Stephen Bowers is a good friend and fellow IMB missionary serving in South America. He has written the following paragraph in a recent prayer letter that caught my attention.
...Jesus gives us divine insight...when he says in Matthew 13:23b “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it.” Jesus also says in Matthew 13:9 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. Really and truly UNDERSTANDING the Word of God is essential and absolutely necessary for those who will finish the race and for those who will bear and yield fruit.
Many times I have scratched my head trying to figure out why a church plant fails, why things start to crumble, or where people get their crazy ideas! Could it be that it is as elemental as their simply not understanding the word? Does the evil one really snatch away that good word which has been sown simply because they have not understood it? Wow, that is something to think about!
We assume people are understanding just because we have said the right words and they have smiled and nodded their heads. What has taken us a lifetime to understand and grasp, we expect those we are sharing the Gospel to instantly comprehend. Is it really a surprise when they don't?
The reality in many cases is something quite different than we intended. I have seen this over and over again. People tend to hear what they think you are saying, not necesarrily what you are saying.
Another aspect of this is our tendency to believe people need lots of information before they can really "get it." Often, little of what I am trying to communicate is getting across. All my words are filtered through their own world view, experiences, prejudices, upbringing, etc. How nice it would be if there were a way to get inside someone's brain and see what is really being understood!
Our message is also suspect in that our listeners often question or are confused by our motivations. Why are they here? Why are they telling me this? What do they really want out of me? What's in it for me if I accept their message?
Anyway, I think I'll go back and meditate a bit more on Matthew 13. A key missiological feature is the need for people to clearly understand the Gospel message. It is our responsibility to communicate that message clearly.