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?
So I have my cake. And I’m gonna eat it too. I have a great big ol’ piece of chocolate cake, in my possession, right here, right now, and I’m going to eat it. Try and stop me. It will be down the hatch in no time flat and the only thing left, I’ll be licking of my smiling lips. Who said, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too?”
NPL is taking this approach. We are a Both/And (and More) kind of crew. We are going after those who don’t know Jesus and those who do. We share the gospel with lost people and train the saved to go after the lost. I’ll train people to make disciples who have been churching in a building that’s a hundred years old and I’ll train disciples who are churching in Starbucks. I don’t care. I’ll train your dog if it looks at me sideways! It’s important to share the gospel and raise up brand new disciples but it’s just as important to the movement to mobilize existing believers to share the gospel. It’s a two-pronged attack on lostness; 1) Share the Gospel 2) Train Believers to Share the Gospel. This is how we multiply our efforts.
Now I’ve heard people take sides on this and it boggles my mind. One side says; “All you guys do is train believers.” The other side says; “All you guys do is share the gospel.”
Have you ever noticed how we tend to pit things (good things) against each other? I’ve done it, we’ve all done it (well, uh, except you, you’ve never done this). Let me give you a great example of a bad example. When I first started down the movements road I was all about “obedience-based” discipleship. We ought to be about “obedience-based” discipleship not “knowledge-based” discipleship. Obedience good. Knowledge bad. Until I read a scathing article from one of our critics. His premise was very simple; “Since when is knowledge a bad thing?” OUCH! I was rebuked! He’s right, knowledge is not a bad thing. In fact, it is essential. So it’s both obedience and knowledge. Can you see how I got into trouble there?
I call this “reactionary theology” and this can lead to “pendulum theology” which usually leads to “bad theology.” We react and swing all the way over to one side or the other. We start pitting one truth or method against another. And, let’s be honest, in our culture today, people love a good argument and it plays right into Satan’s sticky little trap. Nope, we are a both/and movement.
I once asked Steve Smith a question; “Of the 200 movements of the gospel in the world (now there are over a 1000), how many are being led by people who were won to Christ in the movement? His reply, “2.” That means 99% of the movement leaders were existing believers and came from outside the movement. Training existing believers is a huge part of almost every movement in the world. But make no mistake about it, it’s all about reaching lost people.
What Jeff and Angie Sundell did when they returned from Nepal is nothing short of genius. The Holy Spirit challenged them to do what they had been doing among the unreached in Nepal and India. So they started sharing their story and God’s story in Bugger Hollow, NC. People started coming to Christ. They also started training believers to share their story and God’s story and even more people came to Christ. And of course, these new baby believers needed to be discipled and gather together in church so they trained everyone to do that too. New leaders started to emerge and they trained them. They were getting so much traction in Bugger Hollow, churches around the United States started asking for training to reach the lost people in their communities. And now thousands of people in American are sharing the gospel, making disciples, planting new churches and reproducing new leaders. Eight years later over almost a hundred missionaries were sent to other countries. The NPL movement was born. And you know how? Through a both/and mentality.
Jesus was a both/and kind of guy. He looked for followers by the sea, in the synagogue, a long the road, in the temple, and even in a cemetery. His primary target was the “lost sheep of Israel” but if you showed any kind of faith at all, He was on you like a duck on a Junebug. You could be a lost loose lady, a dog lady, or even a devil dude. (Jn 4, Mt 15:21-28, Mk 5.1-20) You could be an army officer, a lawyer, or even a seminary professor. (Mt 5.8-13, Lk 10.25, Jn 3) He was wuppin’ the kingdom on anyone and everyone who would listen. And let’s face it, finding fourth soil people is so hard. We better be engaging everybody everywhere. It’s going to take a both/and approach to engage the lost and get the saved engaged.
So you have my permission; have your cake and eat it too.
Do you have a both/and mentality? Are you sharing the gospel on a regular basis? Are you casting vision to other believers to join in the Great Commission? Are you training existing believers to share the gospel? Is sharing the gospel a key part of your short-term discipleship? Can you see the value in celebrating differences in ministry?
Duct tape works for everything, right? We use to call it 100mph tape because that’s how fast it was used up. I mean people would use it for everything! But hey, it’s a great tool and when you find a great tool, everyone wants to use it! Our son had a little fender bender when he was just learning to drive. We actually used duct tape to hold the bumper on to the front end of the car. We called it “Alabama Chrome.”
We had grown up with a pretty good discipleship toolbox. We had used, adapted, and reproduced our tools in a military setting and they were great. But now that Deb and I had shifted to the civilian sector and were trying to reach a city, we found our discipleship tools didn’t translate well. We had to go back to the drawing board.
