This is what the kingdom of God is like.
“A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain — first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29).
What does this tell us about the kingdom?
Is there something mysterious in Kingdom work? How much can we control? What is beyond our control?
In their book, “I once was lost: What postmodern skeptics taught us about their path to Jesus,” Don Everts and Doug Schaupp summarized results from 2000 interviews with postmodern skeptics who came to faith in Christ.
There were two primary considerations in post-modern conversions:
“As kingdom farmers in postmodern soil, we must welcome this mysterious nature of that path to faith. In fact, there is something spiritually liberating when we admit and declare what is beyond us and where we are powerless. We cannot create life. It is impossible for us to predict why some of our friends will choose Jesus and why other just won’t. We don’t know how to change hearts. We don’t know which seed will take root and which will bounce off the hardened ground.”
“This lesson has freed us from the modern temptation to view conversion as mostly a psychological phenomenon, an inner event that can be controlled and manipulated and triggered if we preach the gospel just right, sing enough worship songs loud enough and dim the lights at just the right time. If conversion were psychological and controllable by humans, we’d be under a lot of pressure to get it done!”
“Our friends have reminded us that conversion is much more soul-deep and mysterious than all that. The path to faith is mysterious. To admit that is liberation. The monkey is off our back and onto God’s back, where it belongs. The Scriptures teach us that God is ultimately in control of salvation. No one, Jesus reminded his followers, can come all the way down the path to Jesus unless God calls them (John 6:44, 65).”
“While the growth of the plant is mysterious, it still follows nature. It is organic, and that means that for the seed to become a ripe plant, it will grow in a certain way. This was the lessons our friends were teaching us.”
From this discovery, the authors share five thresholds of postmodern conversion. Admitting that it may look differently with each person and follow different time tables, they nevertheless noticed clear and similar patterns. The five thresholds are the titles for five of the chapters. They are as follows:
1. From Distrust to trust
2. From Complacent to curious
3. From being closed to change to being open to change in their lives
4. From meandering to seeking
5. Crossing the threshold of the kingdom itself.
The last chapter on servant evangelism highlights a need for evangelism that is focused on where the lost are at in life rather than on evangelistic methods that serve the needs and desires of Christians.
I doubt that many Christians have thought through the implications of how postmodernity has shaped people’s lives in relation to the gospel. Everts and Schaupp believe that, “Postmodern evangelism is a mysterious and organic process that nevertheless goes through discernible phases, as people cross thresholds from distrust to trust, from complacency to curiosity and from meandering to seeking.”
The role of community
Local Churches must remember that, “it is our task not just to tell but to live out the story—the model of God’s self-giving love in Christ must be the basis for our self-understanding, our life, and our vocation.” (N. T. Wright)
Humble, loving, truth-telling Christians in communities of mutual affection and honor provided the needed plausibility context for effective witness for Christ.
“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT).
When our places of fellowship are filled with people who honor each other with deference and humble service (foot washing love), then we will offer the needed alternative to the uncertainty, anxiety, and angst of postmodern times.