When I was a boy a neighbor friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go “frog gigging.” I know, right? Sounds strange but hey, I’m a boy and anything having to do with frogs sounds fun to me. His dad drove us to the lake that night and I was handed a flashlight and a long pole with a trident on the end of it. My friend told me to shine the light on the frogs and stick as many as I could. These were to be de-legged later and then eaten. Yummy!? (I’ve haven’t eaten frog legs since) So I went beside the water looking for frogs and for the life of me I could not see them. My friend came over after a while and noticed I hadn’t gigged one frog. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “I can’t even see a frog, let alone gig ’em,” I said. He laughed, “Oh, you look for four bumps sticking out of the water. The two small ones up front is the frog’s snout and the two larger ones behind are his eyes.” He showed me with his flashlight shining on the edge of the water and low and behold, I could see them! I now knew what I was looking for. Many disciple-makers don’t have 4th Soil people because they don’t know what they’re looking for. The disciple-maker needs a trained eye. Jesus actually shows us what 4th soil looks like. He describes their attributes in the Parable of the Sower. In Luke’s rendition, Jesus says, 4th Soil people “are ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. (Luke 8:15) Write those qualities down and continue to study the closest disciples to Jesus and you’ll get an even clearer picture of 4th Soil. This is what you are looking for.
But what if you are having trouble finding 4th Soil people? Uh, yup, that’s a big problem! It’s really like trying to find a needle in a haystack! But how did Jesus find 4th Soil? He gives us the answer in His parable. What farmer intentionally throws seed on a path, rocks, and thorns? None of the smart ones I know. But I think Jesus is making a point here on the aggressive and indiscriminate way the farmer is sowing. He’s just slinging it! And we need to do the same. And do you know why? Because we don’t know the condition of the soil (heart) until the seed (Word) hits it. So this is an important lesson on finding 4th soil men and women is aggressive, indiscriminate, abundant seed sowing. Are we sowing the Word the way Jesus describes the farmer in His parable? Are you looking for people who sow the seed this way? Let the gospel be the filter; the person of peace receives it and the disciple shares it.
Not finding 4th soil should bother us as if we were a barren would be parent. Consider the attitudes of Abraham, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth (Gen 15.2-3, 30.1-2, 1 Sam 1.3-16, Lk 1.24-25). They were intensely troubled by the fact that they didn’t have children. That desperation should not drive us to despair but to prayer. Notice Jesus prays all night before He chooses the 12 (Lk 3.12-16) And then just before the cross, Jesus acknowledges that the men were given to Him by the Father (Jn 17.6). 4th soil people are a gift from God so I need to be asking the gift giver for the gift. First, am I praying that the Holy Spirit would create 4th soil attributes in the existing believers I’m helping? Am I praying that God would help me find 4th soil people in the harvest? The bottom-line question is; “Are we fervently praying that the Father would give us 4th soil people?”
Have you ever noticed how often Jesus got into a boat with His disciples? As intentional as Jesus was, I find it hard to believe that it was just a convenient mode of transportation (sometimes it was downright inconvenient!). We can probably come up with many observations on the “Boat Time” Jesus spent with His disciples but I want to zero in on one; Capacity. We know that Jesus didn’t tap into His deity but operated as a man. He was fully human. He had the limitations of time, space, and energy. This is crystal clear when we read Mark 3.7-10. We see a great mass of people crushing in on Jesus and He tells His disciples “that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crowd Him.” Pure Genius! Jesus uses the water and a boat as a natural boundary between Him and the people so they wouldn’t overwhelm Him. In the same way, He used the water and boat to get exclusive time with His 12. With the constant needs of the masses, Jesus breaks away to teach, debrief and even try to get a nap on one occasion. Think of all the private lessons the 12 got from the Master! And the genius of it all? You can only fit 13 in the boat! This provided the environment for focused attention on the 12. Sometimes Jesus would go up a mountain, or on a long walk, use a rock for a pillow, hang out in places where people wanted to kill Him. All of these situations helped Jesus to zero in on a few. So do you recognize that you too have a limited capacity? Do we get young disciples away from the din of the world in order to give them strategic attention? And do we recognize our capacity is so limited, we probably need to fill our boat with the most committed people we can find? What is your “Boat” and who’s in it
A lot of disciple-makers have so much 3rd Soil in their boat, they don’t have room for 4th