It was about this time that we met Jeff and Angie Sundell. They had been missionaries in India and Nepal and had seen several movements among unreached people groups. They began to share “best practices” from around the world that translated across cultural, gender, age, ethnicity, and religious boundaries. And behind every tool was the mantra “It has to be Biblical, Simple, and Reproducing.”
It had to be Biblical in the sense that they were principle-based. They could stand on the bedrock of the Scriptures. Many of the tools found their foundation in Jesus’ ministry. Like storytelling for instance. Have you ever noticed how many stories Jesus told in order to convey a spiritual truth? Some were so simple that even guys like me could understand (with my crayons in my hand).
And that brings us to the next point, simplicity. Normally in American culture, we are always adding something to stuff. We keep adding and adding until we can’t add another thing and then we duct tape something else to it. Now it’s so complicated Einstein couldn’t figure it out. We were being taught to leave the “Good Idea Fairy” at home and KISS it (Keep It Simple and Scriptural). The challenge was to strip the tool down until it was at its irreducible minimum. If a six-year-old could understand and reproduce it, it was a good tool. We’d keep that one. But if it required a G.E.D., sorry, too complicated. In the trash, it would go.
Our gospel presentation is a good example of the principle of simplicity. We train people to share their story and God’s story in a minute or less. We’d have them take out a piece of paper and draw the gospel. This was the middle of their story; God loves us so much He sent His Son Jesus to the earth, He lived a perfect life and then died on a cross for all the messed up stuff we’ve ever done. And then He rose from the dead on the third day proving He was the King of kings. Then we would ask them to write down two words on the left side of the cross that would describe their life before Jesus. And then two words on the right side describing the change Jesus has made in their life. Next, we help them put these elements of their life into their story and God’s story with a question at the end;
There was a time in my life when I was angry and afraid and then I heard the story about God loving us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to the earth, He lived a perfect life and then died on a cross for all the messed up stuff I had done. And then He rose from the dead on the third day proving He was the King of kings. I asked Him to forgive me and started following Him as my King and I’ve had peace and courage ever since. Have you ever asked God for forgiveness and made Jesus your King?
Now we could probably write a book longer than “Moby Dick” on the gospel and not reached the depths of the grace, love, and mercy that it contains. But this is a simple way to train people to share their testimony and get the conversation started. NPL has equipped thousands and thousands of people with this simple tool and it is absolutely mind-blowing how many people are actually sharing their faith now.
But just a story about how hard this is for Americans. We had a friend visit us in San Antonio and Deb took her to dinner. She was telling Deb how she had recently learned how to share the gospel the way we share the gospel. WHAT?! That is so cool! We are reproducing! So Deb was excited and said, “Awesome! Why don’t you share it with the waitress when she comes back.” The gal started squirming and looked at Deb like she had a third eye. Deb noticed this right away and took the pressure off. She said, “Well, why don’t you share it with me?”
An hour and twenty-five verses later she had produced a napkin dripping with ink and looked like the *Girvan–Newman algorithm (*I have no clue what that means. I just Googled it). Nope, we are not reproducing. The 2nd generation needed to soup things up a bit and now it was so high speed we couldn’t simply share the good news with a waitress in under a minute to see if she was interested in learning more. We can’t resist, can we? But it’s costing us. Our creativity is killing reproducibility.
We like to ask the question “Is it reproducing?” We prefer this question over, “Is it reproducible?” At first glance, this may not seem to make a whole lot of difference. But on closer examination, it makes a huge difference. The Space Shuttle is “reproducible.” They made four of them. And given a hundred years and a billion-dollar budget, you and I could probably figure out how to reproduce another one. But you see the point. The Space Shuttle is not reproducing.
When we develop a new tool for discipleship, we are watching it very carefully. Is it actually reproducing generationally downstream? Has one person passed it on to another who has passed it on to another, who has passed it on to another in a short period of time? That would be four generations. Take for example our 4-1-1 tool. It’s used to teach new believers how to share their faith. It is reproducing all over the world. In Japan, we saw it jump three generations in one day.
We are not interested in the “theory” of reproduction. We want to see the discipleship tool reproducing. I love how the Apostle Paul describes himself as a wise master builder;
“According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Cor 3.10-15)
Paul did not just build it to last a lifetime. He’s built to last generations and pass the test of eternal value. He was a wise master builder and learned his trade from the Master Himself, Jesus.
So Deb and I have a new toolbox. Tools that are reproducing in the civilian sector, in different cultural contexts around the world, and ironically, in the military too.
What tools do you have in your Discipleship Tool Box? Are they Biblical? Simple? Reproducing? Do you have tools for engaging lost people? Sharing the gospel? Basic discipleship? Healthy church? Reproducing leaders? Abiding deeply in Christ? Are you being mentored or coached by someone who has a full toolbox of proven generational discipleship tools?