CHECK THE SOIL

Here is our problem: Up to ninety percent of the evangelistic crop is failing. They wither and die as soon as the sunlight of tribulation, persecution, and temptation shines on them. We encourage them to be watered by the Word. We give them the “fertilizer” of counsel and support. We follow them up thoroughly, but all to no avail.

So, we then need to check the soil. If, before we plant the seed of the gospel, we take the time to thoroughly turn the soil of the heart with the Law, the effect will be the removal of the stones of sin upon repentance. God has given us insight into the area in which we are planting. The ground of the human heart is very hard. The Scriptures call it a “heart of stone” (Ezekiel 36:26).

I have heard a number of well-known preachers say that it is biblical normality to have seventy-five percent of those coming to Christ fall away. During an altar call, they know that only one in four of those responding to their message will continue in their faith. So, more than likely they are not too alarmed by modern statistics that reveal an eighty- to ninety-percent failure.

This thought is based on the Parable of the Sower, which shows that only twenty-five percent of the crop was on good soil (Mark 4:1–20). But I don’t think Jesus gave us this parable as a consolation for disappointing evangelistic results. I think He gave it for our instruction.

When we study the parable closely, we see that the good-soil hearer, the genuine convert, had some things the other hearers didn’t have. He had understanding (Matthew 13:23), and he had a noble and good heart (Luke 8:15). Does that mean that throughout humanity, there are those who somehow have understanding and a noble and good heart, and we have to keep on sowing until we find them? No, Scripture makes it clear that there is none who understands (Romans 3:11), and that the heart of man is not good, but deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).

These statistics of an eighty-four to ninety-seven percent fall-away rate are not confined to crusades, but are general throughout local church evangelism. In his book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Jim Cymbala notes the lack of growth in the Church: “Despite all the Christian broadcasting and high-profile campaigns, the Christian population is not growing in numbers nationally. In fact, church attendance in a given week during 1996 was down to 37 percent of the population, a ten-year low . . . even though 82 percent of Americans claim to be Christians”. The problem is not with the crusades, but with the methods and message of modern evangelism.

A preacher was in a dilemma. He was preaching the light of the gospel (Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection) without using the Law to awaken his hearers. Like many others who see this enigma, he thought that his converts needed more follow-up.

A respected minister, whose evangelism programme has exploded across the world, said that his policy attempts to get at the heart of the fall-away rate of new converts “by placing great stress on the follow-up.” However, to fall into the trap of thinking that follow-up is the answer is like supposing that putting a stillborn child into intensive care will solve the problem.

A senior minister of a large growing church noticed a new situation in their church. An increasing number of converts bring their old ways into their Christian lives and do things that shock their leaders. The first thing to note is that this church and its ministers haven’t diluted the gospel or lowered their standards. The church is one of the best in the country with gifted, godly leaders. They fearlessly preach a no-compromise gospel and are even better at nurture than they were years ago. Yet an increasing number of their numerous converts fail to show evidence of moral change in their lives.

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