Jesus preached the parable of the sower as instruction to those who would begin sowing the Word of God to be aware of 4 responses represented by 4 types of soil that the seed lands on (Matthew 13.1-23, Mark 4.1-20, Luke 8.4-15). Jesus was looking for 4th soil, those who would bear fruit as the seed took hold in their lives and the would multiply, some 30, 60, 100 times. They were interested, they weren’t a flash in the pan, they weren’t distracted by the things of the world. One of the first tests to find this kind of soil was to tell parables and wait for a response. Some people thought it was nothing more than a 3rd-grade science lesson and paid little attention. But those who were spiritually hungry had the gumption to ask questions; “Jesus, what in the world are you talking about?” (Mark 4.10-12) Jesus made people itch and when they cared enough about their own spiritual condition to get it scratched, He knew they were close to the Kingdom of God! Jesus was telling his guys, (in so many words) “Follow my example. Look for the 4th soil. They will care enough to do whatever it takes to understand and follow Me.” He raised the bar in discipleship and expected His men to do the same. Are you raising the bar in discipleship? Are you asking people the tough questions? Are you using loving accountability to spur people on to love and good deeds? Believe it or not, the three thirds format will do the heavy lifting for you and help you find 4th Soil men and women if you stick to the script. And just so I’m not misunderstood by the shepherd or the prophet; Yes, it does take time for people to grow. And No, you should not vote people off the island because they don’t jump through your hoops. But hear this, if you spend all your time with people that are not serious about following Jesus as their King, you are in for a very disappointing ministry. More later on the boat 🙂
One of the things I love to do to stay connected with my adult sons is to read the books that they are reading. It gives us a great platform for our discussions when we get together. My oldest son, Chuck, is a consultant with Bain and Company. For professional development he was reading a book called “The Founder’s Mentality” by Chris Zook and James Allen. You can see a title like that would be sure to peak my interest. The premise of the book is that successful companies that begin to wain or even fail have usually left the core principles and practices of their founder. Now that insight alone is worth a million bucks! So I asked myself, “What are the core principles I have learned from our Founder (the Lord Jesus Christ) and how am I doing at practicing them?” I narrowed them down to six. Three of the titles I stole from Troy Cooper. He distilled our mission into the Big Three (in italics) and the rest I added after some thought and prayer. Here’s what I came up with;
When I say the word “priest”, what do you think of? I was raised a C.E.O. Catholic so the first thing I think of is a professional clergyman wearing a black and white collar. You might think of another denomination or an Old Testament priest. Even in our most conservative evangelical circles most people probably think of the pastor/preacher. But what if someone told you the first thing I thought of was a mom of three toddlers rolling a stroller into a park sharing the gospel with the other moms? Is that legit? As far as most of the people in NPL are concerned it is!
Our culture (Christian and Non-Christian) has done a bang-up job of portraying the priest as a professional clergy person. Two problems: It’s unbiblical and it’s a bottleneck to the movement of the gospel.
Our “go-to” passage is 1 Peter 2.9
But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
We are a race, a priesthood, a nation, a people. Peter is saying, “All y’all, are priests.” Peter is not saying everyone is an elder or that everyone should be professional clergy. But what he is saying is that everyone and I mean everyone, has kingdom responsibilities. Notice the end of this wonderful passage: so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. If you consider yourself to be “in the light” you are responsible to tell others about “the good things the Lord has done for you.” We are all “proclaimers.” That’s what a priest does. We bring God to the people and the people to God. This principle is one of the core values and practices of NPL because it’s biblical. (More passages highlighting the priesthood of the believer: Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Act 1:8, Romans 12:4-5, Ephesians 4.11-12, 1 Peter 2:4–8, Revelation 1:4–6, 5:6–10, 20:6)
So what’s the big deal? How does this misunderstanding of a biblical view of the priesthood impact anything in day to day Christian living? Well, actually this misunderstanding cuts the knees out from under the movement. This brings us to the second reason the priesthood of the believer is so important. When we take the God-given right and responsibilities away from the common everyday believer we become the “toad in the road.” We restrict the ministry and the movement of the gospel to a chosen few. That will stop a movement from going viral. We must put the ministry back into the hands of those who can get into every nook and cranny of everyday life. We must unleash the movement of the gospel. The professional has to throw gas on the fire rather than being the bottleneck. We have to release authority and equip everyone to do the work of the ministry. (Ephesians 4.11-12)
It really boils down to what the Bible says about “Who Can and Who Can’t.” Now let’s be clear. The Bible has very specific requirements for elders and deacons (1 Tim 3.1-13, Titus 1.5-9) But for some reason along the way we have relegated the simplest functions of discipleship to clergy and clergy only. Things like sharing the gospel, making disciples, baptizing disciples, serving the Lord’s Supper, preaching and teaching, and even performing weddings and funerals. (Which, by the way, in my Bible college and seminary experience, I only got extensive training in preaching and teaching. The rest of these ministry tasks, it was “You’re on your own, chicken bone!)
