We are covenanted to all whom God’s Word is reaching, offering them a safe, enriching place to flourish.
One of the first Bible stories that lodged in my childhood imagination had all to do with mission.
Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed (Matt. 13; Mark 4; Luke 8) loomed large because it neatly illustrated the enduring obligation of every Christian to be a witness—even if you were only a 4-year old in a Kindergarten Sabbath School class. I remember gripping my waxy crayons to color images of the fearless farmer scattering seed on different kinds of soil—the rich, brown earth; the sprouting green blades of wheat; the hard, grey ground where nothing takes root; the thieving birds who devoured grain, and the lush thistles that crowded out the germinated seed. Even at 4, I knew this was a “cautionary tale.” Not every seed sown would come to harvest. The world was full of threats, both physical and spiritual.
And like a million other little Adventists who colored the same images, I imagined myself to be the fearless farmer—the one sowing all the seed—even though the parable Jesus told never makes that connection. The takeaway seemed very clear: keep sowing seed, even though only a portion of it will ever yield more grain.
But then, through grace and over time, “I put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11). I began to learn that instead of identifying only with the heroic task of broadcasting seed, there were other useful things I could be doing to increase the yield of God’s kingdom. For one, I could help to drive away the thieving birds who hover at the edge of every congregation, thus protecting those vulnerable to heresies and fanaticisms. I could break up that stony ground by kind, consistent care for real-life needs of new believers— supporting their marriages, their parenting, and their new, healthy lifestyle choices. Even the thistles—“the cares of this world”—could be carefully uprooted by wise, patient teaching about stewardship for newly-sprouted Christians.
Mission, as I came to learn, was not about doing just one thing—sowing—but about helping to build an ecosystem of faith in which the clear proclamation of the Word is matched with attentive nurture for the hearers, and then supported by a caring community of established believers. We dare not say, “It’s not our fault that the birds carried them away.” We can’t shrug our shoulders and imply that the hearers are to blame when mortgages and marriage woes crowd out their new commitments to Jesus.
According to Jesus’ parable, we are in this field as well—and not only as the fortunate ones growing toward Christian maturity. We are covenanted to all whom God’s Word is reaching, offering them a safe, enriching place to flourish. The Lord of harvest—He who also initiates the process by sowing the seed in our hearts—expects nothing less from us.