Helping you grow closer to God
Download the Chip Ingram App
The High Impact Pastor Resources on sale now.
About this series
The High Impact Pastor
Building God's Church Jesus' Way
As our world continues to thaw from the pandemic, now more than ever, the Church has to act like the Church. And that can only happen with healthy, God-focused pastors leading well. Through this short series - "The High Impact Pastor: Building God's Church Jesus' Way" - Chip offers hope to church leaders who are discouraged and struggling spiritually, mentally… and even financially. Stay with us as we learn what Jesus is saying to pastors in these challenging times… and how everyday people – like you and me – can learn to support ‘em!More from this series
Welcome to session two as we continue our journey to become high impact pastors that grow high impact churches. Now, here’s what I know what happens when you begin to do some honest self-analysis and you say, “Okay, here’s a high impact church. People are regularly coming to Christ; mature people are growing, their lives are changing, and they start ministering to others; and is the church meeting some of the deepest needs of the community?”
Well, when you look at that and if you’re honest about the church that you pastor, all of us fall short. I mean, that’s the ideal. We know that’s what God wants. And the bad news is, initially, we are not where we need to be. But you know something? You can’t change unless you start with: This is where we are. This is what needs to change. In fact, what I love about the high impact church definition, it gives me a picture of what God really wants.
My confession as a pastor was often as long as the attendance was going up and more people were showing up and maybe more money was coming in so that we could do more of what we wanted to do, I thought the church was really successful. And what I realized a bit later, you know, we don’t have a lot of people that are fully devoted followers, making a difference. Now, we’ve got some wonderful exceptions, and I’m not discouraged. But here’s what I want to do.
I want to walk you through a Jesus church growth seminar. I want to take you back to the beginning of how Jesus taught His disciples to make disciples, to teach, to preach, and to grow in such a way that they would be salt and they would be light and they would actually change the course of world history.
The world is in great need, the Church is the hope of the world, and we are the under-shepherds and we get to follow Jesus’ pattern. Here’s His promise. He said to you and He said to me, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” And what I want to say is that I think we have followed His teaching and we followed some models, but if we will do what Jesus actually did, and if we will obey what Jesus actually said, here’s what I will tell you, we will grow high impact churches.
Open your Bibles if you will to Mark chapter 4. This is a passage that you have spoken on many times, I have spoken on many times, it’s very, very familiar. But I’ve got to tell you this, I have seen things in this passage that I have never seen before in my life.
It has pointed out to me things that, despite how often other people thought I was very successful, you know, “Chip, you have thousands of people coming!” Or there are messages on the radio or these have been turned into books. Or, you know, whatever people and pastors tend to think. And I have done an honest appraisal and realized when I did it the Jesus way, there were a lot of people coming to know Him. There was life-change in their lives. And we made huge differences in our community.
But, often, I measured the wrong things. Often, I was growing the church and I was measuring things simply by attendance or things that were external. And here’s what I’m excited about. I’m excited about us together learning the Jesus Way to grow His Church.
Now, you’ll notice in your notes, it’s Mark chapter 4, Matthew chapter 13, and Luke chapter 8. It’s that very familiar parable of the seed and the sower. It’s a very long passage. I’m not going to read it, because you all know it.
Here’s what I want to do. I want to walk through an overview of what this parable says and I have made some observations on this one, single sheet of paper from each one of the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke. They are going to tell us something about this parable. They all tell us the same thing, but as you see on the bottom, each one of them gives us something specific.
And Jesus - here’s the context. His mother and His brothers, they come. And they are concerned about Him. And they say, “We need to see Jesus! We need to see Jesus! He’s not eating, He’s overwhelmed with people,” He’s doing miracles. Candidly, “we might think He has lost His mind.”
And so, think about what it would be like, especially if you know the Jewish culture. A Jewish mother comes, “I want to see my boy,” right? And Jesus’ response is this. Look at in Mark chapter 3. It’s just before chapter 4. And answering He says, “‘Who are My mother and My brothers?’ And looking around at those who were sitting around Him, He said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers.’”
