Discipleship Lessons from Gardening

Sermon notes on our Parable of the Sower series from Mark 4:1-20.

This series was applied to the work of disciple making. We spent four weeks on the parable and you can find the full teachings on our YouTube channel. Below is mostly sermon notes from the last teaching today but with a little background on the other soils from the parable as well. Feel free to comment, ask questions, or discuss.

My First Gardening Experience

Quite a number of years ago, I tried my hand at growing my first garden. I cut the grass off the top of the soil with a shovel and then using a hand hoe and rake, I tried “tilling” the soil a bit. I may have tried adding some fertilizer but I honestly don’t recall. However, after planting seeds and giving it a few weeks, I had little seedlings popping up through the dirt look as pretty as ever.

As those little seedlings began to grow, my excitement did as well. I couldn’t wait till they’d begin to put on “big leaves” and one day produce some fruit to eat. Eventually though, my excitement turned to aggravation. Along with the little seedlings, almost as if overnight, the grass and weeds began to grow all around my pretty little garden patch. I could see there was no winning the battle against them. Apparently, I hadn’t prepared the area well enough nor did I remove all the weeds and grass enough for my little garden to grow.

The Parable Explained

Jesus speaks of gardening in His parable of the Sower. In the parable, He speaks of a farmer sowing seed and says some fell on the path and was stolen by birds. Other seed fell on the rocky soil, sprung up quickly only to wither when the sun hit it because it had no roots. And yet, other seed fell among the thorns and the thorns choked out the plants that grew up. Then there was this other seed that fell in good soil and it grew and produced grain, some thirty times as much, some sixty times, and some a hundred times as much as was planted!

Jesus explains that His parable is about the Word of God being sowed into the hearts of men (and women). Some it can barely penetrate their hearts because they’ve become hardened to it. And He says Satan steals it. The seed that fell on the rocky ground was indicative of those that hear the Word, receive it with joy, and are glad. But then they do not persevere in the faith due to the trials and persecution for the Word that comes against them. And the seed that fell among the thorns? It was likened to those folks that receive the Word but then are lured away by the temptation of riches and the cares of the world.

Making Disciples

The parable is about making disciples and producing the fruits of repentance and the Spirit. The fruits of repentance is the turning from unbelief and sin to the Lord for salvation, and the fruits of the Spirit are those gifts that are expressed through the saved soul by the Spirit of God…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22). These are the fruits the disciple of Jesus should be producing.

So how does this effect making disciples? Well, I believe, like my garden, the lesson is in the soil, the preparation, and the nurturing of new disciples. You see, making disciples is not an easy task, like gardening isn’t easy either. Both can be hard, slow, and dirty. But, to produce fruit, one must be up to the task and use wisdom in doing so.

I did a 4-week video teaching on the subject if you want to go deeper, but I’m going to try and save you a little time by summarizing four weeks of teaching into one blog post here. Sound good? Cool!

The Hard Soil

The “beaten path” here is the one whose heart is nearly impenetrable due to the circumstances of life they’ve experienced hardening them to the Lord. They’ve been beaten down, and now have been hardened to anything concerning God. It doesn’t mean they can’t be broken; we can try and create cracks in the ground, using God’s Word, His commandments, and pointing out how we have all sinned, showing them the mirror of God’s Law and the salvation offered through Christ.

But, be forewarned. This is truly a hard nut to crack and should usually be dealt with by an experienced “gardener,” (gifted in evangelism). But I’ll dare say we should not simply give up on them! Pray for them for sure, in fact pray for all that need Christ before trying to disciple them!

The Rocky Soil

The rocky soil is the person who has no root, and the sting of hardships in life keep coming at them and has caused them to question the faith. Their initial joy is gone because they thought salvation meant their troubles would end, that they would now experience prosperity and peace in this world. For these folks, and anyone we desire to disciple, we have to be clear about the commands of Jesus and how He warned His followers that troubles and trials would come. We need to try and help them develop roots to protect them against the storms of life by helping them to go deeper into the world and make a deeper commitment to the Lord.

Weeds and Thorns

This is the seed that is choked out by the weeds and thorns of this life, those desires for things and riches of the earth. These wannabe disciples want to accept Christ but still live for the world. They’ve not crucified the desires of the flesh and instead are chasing after the wind. They are lured away by the advertisements of this world, offering them just what they need to have a good life.

