In my neighborhood, people take pride in their backyards. I think many Americans do! Nothing is better than a lawn that looks like a putting green with perfect lines mowed in. Last summer, I caught the love and vision of having a manicured lawn. I was at a relative’s birthday party, and I admired their lawn. It looked nicer than the Colts’ Astroturf, and it was as soft as a pillow. I was begging for some advice. My relative told me a few secrets and which fertilizer he used. This year I was determined to have the best lawn I could have, but then COVID-19 happened. I didn’t want to risk getting the virus by going into the store in March or April to buy fertilizer.
By late May, it was safe to go to the store. I finally bought and spread the secret fertilizer on my lawn. I put a little more on than he recommended. I wanted to get an extra boost to have lush green grass. The next few days were scorching hot. It was too late in the season, and I put too much fertilizer on the lawn. I burned gigantic holes in my lawn. The problem was that I pushed it too hard to grow. It wasn’t the right climate. You can’t force growth like that. In other areas of my lawn, where it was shaded and where the right amount of fertilizer was spread, the grass looks amazing. It is lush and green.
Why am I telling you all this, besides my love of grass? Because mission is a lot like taking care of our backyard! You need the right conditions and techniques for successful growth! When spreading the Good News, we need to find the right spiritual environment for receptivity and growth.
Searching for right conditions
In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas preached the Good News to Pisidian Antioch on Paul’s first missionary journey. This was unreached territory for the Gospel. Paul and Barnabas went first to the local synagogue. This was the strategy they used for 20 years. They preached to Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. In short, the Jews mostly rejected the Good News, while the God-fearing Gentiles were ecstatic! The Jews ended up persecuting and chasing Paul and Barnabas out of town to shut them up. But it was too late: The God-fearing Gentiles told the rest of the Gentiles, and the Gospel spread.
In this chapter, Paul and Barnabas were textbook executors of Jesus’ instructions to find people of peace from Luke 10. At the end of chapter 13, Paul and Barnabas wiped the dust off their feet like Jesus instructed in Luke 10:11. They moved on to Iconium, looking for others more receptive to the Gospel. Paul and Barnabas recognized it wasn’t the right climate or timing for the Jewish people, so they moved on. The Jewish leaders couldn’t get on board with Gentiles (non-Jews) coming into God’s family as equals. They were the chosen people, not the Gentiles. They took it as an insult. They couldn’t get on board with God’s new—but actually old—strategy. Israel was always supposed to be a light to the non-Jews (Acts 13:47). So, they began to persecute Paul and Barnabas.
Anytime we share Jesus with the world, we will meet resistance. In fact, resistance is a sign that shows that we are doing God’s mission right! There is a spiritual battle around Jesus and the salvation of the world. Across the world, Christians risk their lives because of their faith, especially for witnessing. In America, if we tell people about Jesus, they might laugh at us. It could jeopardize relationships with family or friends. These are all forms of persecution. The Gospel is offensive and can create conflict. But when there is resistance with one person, there will be receptivity with another. There are people ready to hear the Gospel. Look for the person of peace, people who are open to the Good News.
We shouldn’t give up on the people who are resistant, but we need to be more patient until we have the right conditions. We can still pray, love, and serve these people. We should keep testing the soil every now and then to see if anything changes. But if we push people too hard, we end up burning our relationship with them. God never forces His way into our lives. Salvation is a free gift. Like my fertilizer disaster, you can’t force it. We have to remember: Our battle isn’t against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12).
We should take Paul’s example of reaching the God-fearing Gentiles if we want to see receptivity and growth. It was the God-fearing Gentiles who opened the door to the Gentile world. If you reach one person with the Good News, they most likely have a large network of unreached friends. We should share Jesus with people who need some Good News in their lives. Neil Cole says, “Bad people make good soil.” It is often the dirtiest places where receptivity is the highest. When we find the right conditions, Jesus says there will be a return of 100, 60, or 30 (Matt. 13:8).
The good news is that there are people who want to hear about Jesus’ salvation. Many of them live in the backyard of your neighborhood! You don’t have to go to a different country to be a missionary. Missions isn’t just abroad. You are sent to where you already live, work, and play!
You are a backyard missionary!