“Jesus told them a story. A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. So they organised a conference to help them better understand why this happened. Some argued that there needed to be an immediate cull of such birds to put an end to the problem, others that they needed to invest time and research into finding out why the birds did it in the first place. Many simply argued that there is no point sowing seed if birds are going to eat it, and the arguments between them became heated and caused division. But while those arguments raged, some just carried on sowing.
Some seed fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. So they decided there was no point sowing any more seed until the soil became deeper. Soil was expensive, so mass fundraising efforts were required, and to help reduce the costs, many gave of their own time and effort to carry and spread it. And while many became involved in building up their resources of soil, some just kept on sowing.
But some seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Undeterred, many stopped sowing and gave hours of their time to the back-breaking task of pulling up the weeds. Others wrote books, arranged courses and became renowned experts on weed control and management. But some, just a few, decided to simply carry on sowing.
And some of the seed they sowed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”
“What is Seventy-Two all about?” I remember asking that question when I was first invited to get involved with this great initiative. In our contemporary world of evangelists and missiologists, conferences, seminars and webinars, what were we seeking to do that wasn’t being done already? I think the answer lies in my somewhat deviant re-telling of a well-known parable of Jesus.
At the heart of it, Seventy-Two is about relentlessly insisting on seeking to be and to share Good News wherever we find ourselves. This may often mean that like the seed in Jesus’ parable, our efforts seem to get nowhere before they’ve even had chance to begin. It might mean that we find ourselves engaged in a really fruitful conversation with someone; they seem racked with enthusiasm to know more of our message, only to see that enthusiasm die and wither with equal rapidity. Or it might mean that we journey with someone, helping them in their search for God, only to see our efforts thwarted by opposing demands and attractions in their lives.
If we seek to be a faith sharer, it won’t be long before we witness all of these things, and the temptation will be to abandon the entire enterprise, or spend hours trying to work out why it “didn’t work.” Or we can carry on; carry on sharing; carry on looking for opportunities; carry on opening conversations to see where they lead; carry on believing that this “Good News” that we are called to proclaim has a power beyond our control to germinate, take root and come to fruition.
Seventy-Two is not about trying to devise some great evangelism strategy, analyse how and why people might respond to our message, it’s about creating a movement of people who will simply seek to share Jesus wherever they are. A movement of people who accept that they might often never see any evidence of success, who might even face antagonism because of their endeavours, but a movement of people who are prepared to carry on anyway.
Carry on, not because of a stubborn refusal to accept defeat, or a lack of imagination to do anything different, but because we believe that there is good soil out there, and we never know when and where we might find it. The Seventy-Two blog will often share the stories of when those “good soil” moments happen, but I hope this particular contribution might also encourage us to carry on and keep going when it doesn’t.
We often speak of Seventy-Two helping people to find their place in the Mission of God. One final thought is that the sower in our story was simply playing his part in a much bigger cycle of life, growth and harvest. It was his faith in his Creator that caused him to place the seed in the ground, believing that it could take root and become a harvest. He didn’t even need to understand why it happened, he just needed to get out there and sow.