A Strategic Problems of Evangelism in Post-Atheistic Society

The seminar for the pastors of the churches in Crimea

Sergei Golovin Simferopol,Ukraine

The forgotten meaning of the familiar parable What really happened? Who created a lie?
Awakening or illusion? What does tomorrow have in store for us? A non-typical conversion
In what we believe today Forward to the past To speak or to listen?
The purpose of man Adam, where are you? The power of conviction
Road towards God Always be prepared Until when?
With whom was Paul speaking? O death, where is your sting? Tell me the story

Translated from Russian by E. Molodchiy
Edited by Amy Shved

The forgotten meaning of the familiar parable

During His earthly ministry Jesus often taught His disciples by using parables.
While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable:
"A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown."
When he said this, he called out,
"He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
(Luke 8:4; New International Version.)

The last phrase here did not have anything to do with the discrimination of people with impaired hearing. It referred back to the well-known prophesy of Isaiah 6:9-10 (Go and tell this people: "Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving." Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.), and gave the hearer the understanding that either what was just said or what was going to be said had some certain concealed meaning, that required attentive listening and seeing with the "ears and eyes" of the heart to be able to get it. As a matter of fact, at that time and in that culture it was a hint to some special, spiritual meaning of the pronounced message. It is not surprising then that…

His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said,

"The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, "'though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.' "This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (Luke 8:9-15; NIV.)

Jesus explained to His disciples the analogies that His parable was based on. But what is the meaning of the parable itself? Why was it told? What message did it carry? What conclusions should we draw from it? How do we apply these conclusions in life? Furthermore, in our time, two thousand years after the parable was told? Truly spoken, "He, who has ears to hear, let him hear"!

Do the words of the Savior mean, "Throw the seeds of the Word of God everywhere without looking, and then - come what may"? Hardly so, because if the Word was to be sown indiscriminately, then there would have been no need in telling this parable!

Maybe, what Jesus meant was, "Look carefully where to sow and where not to sow, so that you do not waste the seeds. Sow only where there is good soil"? But He Himself was saying that the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost (Matthew 18:11; New American Standard Version) and your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost (Matthew 18:14, NIV). Therefore, the main point of the parable is not that we should be looking for soil more suitable for sowing. If it were the case, we would not have a chance to sow at all. The world that lives under the authority of the evil one is drowning in sin, and the Word of God is alien to it. It is natural for the world to reject the Word.

What if the point of the parable is this: if you want to reap an abundant harvest, it is necessary to prepare the soil for sowing, otherwise the seed will not bear the desired fruit?

Time and again both Jesus and the apostles draw a parallel between evangelism and the labor of a farmer. From the experience of agriculture we know that no matter how good the quality of the soil is, one cannot expect to get good crops on virgin lands without preparing the soil beforehand for the sowing. When we move to a new place, we must every time plough up the virgin soil, uproot the stumps, pull up the weeds, and remove the stones. Often it is necessary to use fertilizers, drain swamps, and strengthen the layer of soil. Virgin lands cannot bear abundant fruit all by themselves.

The very same thing can be said about our world: in it there is no fertile field that could receive the Word of God. If rich crops are our goal, then one needs to labor purposefully to prepare the soil. It cannot prepare itself

Awakening or illusion?

I wonder if anything similar has ever happened to you before: it is time for you to get up, and you are still asleep and dreaming that you already woke up, got up, washed up, and are hurrying about your business… But when you finally do wake up, it turns out that your so-called awakening was just a dream, an illusion, and in reality you have desperately overslept.

In the beginning of the 90s the former Soviet Union all of a sudden saw a quickening of keen interest for everything "spiritual": religious teachings, the Bible, traditions, and the heritage of the past. The influx of people to the church resembled an avalanche! In those days an evangelist could just go out into the street and shout, "Jesus loves you!" Immediately a crowd of people would surround him and literally grab evangelistic booklets out of his hands. The next day every fifth person who heard the shout came to the church, out of them every second person responded to the call for repentance. One could pitch a tent on the outskirts of a city, and people would come all by themselves and beg you to give them some religious literature. Churches would be quickly filled with people. Eighty per cent of the population declared themselves believers when asked in public opinion polls! All of a sudden we, the stronghold of atheism, turned into the most believing country in the world!

It seemed that the long-awaited awakening was finally here! But just a few years passed, and it was as if the surge of interest had never existed. Let us have a look at the diagram of baptisms in 1992-1998 in churches of evangelical Christian Baptists, which vividly demonstrates the trend that could be observed in every denomination. Why do things like this happen? After the sudden upsurge in the beginning of the nineties there comes a decline to the level lower than the original one. An enormous amount of seed was sown, and the first young crops were so plentiful! Then, if the number of sowers grew, it would be only logical to expect that sowing would multiply as well. But where has our harvest gone?

