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Years ago, I asked a number of pastors about the most fulfilling aspect of their work. While responses varied slightly, the majority of pastors said that they are most gratified and pleased when they see peoples’ lives changed through receiving and acting upon the Word of God. Conversely, when asked about the most frustrating aspect of ministry, the same group typically responded that it is when people “don’t get it” and are not changed.

As ministers, what is our reaction to be when people don’t get it, when people don’t receive the Word at all, or receive minimal benefit from it? I know some ministers are wired in such a way that they become discouraged—even taking it personally, as though they themselves are somehow a failure. They believe if they were better ministers, then everyone would be powerfully impacted by the Word they share. But is this a reasonable, healthy expectation?

In any ministry equation, there are three components: (1) God, (2) the person ministering, and (3) the person on the receiving end. While that seems extremely elementary, it’s important for the minister to understand that he or she cannot do God’s job, nor can they do the job of the intended recipient. If you try to take on God’s responsibilities or another person’s responsibilities, you are going to end up significantly frustrated.

Ministers are often so full of conviction and passion about what they’re sharing that it’s hard not to take it personally when someone does not receive—we want so much for them to get it. Caution, though, is very important here, and it is necessary to remember that all those who embrace the responsibility of ministry must acknowledge that while we can share, implore, teach, etc., we cannot force anyone to accept what God offers.

Paul said this in 2 Corinthians 1:24:
Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand.”
The Message version renders that verse:
We’re not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We’re partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours.
While Paul certainly saw some amazing results from his ministry, there were times when he was frustrated at the lack of progress experienced by some believers, and certainly times when unbelievers failed to respond positively to Paul’s message. Consider the results Paul saw in Rome after spending an entire day sharing the Gospel with those who came to hear him: “Some were persuaded by the things he said, but others did not believe” (Acts 28:24). Was Paul a failure? Absolutely not. He shared the gospel accurately and faithfully, but he couldn’t control how people responded.

Even Jesus noted that people can be very fickle when it comes to receiving.
But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying: “We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not lament.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.”
(Matt. 11:16-19)
Some were finding ridiculous reasons not to receive from John or Jesus. There will be people who will find an excuse not to receive or to apply the Word of God in their lives, but our responsibility is to faithfully (and skillfully) present God’s Word and God’s heart regardless. After all, how many times did we resist God’s influence before we yielded to Him, and how patient has He been with each of us?

Jesus also communicated a parable that deals with the way people hear. We call it the parable of the sower (Mark 4:3-25). In this lesson, Jesus described four types of soil. Each one (the wayside, the stony ground, the thorny ground, and the good ground) represent a different type of hearing process—a different type of receiving (or not receiving) and valuing (or not valuing) the Word of God.

Most pastors have taught and expounded on this parable several times, but let me present somewhat of a mathematical analysis of it. Of the four types of soil, only one (the good ground) yielded lasting results. The good ground speaks of the person who hears, receives, understands, and keeps the Word, and then brings forth fruit with endurance. Keep in mind that only one out of four hearers received any long term results—that’s 25%. In other words, according to this parable, 75% of the people who hear end up not receiving, and not because there’s anything wrong with the seed or with the sower.

Here’s another thing to keep in mind. Of the 25% which did receive the Word, they got varying results. According to Jesus, there were degrees of benefit or fruitfulness, it was, “some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred” (Mark 4:20). In other words, of those in the good ground category, some received a little benefit, some moderate, and some maximum. I don’t assume that Jesus meant all this to be an exact mathematical formula to be strictly applied to every group we minister to, but if we were to use this parable as a point of reference, it would indicate that only 8% or so of the people we minister to will receive maximum benefit from the Word we share.

Copyright © Tony Cooke Ministries
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Author Biography

Tony Cooke
Web site: Tony Cooke Ministries
Bible teacher and author Tony Cooke graduated from RHEMA Bible Training Center in 1980 and received degrees from North Central University (Bachelor's in Church Ministries) and Liberty University (Master's in Theological Studies/Church History). His ministerial background includes pastoral ministry, teaching in Bible schools, and directing a ministerial association. Tony's passion for teaching the Bible has taken him to more than thirty nations and nearly all fifty states. He is the author of a dozen books, of which, various titles have been translated and published in eight other languages. Tony and his wife, Lisa, reside in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and are the parents of two adult children.

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