Now, listen to this, “‘For whoever does the will of God, this is My brother and sister and mother.’ And again, He began to teach by the sea and such a large crowd gathered to Him that He got into the boat in the sea and He sat down and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. And as He was teaching them many things and parables, and He was saying to them in His teaching, ‘Listen to this. Behold, the sower went out to sow.’” So, I want you to get the context that it’s about family relationship.
He’s saying that: I’m going to re-define what it means to have a family or personal relationship with Me and with the Father. And it’s not blood, it’s not growing up in a Christian home, it’s not just simply believing the right things.
He says, “Family relationship is based on those who do the will of God” and this parable talks about, “How do we know the will of God?” He’s going to say it comes from His Word. So, let me just narrate it for you. Lean back and glance at the text as I talk.
The sower goes out to sow and he sows the seed. And the seed falls on four distinct paths, right? It’s on the hard, it’s on the shallow, it’s on that which is choked, and on the good soil. And then Jesus will say that each one of these represent the human heart. The seed represents the Word of God and the sower is the Son of Man.
He develops this text and then the disciples say, “Lord, will You explain this to us?” And you know this explanation, right? But let’s walk through this, because here’s what is interesting. There are only five elements in this parable. The first one is the sower. He’s the teacher; He’s the Son of Man. Here’s what I want you to observe. He preaches or teaches the Word with moral and spiritual authority by the power of the Holy Spirit.
See, I think some of us unconsciously, we have thought that Jesus, when He teaches, well, He’s God and there’s great power. But Jesus said, “I can do nothing of Myself,” remember? John 5:30. He says, “I can only do what the Father shows Me.” And then He says, “It’s in the power of the Holy Spirit.” So, Jesus, in His humanity, is casting the very life-giving Word of God in dependency and the power of the Holy Spirit. And He says, “This is what is the key to preaching and teaching with power.”
Second, the seed is the Word of God. Man will not live by bread alone, but you could finish this sentence, couldn’t you? “But every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” You’ll notice here too, this is the key, this idea of His Word and its power. Hebrews 4, verse 12, I put down there, “For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than a two-edged sword, and piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joint and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
He is going to say that we, like Him, need to sow the Word of God, but we need to understand that power is in the message, not in the messenger. You know, so many of us, we will hear someone preach or we’ll see a great ministry or a large church or hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of people come and secretly we say, “I wish I could preach like that. Boy, I wish I had his gifts,” or, “I wish I had her gifts.”
And here’s Jesus’ message. The power is not in the messenger. Of course we have gifts, but He says the power is in the Word of God. Jesus’ final prayer, do you remember that in John 7:17? It’s truth. “Father, set them apart,” or literally, “make them holy by Your truth. Your Word is truth.”
The apostle Paul would say, Romans 1:16, “The power is in the gospel.” That’s what saves people. And all I want you to get is that from Old and New Testament, is that it’s the Word, the living Word.
Jesus calls Himself the logos, the living Word of God. So, this parable is about sowing the truth of God’s Word and trusting God’s Word to have its impact. And He says what the variable is is not the Word. He says the variable is the hearers, the human hearts. Those that are hard-hearted, where Satan comes and grabs or steals the Word. There are those with the shallow heart have, they hear and they respond and, “Oh, yes! This is great! And Jesus, He loves me! He forgives me!” Until persecution or difficulty come.
And then there are those who respond to the Word, right? And they start to grow and there’s activity and they are coming to church and they come to a Bible study, they start to care about other people. And then the desires for other things and in riches, the deceitfulness of riches that starts to choke out the truth of God’s Word. And so, there’s lots of activity. There may be many people like this in our churches. But there’s not fruit. It gets choked out.
And then He says there’s the soil – thirty, sixty, a hundred. There’s a kind of soil. And you’ll notice in the very bottom where I have “unique contributions” – in Luke 8:15, He describes the soil. It’s a good and honest heart, who receives the Word, the truth, puts it into practice, and with perseverance, hanging in there through the ups and the downs, bears the fruit of thirty, sixty, or a hundred.
