“…he who is wise wins souls.” (Pr.11:30)
To “win” a soul indicates delivering the mind, emotions, will and conscience from the turmoil and destruction of violating God’s design for human relationships (with God, other humans and all of creation) on planet earth. Jesus stated that those who are learning from Him will know the truth and the truth will make them free (Jn.8:32). The freedom spoken of is freedom from sin, as opposed to freedom to sin. However, simply hearing truth does not make one free. We must hear it, understand it (Mt.13:23) and act on the understanding gained from hearing truth (Mt.7:24). This brings me to the simple truth I would like to consider.
I’ve served in a pastoral role for 21 years, taught many people with various organizations and served as a teacher and chaplain within the county prison for 15 years. I have noticed a tendency and challenge we face when serving in such a way. It is often the case that we are teaching people who fit into one of the first three categories of the parable of the seed and soil found in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8. Such people hear the word of the kingdom (truth) but do not understand it nor do they produce fruit consistent with hearing and understanding. They might gain a knowledge of certain information, but it never results in understanding that produces transformation. So, here’s the simple truth; it makes no sense to continue to dump bags of seed on soil that is not prepared to produce fruit. Ask a farmer if he/she would do so. I am not necessarily insinuating that we abandon such soil (though there are times that this might be appropriate), I am suggesting that we should be sensitive to such situations and have modes of ministry and communication specifically designed to prepare the soil. This takes wisdom.
Many well-intended ministries that serve as transitional homes for men and women coming out of prison take the “shotgun approach,” largely to no avail. They find bags of seed (for the most part, good seed) and begin dumping. However, it is information that is not going to take root nor will it produce fruit because the resident does not have “an honest and good heart” (Lk.8:15). A careful reading of Ephesians 4:17-19 reveals that those who do not have a right relationship with God live as they do because they do not think correctly, and they do not think correctly because of the state of their heart. It is my observation that there is very little intentional effort made to challenge and prepare the state of the heart (the soil) before we begin tossing seed (the word of the kingdom – other levels of meaningful truth). Along with this, we often underestimate the appropriateness of presenting truth in well reasoned, strategic increments, designed to move a person through a process of increase, advancement and maturity – we start dumping.
Apply this consideration to any other discipline, duty, area of education or growth – math, farming, construction, etc. It seems that many have a basic assumption when it comes to Christian ministry, we can be careless and God will magically clean up the mess and make everything work out. Of course, we refer to Scripture to defend this carelessness by quoting, “…My word…goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Is.55:11) or “…we know that God causes all things to work together for good…” (Rom 8:28), as a blanket proof with little or no concern for keeping the statement within its proper context.
“Does the farmer plow continually to plant seed? Does he continually turn and harrow the ground? Does he not level its surface and sow dill and scatter cummin and plant wheat in rows, barley in its place and rye within its area? For his God instructs and teaches him properly. For dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge, Nor is the cartwheel driven over cummin; but dill is beaten out with a rod, and cummin with a club. Grain for bread is crushed, indeed, he does not continue to thresh it forever. Because the wheel of his cart and his horses eventually damage it, he does not thresh it longer. This also comes from the LORD of hosts, Who has made His counsel wonderful and His wisdom great” (Is.28:24-29).
 It is possible that instead of being a heart issue, it is a matter of their maturity level being insufficient to understand and act upon the specific truth being dispensed, but this is less likely.