How to Preach Deeper Into the Hearts of Your Hearers


TractorI just had a fascinating conversation with my brother-in-law, Andy, about discipleship.

Andy farms and knows all about tractors (especially a certain green brand).

We were talking about how people respond better to teaching when someone has taken the time to work with them personally in their spiritual life. In the middle of the conversation, Andy said, “its just like preparing the soil.”

(Disclaimer –I know nothing about farming. So if I get this wrong, please remember, it’s the thought that counts!)

Andy explained that, in farming, there are several methods of soil preparation: No-till preparation, Minimal-till preparation, and Sub-soil-till preparation.

No-till preparation is just what it sounds like. You plant without tilling. It saves time and money (at least at first) because you don’t have to run your equipment (and fuel) over the land before planting.

Minimal-till preparation could be anything from “scratching the surface” of the ground to going 6-8 inches deep. This loosens the soil up and makes it easier to plant.

Sub-soil-till preparation goes even deeper. Andy shared that many times, ground that is only tilled 6-8 inches can still be hard underneath. This keep roots from being able to penetrate deep and blocks nutrients from being absorbed. Over time, the topsoil can wash away –along with the minerals, leaving shallow-rooted plants “high-and dry.”

Andy said that the more soil preparation you do, the better your crop will turn out in the long-run. Basically, he said, every farmer has to choose whether or not to make the investment on the front end. Sub-soil-till preparation, he explained, is more costly and harder work that no-till or minimal-till. But -Andy continued to share -the benefits outweigh the cost.

Isn’t this just like discipleship?

I hear a lot of ministers (after preaching or teaching) say they have “scattered their seed” and they hope someone “took it to heart.” Similarly, I hear church members say, “I brought a friend so that the preacher can plant a seed in them.”

Maybe, like a farmer (2 Timothy 2:6), the best work we can do is “soil preparation” before we teach or preach (Hosea 10:12). Yes, its harder work and costs more time and energy –but the benefits are worth it!

Here’s some practical ideas for “tilling up hearts” (for everyone –not just preachers)

1) Get involved in people’s real life & let them get involved in your real life.

You can’t break up a hard heart from a distance. It takes time and attention.  “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”

2) Have spiritual conversations around real life.

Spiritual conversations are most effective in the middle of real life circumstances. People are most receptive to Truth when they have questions driven by real life events. In the farming world, you’ve got to plan the seed at the right time –when the soil is ready.

3) Be prepared to exhort and rebuke.

Ouch. The “R” word… Seriously, a real friend will confront people with their sin out of love for their friend. Preparing soil also means ripping out weeds. It is tough, but necessary work.

The “E” word is much more pleasant, although I’m not sure we practice it nearly enough. Exhort means to “strongly encourage someone.” If someone has allowed you into his or her life, you’ve been given a great privilege. Don’t miss the opportunity to encourage them in living for Christ. Give them positive feedback in how to live a God-honoring life.

So, what will it be? No-till, minimal-till, or sub-soil till? The deeper you go, the greater the harvest.

For my pastor/preacher friends: This means we can’t just hide behind the pulpit or lectern and say, “I’ve done my part.” No, we must reach out into the real lives of our people and live among them as Christ took on flesh (Philippians 2:7-8) and lived among us (John 1:14).

If you aren’t a pastor/preacher, you have just as much responsibility to “till the soil” as your pastor. In fact, you are in partnership with your pastor. Instead of just bringing a friend to church so a “seed can be planted” by a pastor or teacher, why not “prepare the soil” so the seed has a place to take root?

Share With Your Friends…

Clip to Evernote
Send to Kindle
Print Friendly and PDF

Scott Attebery About Scott Attebery

After serving in campus ministry at the University of Central Arkansas and coordinating student conferences for the Department of Church Ministries from 2000-2005, Scott pastored Wyatt Baptist Church in El Dorado Arkansas. In 2008, Scott’s wife, Jill, passed away in an automobile accident. He recalls, “God used our Church to be Christ to my family and me during that time.” After seven years of pastoring, Scott was selected as the Executive Director of DiscipleGuide Church Reources, a department of the Baptist Missionary Association of America. Scott’s most important ministry is to his son, Bryce. They love to play in the backyard and cheer for the Razorbacks together. Scott holds a bachelor of Arts in Bible from Central Baptist College , a Master’s of Divinity from the BMA Theological Seminary, and is a candidate for Doctorate of Ministry from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. You can read his blog at

  • Obed

    thanks …and also thank God for such people.

  • Kevin Sanders

    Great article! People are more likely to listen when you have really lived out the gospel among them.

  • Wally


    Thanks for the words of wisdom. It is good for pastors to remember that the entire Old Te stament is written about life in an agrarian society and that Jesus taught in an agrarian society using many references to the soil and agronomic
    practices; planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, storing up grain for the dry times, etc. It is something we need
    to remember. Water, food and soil are everywhere and we are all connected to them. They make great teaching tools and illustrate the Gospel story very well because all human beings become thirsty, have felt the hardness of the ground under our feet and understand the “hardness of the heart”. Christ Followers need to understand our spiritual
    lives need ‘weeding, ‘pruning’ and ‘watering’ and as you said, from time to time we have to break up the hardness of our hearts in order for the Word to soak in. Again, great way to present a topic about a real need in the church. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  • Michael

    I loved the analogy to the type of tilling a farmer must/might do to their fields for soil preparation. However, there is another aspect to it that was missed but is helpful. I am a preacher not a farmer, but grew up in a hilly area. In many places around me no-till planting was practiced because of erosion and loss of top soil. No-till helps reduce the erosion, thus keeping the soil for the best for planting. While we should never practice no-till in evangelism, the continued lesson is to know your soil. Hills make erosion more possible allowing no-till to become almost necessary. Some cultures and locations might deem a different approach to evangelism. Southwest Ohio is going to be different than Northeast North Carolina. Learn to till in the best possible way for your location. I love this analogy, might even preach it some time.

    • Brandon

      Good thought. I agree. You have to know the people you are trying to reach. Some areas are ripe for the harvest. Some take much heavier plowing.

Receive Rick Warren's Weekly Toolbox Newsletter for FREE!

Like the content you see at Why not receive it weekly in your inbox, plus bonus material too. It's free!

  • Weekly wisdom from Pastor Rick Warren.
  • Helpful articles on every aspect of church leadership.
  • Practical insights to move you forward.
  • Occasional subscriber-only freebies.
Close This!

BONUS! Subscribe now and receive the free eBook, 7 Keys to An Effective Ministry, by Rick Warren.

We hate spam too, and will never sell your email or send you unwanted stuff.