So, let’s look at the growth. Notice in the first soil, there’s none. In the second soil it’s very immediate. And in the third, there’s significant growth. But let’s look now, look at the next line of fruit. The desired outcome of the preaching and the teaching of God’s Word.
The desired outcome when Jesus was teaching them, “This is what I want to accomplish. This is My seminar on discipleship. This is My seminar on how I change lives. This is My seminar for you disciples, because this is how I’m going to grow My Church.”
Look at it. Notice there’s no fruit in the first soil. There’s no fruit in the second soil. There’s no fruit in the third soil. But notice there’s much fruit in the last soil. Jesus, the very last night, do you remember, do you remember when He got the disciples aside and He put His arm around them, He knew He was going to leave, and He said, “It’s better that I leave because the Spirit is going to come and take up residence in you.”
But He wanted to give them a picture, and so, I believe that as He was walking around the Mount of Olives, there was a vineyard nearby and He says, “If you abide in Me and My Word abides in you,” He says, “You’re going to bear much fruit. The Father is the vinedresser, but I want you to know, you stay connected to Me and connected to My Word.”
And then He says – what? He says, “By this you prove to be My disciples, that you,” have a lot of activities? Hmm. That you have a big attendance? Hmm. That lots of money is coming in? That you have a nice building, or that you have a van?
Does He say that? He says, “You prove to be My disciples when you bear much fruit.” The greatest and most startling thing I have seen in my life after almost forty years of ministry is that I have confused activity with fruit. I have been a part of a church where hundreds of people show up, where thousands of people show up.
And I remember one time just being so excited about what God was doing and it’s a good thing for lots of people to show up, don’t get me wrong. But I remember I was in a little market and I was buying some food, and there was a person that I recognized and I was way behind them and they were from our church. And they were buying some things and having a conversation. And they were regular church members who came to our church.
And I listened to the conversation that they were having and the words that they were using and the hate that was in their heart. And then I watched how they treated the person at the market. And then I watched how they acted when they left. And I thought to myself, How many of the people in the church that I am the pastor, I know the diet! I am the preacher and the teacher. How many of them are coming on the weekends to the service and they act like that at the market? Or at home. Or at work.
And what I began to say is, Lord, I long to be a high impact pastor. I don’t want to be a pastor that just can gather groups of people. I want to be a pastor that bears much fruit,
because You told me.
In His love and His kindness and His piercing eyes He’s going to say to you and me, “Did you bear much fruit?” And that raises the question, “What is fruit?” What does He mean here? Notice in your notes, I think there are two major ways from the Scripture that we can measure fruit. The first is Christ-like character, right? It’s very clear. Galatians chapter 5, the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, self-control. We have that fruit of the Spirit that that’s the character in a person’s life.
But I think it’s also kingdom impact. The fruit of fulfilling the Great Commission; the fruit of the Great, what I call, the Great Compassion - it’s this part of your heart and the ministry where you care about the least of these; and then there’s the fruit of, I call, God’s goodness - where regardless of their background, their religion, their ethnicity, you love people that they think would never ever, you would ever care about.
That’s fruit. It’s what the early Church did is they took the children off the dump heaps who were cast aside because they maybe had a defect or because they wanted a boy and it was a girl. So, we’ll just get rid of it.
Or, so they adopted the children and it was the Church that started schools, it’s the Church all throughout history that started hospitals, it’s the Church that cared about marginalized people. They bore fruit, they cared, they loved. And the world was literally turned upside down. Are you ready for this?
I remember reading a sociologist who had done a study, not necessarily spiritual and not necessarily the work of the Holy Spirit, but a sociologist that was trying to discover: How in the world, when you start with twelve and then about a hundred and twenty disciples, how in the world about three hundred years later, they estimate the Roman population of all the Roman Empire was about sixty million, how could you have thirty-three million Christians out of sixty million, after only three hundred years?
And his secular explanation, are you ready for this? There were three major pandemics that just wiped out whole cities.
