"A farmer went out to sow his seed. …some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear." Matthew 13
As a college teacher, I face an audience just like preachers do. In some ways teaching has an advantage (I can make assignments and I give grades) but in other ways I have a disadvantage over preaching (students seldom attend voluntarily and they have little life experience to test what they hear.) I started teaching at IWU as an adjunct professor 1974, and have taught almost every semester since, 13 of those years full time. My students in that first Youth Ministry class are now in their 50’s! I’ve had a lot of students during those 33 years and it occurred to me today that they are pretty well represented in Jesus’ parable of the soils.
1. Some never got it.
Some students put in their time and left unchanged. These pathway hearers can’t even recall the name of the course two years later, let alone ten years later, or even if they had me in class, or even if they got anything at all from college. They came to college because they liked the youth camp atmosphere of campus life. They came, they saw, they dated, they played video games and left unchanged. These students are the “missed ducks” of my hunt. They graduated unaffected by their four years and never even took a first job in the church and they don’t care that they didn’t. They were impervious to chapels and classes and their calling evaporated (if they ever had one). I have not had many students like because they seldom make it through the four years. But I’ve had some. I try not to think of them often or I will get depressed.
2. Some responded with “passion” then fizzled.
While pathway students are depressing, my shallow-soil students were an absolute delight (when I had them in class)! They loved the courses, they love the truth, they engaged in discussion, they loved chapels, they were leaders on campus and got involved in local churches and in campus mentoring. They exuded passion for ministry (“passion” is a big thing with students) When teaching them I came to believe these students were going to make a big difference in the world and the church. However, within a few years of graduation they faced the hot sun or dry times of real life and their passion evaporated and nothing was left. They left their church jobs, left the church, and some even left their faith. I grieve about these students and wonder how I could have turned the soil deeper so their lives could be based less on “passion” and more on deeper rooting in the soil. I often blame myself for my shallow-soil students.
3. Some got too busy to keep what they got.
I teach many part-time students. By this, I don’t mean students who work full time jobs while taking classes, but I mean students who are taking courses as a sideline. These are well-intentioned students who simply are trying to grow too much on their soil. They are promising and they love preparing for the ministry, but they also love many other things. Eventually the “other things” choked out their commitment and calling. These graduates wanted to grow a crop of service to the church but they also were just as passionate about growing too many other crops in their life. If controlled they could have had “balanced lives.” When uncontrolled, the other crops choked out their calling and they plunged into a life of fun-seeking and entertainment-chasing that is completely focused on themselves and their children. Church got sidelined and their calling got relabeled a childhood fantasy. They were promising but their too-busy college life led to a too-busy regular life where ministry and calling got sidelined among all the other pleasures of life. These students don’t depress me. They are the ones who get depressed. Eventually they write to me saying they “missed it” or “somehow got sidelined” and they rue their inability to find a way back to their original calling. I don’t always know how to answer these emails.
4. Some become steady soldiers.
Most of the students I teach produce a 30-fold or 60-fold crop. For instance, I’m thinking of a guy who came to school with two kids and a full time job. He “just passed” my courses then. Yet he is surviving just fine in his church decades later. He is a “plodder.” He does enough administration to keep the church afloat, and preaches adequate sermons that help people grow and about once a year a new person comes to faith because of his ministry. He won’t win any denominational awards or get inducted into the “world-changers hall of fame,” but he sticks to his calling and ministry. These are the “faithful” servants. The longer I teach the more I appreciate this kind of student. The passionate flash-in-the-pan campus leaders who fizzle in a few years impress us in the moment, but these steady plodders will produce huge results throughout their entire lives, year after year, person after person. Just think of the results of even one new Christian throughout a ministry of 50 years! They are not an Apostle Paul or Peter, but are more like Bartholomew or Philip. God does His unfamous work through them every day. Their ordinary emails tell me about their ordinary ministry in ordinary towns with ordinary people. They often apologize for bothering me by writing but I love to hear from them They are the unknown soldiers of God’s army and I love them dearly!
5. A few become great multipliers.
A few students I teach multiply a hundred fold. They took their four years in college, turned them on end and stood on them to reach far higher. They send me attachments I can use in classes that are better than our textbooks. They take my old lectures and revise and improve them and return them for me to use in classes. They use their head to figure out new solutions for new problems the church faces and they write up strategies that make me say, “Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?” They go to big and small churches and bring their passion and abilities to bear on making the church a godly people. Others copy their ideas and admire their creativity—I do too. They are as rare as all-star basketball players but they remind me that (at least once in a while) students will stand on my shoulders and do things than make us professors seem like pygmies. I mostly hope to produce steady soldiers for God’s army—but when one of these all-stars come along it makes me proud.
So what do you think?
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