1 – Cultivating the Land
Here is my very short and completely oversimplified history of Christian evangelism, and where I think it should go from here.
Jesus introduced the concept of Christian evangelism this way: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.” (Luke 8:5)
I view Christian evangelism as an agricultural enterprise being conducted by Jesus, the owner of a large estate. The estate, in this case, consists of fields of people, the human race, spread out over the entire surface of the earth. Jesus further explained that “The seed is the word of God.” (Luke 8:11). I interpret that to mean the record of his words and actions while he was in the flesh, in other words, the gospel itself. The gospel is the seed that Jesus was, and is, sowing.
We don’t need to guess how Jesus went about developing his estate. He selected a group of laborers, trained them in his farming techniques, equipped them with the seed (the gospel), and sent them out to nearby fields to begin sowing.
After a certain period of time the harvest came, and Jesus the owner was able to show a small profit. Next year, using his profit, he sent out additional laborers to plant new fields, with the same result, thereby expanding year by year.
Fast forward, 2000 years. This farming project has been a colossal success and now covers 30% of the earth’s surface. (30% of the earth’s inhabitants currently identify as Christians). It is organized and robust, and it supports a massive and thriving farming community. Obviously, the owner is quite pleased with his progress.
Seeing his success, and being forward thinking, the owner (Jesus) is understandably eager to plant and develop the remaining 70% of his land. His instructions haven’t changed in the least: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15).
There are undoubtably many ways to proclaim the gospel in our world today, and as long as we are making an attempt, progress is certainly being made. But due to the economies of scale it may no longer be feasible to send out small teams of evangelists to increasingly hostile and far-flung lands to impart the gospel message. That model may have to give way to new mechanized “farming” techniques. The same exact seed (the gospel) needs to be planted, but what new tools do we have at our disposal?
In our day and age, for the first time in human history, individual gospels can be mass-produced by a process known as print-on-demand. Quality copies of individual gospels (each approximately 60 pages long) can be mass-produced for mere pennies.
And, for the first time in human history, these small printed gospels can be distributed rapidly and intelligently by another new process known as “direct mail”. Direct mail is often used by advertisers, and politicians, to put a physical copy of their brochure into the hands of prospective customers, or voters. It is inexpensive, and studies have shown it to be almost 10 times as effective as digital marketing.
These new tools are increasingly available within vast areas of currently “un-planted” territory in every continent across the globe, the very countries we are trying to reach with the gospel, those very people who have never been approached, ever, with the message of Jesus. 70% of the earth’s population, over 5 billion individuals, fall into this category. Statistically, the average age of these people is 26 years old. Could these modern tools be put to use in the service of global Christian evangelism?
My son, who works as a groundskeeper at a local private school, was sitting with me one afternoon on my deck, admiring my lawn. He commented that while the lawn looked nice enough, it was almost entirely made up of weeds, with very little actual grass! Ouch! To remedy that, he suggested I get some high quality grass seed and spread it evenly across the entire lawn. This process, known as “over-seeding”, might take several applications, but eventually the new grass would choke out the weeds and my lawn would be both beautiful and healthy.
It is a well established fact, and almost every serious commentator looking at the current Catholic landscape would agree, that the “Lord’s Wheat” is looking rather thin these days, and the fields are rapidly being over-run by weeds. That is certainly the case in North America. I know this is a complicated and many-faceted problem. But perhaps the church might consider a program of “over-seeding” as an option, even right here in the United States. The seed is the word of God, (Luke 8:11) and the church has four varieties of high-quality seed at its disposal:
- The MARK variety. Perfect for a first application, also known as the “quick-start” variation.
- The LUKE variety. Produces robust, healthy growth. Does well in full sun.
- The MATTHEW variety. Deep rooted and fine textured.
- The JOHN variety. Intense and everlasting.
Four successive applications of these marvelous seeds, carried out over the course of several years, might be all that’s needed to restore the church’s vitality and fill the barns with finest wheat.
In the United States, the US Postal service has a direct mail program known as EDDM, or Every Door Direct Mail. I have been experimenting with EDDM for the past several years as an efficient and economical way to spread the gospel to a widely diverse population within the state of New Jersey. As of this date I have mailed out over 5,000 copies. I have no way to measure the effectiveness of this process at present, but I am hopeful that at least some of the recipients will be curious enough to pick up the gospel and give it a read.
I am not Pope of the Catholic Church. I’m not the bishop of a diocese or the pastor of a church. I do happen to be father of five grown children, and grandfather to a small but growing number of lovely grandchildren. This is my “domestic Church”, over which I have direct responsibility. My church’s landscape is similar to that of the wider church, disturbingly over-run with weeds! To counter that I have embarked on a gospel seeding program. This year at Christmas I gave every family in my little church a copy of Mark’s gospel. Next Christmas they will be surprised to receive a copy of Luke’s gospel. The following year I have copies of Mathew’s gospel for them, and finally on the fourth Christmas they will all receive a copy of John’s Gospel! At least they’ll know the gospel is important to me. What they do with it is up to them.
Returning to my farm metaphor, if spreading gospels through the mail ever became a thing, laborers, (dependable and hard working postal employees), could begin sowing gospel seeds immediately through the use of Every Door Direct Mail. They would not require the customary long years of training needed in the past; no training in ministry, no theology, no psychology, no ordination, no investiture of any kind. Postal workers, by the very nature of their job, are responsible, accountable, judicious, and trustworthy. They have been trained to deliver the mail without judging its content or interfering with its purpose. They are amply paid and they depend on their jobs for their livelihood. They are the perfect people to carry out Christ’s wishes: “Go out to all the world and tell the good news.”
Those highly trained men and women currently on staff within the vast farming community (the church) would have their hands full when the next harvest came in. The seed is just as potent as ever, and promises an abundant harvest, as always.
My next post, Mixing Metaphors , develops the farming metaphor a little more.