I remember when this realization dawned on me. I was meditating on the Great Commission one day (Matthew 28.18-20). I was slapped in the face with the fact that I had been teaching people to disobey this command for years. Not all of it, just ¼ of it. It was ok for you to obey Jesus and Go, Make Disciples, and Teach but you better leave the baptisms to me. Kids don’t try this at home. Leave it to the professional. Oh boy! I was in trouble. Why was I doing this? Because that’s what had been modeled for me from day one. Now I had a choice: Obey Jesus or allow tradition to trump the command of God (and we all know how Jesus feels about allowing tradition to get in the way of the commands of God! – Matthew 15.1-6, Mark 7.5-13).
We have placed ourselves in an unhealthy codependent relationship. The priests (think disciples) have relegated their God-given rights and responsibilities to the professional (clergy). When it comes to things like evangelism, baptism, making disciples, etc… we say that’s what we pay the pastor to do. We have out-sourced our part of the kingdom. And the professional is allowing the priest to shirk their responsibilities. This may make them feel important and special but in the end leads to burn-out, truncating leadership development, and the worst part, stalling the movement.
We need to take a page out of Jesus’ playbook. He turned sheep into shepherds, fish into fishermen, and ordinary people into priests. Let’s go back to baptism. How quickly did Jesus delegate the role of baptizer? Pretty quick. Check this out:
Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were) (John 4.1-2)
So Jesus had delegated this very important role to His disciples. Notice it doesn’t say the Apostles. And even if it did, they hadn’t been to seminary or pastored a church and some weren’t even sure of who Jesus was (Matthew 16:13-20)
A short time after my little proverbial slap in the face, I got a phone call from a friend asking me to speak at a conference. Just before ending the conversation they said, ‘Oh by the way since you’re ordained, would you please do some baptisms and serve us communion?’ And I said, “No! (long pause on the phone) But I will teach you how to baptize and serve communion.” So when the time came, I was standing in front of 75 people and I told them to pair up and right there in a crowded hall, I taught everyone how to baptize someone. It was crazy and loud and chaotic and I was wondering if I hadn’t just made a huge mistake. The next morning, the stories started to roll in: moms were baptizing their children in the nearby ocean, husbands were baptizing their wives and the atmosphere at the retreat center was electric. The lion was off the leash.
And what about making disciples? The eleven had abandoned the Son of God in the most strategic moment in history and Jesus turns around and gives them the most important responsibility on the planet: Go and make disciples of all the nations. “Uh, what?! Jesus you know you’re talking to eleven losers that just did you dirty. And after you had invested all that time in them and even counted them as your friends, they cut and run on you. I’d be getting myself a new team if I were you.” But here’s the bigger miracle. Jesus turns to you and I and says the same thing, “There’s the world, sic ’em!” Now if you thought the eleven were a bunch of knuckleheads, you haven’t begun to see the shenanigans I’ve pulled!
I like the little ditty, “God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” I love that. But you know what? It’s very messy and God is willing to put up with a lot of mess with those who are willing.
I could write a book on this topic and I just may. But here’s the deal, we are robbing the people of one of the most exciting, terrifying, growth causing, meaningful parts of the Christian life. I for one have decided to quit doing that. And I have decided that this one principle, the priesthood of the believer, needs to be the new reformation. Let the lion out of the cage! You can do it!
Have you completely owned your God-given rights and responsibilities as His priest? Are you practicing the priesthood on a daily basis? Have you relegated any of your responsibilities to others? If you are a professional (earning your living from the ministry), are you doing anything that would rob the people, the priests, of their rights and responsibilities? Are you an active champion of the priesthood of the believer by multiplying priests not just converts?