Pandemics. And the only people that stayed in the cities, according to this sociologist, were Christians. And the only people that were in the cities were Christians who stayed to nurture people back to health. And when the pandemic passed, the only people left were either people who survived that were loved by Christians or Christians who survived.
And Jesus said, “Love never fails.” In this moment in history, we want to grow high impact churches. And impact is not measured by size. Impact is measured by character, by the Great Commission, by great compassion, and by great goodness.
And He is going to teach this group of ordinary men how to have that kind of impact.
Notice at the very bottom, I ask some questions and explanations. And we are going to develop this in our journey together. This is like phase one of Jesus’ church growth seminar. Why parables? Do you understand when this occurred in Jesus’ ministry?
I want to give you why this parable is so important. For years, like you, I read through Matthew, I read through Mark, I have studied the life of Christ. But in recent days, I have decided, Lord, I want to study Your Word in a way, Your gospels, that from the moment of Your baptism to the moment of Your death, resurrection, and ascension, I want to study all the gospels and I want to put it all together chronologically. I want to know what You did and where You were and what was the order. Because it changes how you interpret some of these things and the impact of them.
If you want to open to Luke, we will look at this much more in depth later. But Luke, in chapter 3, Jesus’ baptism starts. And He hears the Father’s voice, “This is My dearly loved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
He identifies with sinful mankind, He surrenders or humbles Himself, and I love this, He is going to do ministry not to gain the Father’s favor, but He’s going to do His ministry from the Father’s favor.
And then notice right after that, He goes into the temptation and He does the battle, right? with the enemy. And He’s tempted: The lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, the pride of life. Observation, if we are going to follow Jesus, we need to not just do what He said, we need to do what He did. How did He overcome the enemy? “It is written, it is written, it is written.” You know all these things, right? It’s the Word of God, it’s the power. And so, He defeats the enemy, and then He launches His ministry.
And He launches it first in Judea and He goes to a wedding and He does some miracles and He heals some people and then the religious leaders begin, they don’t reject Him completely yet, but there’s a lot of heat and the Roman government…
And so, He goes up north to Galilee. And He goes up north to Galilee and He goes back to His hometown. We’re probably six to nine months into His ministry so far. And He sits down like I’m sitting down now and He has been teaching in some synagogues and people are very excited and, “Wow! Our hometown boy! This is Jesus, He grew up here and thousands of people are coming. Have you heard He did a miracle here, a miracle here, and there was a blind man here and a lame man here?” And they were excited.
And so, He comes and they give Him the scroll and He opens it up, right? You guys know the story. And He reads from Isaiah the prophetic identification of Messiah. And then He hands them back the scroll and then watch the text carefully, He sits down. And when a rabbi was speaking with authority, that was the position; He sits down.
“In your hearing, this has been fulfilled.” And then there’s some identity issues because they go, “Whoa, wait a second. So, You’re claiming to be the Messiah? I mean, a prophet or a great guy or a miracle worker, but the Messiah? The Chosen One? Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Didn’t He grow up here?”
And we’ll talk about this passage much more. But here’s what you need to understand. When Jesus comes to teach about the seed and the sower, He has come to a point in His ministry where He has been rejected by His family. If you keep following that passage in Luke and in Mark, what happens? They take Him out on the edge of the city to throw Him off to kill Him.
So, He is rejected by His family, He is rejected by His hometown. As we will follow a little bit later as you read Luke, He is rejected by the religious leaders. He has given the Sermon on the Mount and so, thousands of people are following Him and He says, “This is what a genuine follower looks like.” You know, blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are the…right?
And so, He has given them, “This is the picture of what it means to be a genuine follower of Mine,” and when we get to this church growth seminar, Jesus actually is now saying to the disciples, “I have offered the kingdom to Israel and they have rejected it. My family has rejected Me. Real relationship with Me and with the Father is based on your response to My Word.”