If they are the disciple under our wing, then we want to help them to turn off the ads so to speak, to protect themselves from the things the world offers and desires to use to cause division as well. These need to be correctly pointed to the truth that dear old Solomon found…nothing is fulfilling without the Lord.

The Fruitful Spoil

The last of the soils is the fruitful soil and this is the goal of every gardener and disciple maker. It is also what we disciples ourselves desire to be!

My next year of gardening went better. I decided I needed to start fresh, in a way that I could control the environment of my plants. So, I built raised beds for my garden, filling them with fresh black soil and fertilizer. I controlled the soil, had no weeds to worry about, and had an available water source at hand as well. All that was left was to keep the plant supported through their growth and watch out for the pests that would occasionally attack them. Because of this care and wise gardening, I produced the most fruitful of small gardens. I had so much I was giving tomatoes, cucumbers, and hot peppers away!

I believe this taught me the key to helping make disciples and produce the fruit in my own life that Jesus desires of us. I want to be, and produce, fruitful disciples.

In His parable Jesus says this soil, with the seed sown into it, produces grain, or bears fruit, thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and even a hundredfold. This is what a farmer would call, “fertile ground.” Fertile ground is of course where good crops can grow. It contains the right atmosphere the right nutrients, and all the right support materials.‌

Discipleship is about more than getting someone to say a prayer. It is about helping lead another in the right way to live under the reign of Jesus in their lives.


Some say that the better word for making disciples may be “apprentices.” This is more closely aligned with what Jesus did with those first disciples. He taught them, but He also sent them out to be apprentices of His.

‌Paul did this with Timothy.

‌An apprentice learns by hearing, by watching, and then by doing. They are sent out to try the new skills they’ve been taught. So, if we consider this idea of apprenticing along with the seed sowing parable, what does that mean for us as disciple makers? What does it mean for us as disciples of Jesus ourselves?

The Environment

‌When sowing the Seed of God’s Word, we need to make sure the environment is right. For me and my own raised bed gardens, I was able to create the right atmosphere, the right soil conditions, for the plants I was planting.

‌How can we apply this to our own planting efforts?

‌Remember, it starts with fertile soil. It’s hard enough work in itself, but it is all the more difficult if the soil is like those other soils we’ve already looked at in the parable.

‌In sharing the Gospel, in seeking new disciples, we can’t just speak about Jesus anywhere and at any time and expect fruit to just pop up. The environment must be right.

When I used to drink, I was the best evangelist, or so I thought. I had the courage, false courage mind you, to share about Jesus to my friends, but the environmental conditions were wrong.

‌I myself was wrong of course, living in two worlds.

In years past, this “environmental change” was often done by inviting folks to a revival church service, or now, today, we may invite them into a regular Sunday at some churches so that the atmosphere, and the environment, could be controlled and made conducive to creating that emotional response inside a person.

‌I’ve even wanted to use music or some other media, or even a story, to help “soften the soil” you might say.

‌But the truth is, this may work well enough to get one to say the Sinner’s Prayer, or maybe come back to church again, but I’m afraid too often, you end up with one of the other soils Jesus speaks about. Usually the rocky soil or the weedy soil, cuz there’s no root to their faith.

‌‌Man can’t live on bread alone, Jesus says. Bread has no real sustenance, we need real food. We need more than a one time prayer or Sunday church service to grow and be fruitful disciples.

‌‌I too want you, if you’re not saved yet, to say the prayer. But I also know, and honestly most Pastors know, that’s not the end of it.


‌This is where I believe repentance needs to be taught and encouraged. Jesus said, “repent and believe.”

‌‌You see, sometimes in gardening we have to transplant little seedlings from indoor protection to the outdoors. This takes patience for one, as well as knowing the right time. In the Spiritual life of a new believer, many aren’t prepared for the outdoors yet. Many have believed the Gospel, but they’ve not come out of the old environment. When they’ve repented, turned from their old lives, then they’re ready for real salvation in Jesus.

‌The Sinner’s Prayer is more than a prayer, it is a dedication to, an agreement to persevere in Jesus.

‌The bible often speaks of believing in Jesus, and this leads to salvation. But to believe in Him, the bible means we are to trust Him, not just believe He exists, or even that He is who He says He is. To believe in Jesus, to have a faith that saves, is to give Him all of your trust, all of your faith, to place the bet that in Him you will find true life in this world and the next.

