed of the gospel. We forgot that the change (provision, food, health) will come through the seed, not through the wind. The seed bearing fruit will bring healing and provision to the land.
Sadly, so many influential leaders in the Church exchanged what we can control (sowing the seed, proclaiming the gospel), to something that we can’t control, nor change (our cultural environment). The Roman Empire just became more and more hostile and culturally evil, unjust and immoral while the church focused on sowing the seed.
Many churches and leaders had been paralyzed by the cultural ‘wind’. We need to stop listening to it.
Life-creating power is built into the seed. God will work beyond our understanding and without our consent.
Solomon continues his reasonings: “As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” (Ec 11:5).
Life-creating power is built into the seed. It needs to be sown.
We don’t know anything about how God creates life, yet we readily restrict Him by our limited observations and understanding as we withhold the gospel proclamation as something not relevant in today’s cultural dialogue. We are so sure of the accuracy of our interpretation of the current reality that we think that the simple message of the gospel is too simple for the complex problems we’ve created. In our arrogance we belittle the power of the gospel and the way God works and we think we can overwrite the way He creates eternal life in a person’s soul: by gospel proclamation (Romans 10:17).
Solomon warns us: don’t assume you know how God is working through your sowing. Don’t underestimate the power God has built into the seed of the gospel. Just as the seed has the power of life to create a huge tree, the gospel also has the power to bear much fruit.
If the sower withholds the seed because he/she is afraid of the “wind”, or afraid of the “waste”, or afraid of the opposition, or of the reaction, then he/she withholds the potential of eternal life. God didn’t give us the knowledge or the understanding to even comprehend the future impact of what He can and will do through one gospel conversation. We just don’t know how God is working.
When the church detours from the message she needs to proclaim and starts proclaiming “other gospels” (cultural solutions to spiritual problems), she becomes unfaithful to her calling and denies the power of God. The Church needs to recognize that today’s problems are not cultural, not racial, not generational, not social – but spiritual. The solution is not to become the prophet of the gluey cultural narrative, but to sow the seed of the gospel that is God’s power for salvation. (Romans 1:16.) Each time the church backs down from sharing the gospel, she confesses that she doesn’t believe in the gospel.
God created the seed (the gospel). He also created the soil (the human heart). He knows the soil needs the seed and the seed needs the soil to bring fruit. It is not the sower’s job to decide which soil deserves the seed and which doesn’t. The sower was commissioned to sow.
Focus on what you had been commissioned to do and on what you have power to control.
Be a diligent sower. The job is to sow the seed not to observe and analyze the wind. Sowing is what you can control. Sow abundantly because we don’t know which seed will bring fruit. Sow in the morning and sow at the evening. Sow knowing that we can’t control the results. Abundant reaping only comes after abundant sowing.
In the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-8) Jesus told us that at minimum 75% of the sowing will be wasted. The effectiveness of gospel-sowing is very low. That’s why sowing needs to happen broadly.
The church in the Western World is at a turning point. She needs to decide if she still believes in the gospel or not. If not, she will stop being the Church and will be transformed into a powerless social institution.