And what He is teaching them through this parable is this is how the Kingdom works. In fact, as you read a bit more, did you catch, did you catch that where He says, “To you it has been granted the secrets of the Kingdom”? Prophets have longed…as you look at Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8, and you put all those together, He is basically saying, “What I am sharing with you now, prophets of long ago wanted to hear and understand and I am giving you the key to how life-change occurs. I am teaching you the pattern, the model of ministry where life-change happens on the inside out and transforms them.”
And then we will see a little bit later, you’ll notice where I have put the unique aspect of Matthew, he will give us six back to back to back to back to back parables that will help them understand what the future will hold, where they will be tempted, and what they need to do.
I’ve got ten observations.
Number one, family relationship with Jesus is doing God’s will. And we learn God’s will from His Word. And His Word is from Jesus, the sower.
Number two, what is God’s will? It’s God’s will that we follow Jesus, that we do what He actually did and that we follow what He actually said.
Third, the sower of God’s Word is the Son of Man. And He preaches with authority and power and, yet, He confesses that He is not doing it in His power or His strength, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Number four, the seed is God’s Word. And as we’ll find, good seed in good ground produces fruit a hundred percent of the time. Listen carefully, good seed of God’s Word, in good ground, an honest heart that wants to grow, produces spiritual fruit one hundred percent of the time.
Number five, The soils are the conditions of the heart responses to the truth. God’s Word, not only for our salvation, but also throughout our lives.
We preach the Word of God and some people don’t respond, some people a little bit. But He’s telling them, “This is not just for salvation.” For you and for me. When we hear God’s voice from His Word, there are times where He says, “I want you to forgive your wife, and your heart is hard, No, I’m not going to do that.
Or He speaks to you about an addiction or a habit and you respond initially but then you go right back to it. He is giving us a picture, a paradigm, a model of when the Word goes forth to us individually or when we preach it, there are four different responses. And when we become aware of that, here’s what I want you to get, here’s the next observation.
Effective sowing, teaching, and preaching, is essential, but we must cultivate and prepare the soil for it to have impact.
Did you notice that Jesus invested in the soil, the disciples, that were responsive? But as we learn to grow the kingdom and the Church the way Jesus did, what we are going to learn is when there’s hard soil, what do you do to soften it up? When there’s shallow soil, how do you help those people who respond initially to be loved and cared for where they make it through that time? And where there is kind of those people that are growing and there’s activity and they start to stray and start to drift, and they get choked out by other things, how do we refocus their attention so they actually grow? That’s what Jesus is going to teach us.
Growth and fruit are not synonymous. Think about that. Growth, activity, attendance, some of the things we measure. And fruit, Christ-like character, fulfilling the Great Commission, helping the least of these, making a difference to those in our communities that are in dire need.
Growth and fruit are not synonymous. Fruitfulness, mature disciples who do God’s will, is the goal of our preaching and our teaching. It’s what Jesus commanded.
And He has given us the raw material of His Word, the Holy Spirit, and one another to actually produce it.
And finally, we have an instrumental role in the sowing of the seed and then we will learn how to weed and to fertilize, but are you ready? Only God can make it grow.
Remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians chapter 3? He says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” The Church’s growth, the Church’s impact will not be on your gifts or what you can do or what you can produce.
We are gardeners and we have the seed of God’s Word. And we are going to learn together how to preach it and teach it, and then to cultivate a garden and a culture where the churches, whether they be small, medium-sized, or large, our focus will be fruit. And that fruit is the kind of lives and the kind of focus that has changed the world and will change the world. We have never had a greater opportunity to really redesign ministry, in a world that is in desperate need.
Father, I pray right now for my brothers and my sisters. Give us new eyes to see. Help us to see Your Church, Your Word, this world the way that You see it. Help us to be like the early Christians who depended desperately on You and were we are willing to do whatever and to forsake all to obey You and follow You. Lord, Your promise is You will build Your Church. Your command is for us to make disciples. Lord, help us to hear, help us to act. May we be men and women that You would look down from heaven and see good soil and that we would produce thirty, sixty, a hundred-fold, in Jesus’ name, amen.