Did we really have a harvest?! The problem is that we often mistake the outward appearance for the real harvest. This outward appearance by itself is not a certain result; it is just a side effect. We are constantly in the danger of finding ourselves in the same trap in which the Pharisees found themselves.

Generally, we base our knowledge of the Pharisees on Jesus' reproaches; we consider the term "Pharisee" to be synonymous to the term "hypocrite." In reality, Pharisees were the avant-garde of the zealots of spirituality in their society. It is with pride that Paul writes about himself, "Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee," and it does not mean "hypocrite of hypocrites," but it means "as for legalistic righteousness, faultless" (Philippians 3:5-6; NIV). What kind of people were these Pharisees? The word Pharisee itself (from the Hebrew word perushim) means separated from. They were those who separated themselves from God's people who by then were steeped in sins. They did it so that they could follow the commandments of the Law to the last letter and lead others by their own example. (E.g., Pharisees laid the foundations of the missionary movement by traveling to various countries and making proselytes to believe in the One God. It is this missionary activity that Jesus hints at in the gospel of Matthew 23:15.)

However, righteousness is a double-sided matter. One is visible, the other - invisible. The second one, the one that is in the heart of a person, can be seen by God alone. Although a man's walk before God is usually displayed in external manifestations (such as reading of the Bible, praying, fellowshipping with other believers), often we can mistake something that is intended to be a means of reaching the goal for the goal itself. It was exactly what happened to the Pharisees: in the beginning they were striving for God, but then they were sidetracked towards external, visible manifestations of godliness. They confused the goal and the means for reaching this goal. And as soon as on the way toward God a means for reaching the goal replaces the goal itself, this means becomes an idol.

In the same way, we are faced with a great temptation to mistake side effects for the real changes in the society,the avalanche-like influx of people to the church - for the spiritual awakening, for the universal repentance, for the nation-wide adopting of the faith.

What kind of faith have we adopted then?

In what we believe today

At the close of the millennium not 80%, but only 58% of the residents of the Ukraine considered themselves believers (23% - undecided; 12% - non-believers; 3% - hard core atheists; 3% - have not thought yet whether they were believers or not; 1% could not tell for sure). Of course, it is still a high percentage, one of the highest ones in the world. But the question is, "What do our believers believe in?"

What are the views of the believer who walks in the streets of our city today? In the diagram offered below you will find the results of the poll that was conducted by the Ukrainian Centre for Economic and Political Research (Zerkalo Nedeli #37 (310), September 23, 2000). It also contains the results of the polls conducted by Russian sociologists (in italics) and members of the Christian Centre for Science and Apologetics (in bold).

Believe that:

Total %



God exists




God is a Person




God is a supreme power




God did not create the world




Men evolved from apes




Life after death is a reality


58.6 / 45


Paradise is real


61.1 / 52


Hell is real


55.3 / 46


Resurrection of the dead is a possibility




Faith gives life meaning




Faith is a relationship with God




All religions lead to God




A believer can do without a church




I am Orthodox




Church is not needed at all




Migration of souls is real




Astrology is acceptable and reliable




E xtraterrestrials exist




Omens are trustworthy




Abortion is murder




Euthanasia can be justified




Suicide can be justified




The results are staggering! 11% of the unbelievers to the question "Does God exist?" responded in the affirmative: every tenth unbeliever is sure that God exists. On the other hand, only 36% of the believers consider God to be a Person, while for 40% God is a certain supreme power, and 21% of believers are convinced that God did not create the world. The same number of people think that men evolved from apes (for the unbelievers this number is different by 3% only).

58% of believers can do without the church, 12% do not know at all why the church exists. The most shocking fact is not that 72% of believers consider themselves to be Orthodox, but that 27% of unbelievers consider themselves to be Orthodox! Truly, the Slavic soul is an enigma!

Only 20% of those who call themselves believers actually believe in the resurrection of the dead; only 42% admit that faith gives their life meaning, and only for 18% of believers faith is a means of relationship with God. 30% of the people consider that all religions lead to God.

Only 30% of believers consider abortion to be murder, 8% think that abortion is acceptable whatever the circumstances. 23% of believers justify euthanasia, i.e., when doctors murder a sick or elderly person "so that he/she would not have to suffer" (Therefore, because man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward (Job 5:7; NIV), the only logical conclusion is to murder old people in their childhood.) However, believers themselves are not very disposed towards overcoming hardships and privations - 54% of them consider suicide to be a justified way out of a crisis situation.

Concerning superstition, believers are in the leading positions everywhere here. 30% of believers believe in the migration of souls, 41% believe in astrology, 67% believe in the existence of extraterrestrials, 59% believe in omens (superstition). The last figure is the highest (76%) among those who consider themselves to be believers, but do not attend any church.

Such are our believers! It is hard to refrain from repeating after the apostle Paul: I see that in every way you are very religious (Acts 17:22; NIV).