‌‌Disciples may need to leave friends behind, family behind, work conditions behind, and maybe even find themselves alone for some time as they leave the old environment of temptation and sin to live in the new ground of faith and obedience to Jesus. ‌‌Until you leave, or until you help your disciple to leave the old environment behind, spiritual growth will be stunted.

This is good soil, this is fertile soil that will allow the seed to grow into a new plant.

Soaking It Up

‌The goal of young seed should be to soak up nutrients, right? You plant it in the ground and then water it and feed it nutrients in the hopes it will soak it them and grow. A new disciple is often like that young seedling or plant. They’re hungry and need to be fed the right nutrients. Maybe they’re asking questions of you about Jesus, God, or the Bible.

This is great if so! Make sure you take the time, especially if you don’t know the answer right off, to share with them your thoughts or find the answers for them.

‌They’re usually hungry for God’s Word cuz this new relationship with God they are experiencing makes them want to get to know Him better. Give them the Word, point them to an app, give them a bible, invite them to a bible study with you, or just make sure you have time to spend together in the Word with them.

‌Feed the new plant wisely. Too much fertilizer can hurt the plants too! Be patient but supportive.

Soaking and Sprouting

Do you know anything about growing crops by soaking and sprouting? I read about this earlier; soaking some food items, like beans for instance, to make them sprout. Basically, you just soak them in some water for a time, in order to ultimately lead to a sprouted product. This soaking and sprouting process helps with nutrient absorption, human digestion of their fruit, and nutrient density.

‌‌We want new disciples to sprout! We want them to grow by absorbing all of God they can. And the truth is, when you’re helping one to grow, you’ll find you grow with them, you too will sprout new leaves, new buds, new flowers.

‌This process, in gardens, also helps the new seedling to grow new roots before placing them in the ground, so it can soak up more nutrients. The more nutrients it soaks up the more dense and healthier it becomes. For the new disciple, the more rooted we become, the better able we are to withstand the trials and temptations of life in this world trying to pull us from our faith.

Soaking and Baptism

‌Maybe this soaking is where Baptism comes into play for us disciples.

‌It is similar to Jesus’s words about a grain of wheat…

John 12:24 ESV

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

When a new disciple is baptized, it is as though they have been “buried” with Christ, or cleansed by Christ, and are now able to become fruitful disciples.

‌There are stats on that show baptized new believers have a higher percentage remaining in the faith than those that weren’t.

‌‌Baptism is more than just a display of the faith, or outward expression, as we tend to say of it, but it is a step of obedience to Christ, along with, I believe, a Spiritual transformation process. While not required for salvation, I believe it is required for our growth in the faith.

Further Care

Like my raised gardens, once I’ve done all the work with the environment, and given proper nourishment to the plants, or disciples, I find that it is easier to protect them. Weeds stand out against the new growth that has had some time to grow up a little.

‌Remember in my previous garden attempt, I couldn’t tell the difference between the seedlings and the weeds. However, a true disciple, even a new disciple, when raised up properly, can better see the weeds and thorns coming at them. Once they’ve become separated from, repented from, the old environment, it is easier to defend and stand against the trials and tribulations. It is easier to withstand the scorching and hard winds of the trials of life, because they’ve had time to become rooted in the Vine of Jesus.

‌‌John 15:5 ESV

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

‌‌When we abide in Him, we are protected from the elements of this world. They may hurt us, but they will not destroy us.

‌​John 10:28 ESV

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

The Right Lighting

‌There is one more thing we must have when properly sowing seed into fertile soil.

‌We must have the right Light. Very little will grow in the shadows. When I built my raised gardens, I did so in the most lighted area I could, because truly, it is the sun that gives flavor to your fruits. The same goes for the life of Jesus’s Disciples.

John 8:12 ESV

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Disciples cannot grow in the dark. They must have the Light of the world within them. It is the Son, the Light of the World, that makes us fruitful disciples.

Disciples cannot grow in the dark. They must have the Light of the world within them. It is the Son, the Light of the World, that makes us fruitful disciples.


To be fruitful, is our task in this world. If we want to bear fruit, and if we want to raise up other fruit bearers, we need to make sure we are connected to the Vine, Jesus.

‌We need to make sure we have repented and are repenting.

‌Make sure we’re careful of our own environment.

‌Soak up all his nutrients we can through prayer, Word, and service to the Lord.

Your purpose, and my purpose, is to bear fruit in this world. Fruits of our own discipleship and fruits in making other disciples. And may we all be about this for the glory of Christ.

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