There’s nothing new under the sun, and one thing that is definitely not new is the need for gospel workers. Two thousand years ago Jesus identified that as the critical kingdom issue, and things have not really changed. The harvest is still plentiful; the workers are still few (Matt. 9:37).
The harvest is certainly plentiful. That doesn’t mean it is easy to win people to Jesus but it does mean that now is the day of salvation.
We are privileged to live in the era between the first and second comings of Jesus when the good news of salvation through him alone is being spread to the ends of the earth.
- We live in the day of grace
- We live in the age of missions
- We live at a time when human need has never been greater
- We also live in the time when God is saving many people from every tribe, nation and language.
Enormous potential around us
Despite all the advances in science, technology, education and lifestyle that are hallmarks of our time, people have never been in greater need of truly good news. Even in the most affluent suburbs and cities people struggle with broken relationships, depression, guilt, fear and loneliness.
Many people are deeply troubled by past abuse, by present relationship breakdown and by a constant sense of meaninglessness in life. Almost never do we read of crime being reduced, jails having fewer people in them, marriages lasting longer, or addictions being on the decline. Trouble seems to escalate not diminish. And on a global scale we are more aware than ever, through extensive media access, of situations of injustice, oppression, war, ethnic discrimination, famine, disease and natural disasters.
These troubled last days are, however, the days of gospel advance. They are days of mission activity and kingdom harvest. The needs are endless but the potential is enormous. There is huge scope for the gospel message of hope to bring the kind of change that nothing else can secure. The harvest is all around us – in our families, communities, workplaces and neighbourhoods.
But the workers are few. The number of people being equipped and deployed to spread the gospel, preach the word, plant churches, reach the lost and disciple the nations is pitiful when compared with the needs and opportunities. At least that is the case in the West. Thankfully developing countries are now producing vast numbers of pastors, church planters and missionaries.
But in countries such as our own, the next generation of gospel workers seems hard to find. Is this due in part to young people having too readily settled for what we have modelled – a comfortable middle-class lifestyle instead of an edgy missional one? Is it due to churches having cast a parochial rather than global vision of the kingdom of God?
Pastoral and missional – one basket, not two!
Whatever the reason, Jesus’ statement about the need for more workers is bracketed by two tremendously important perspectives. First, it is preceded by his compassion for people. ‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (Matt. 9:36).
Jesus did not have mission and pastoral care in two different baskets requiring two different kinds of people. He saw them as one and the same. Lost people need a shepherd; broken and desperate people need loving pastoral care. Mission and pastoral care belong together.
Gospel harvesters are therefore raised up as the needs of people are impressed on their hearts and they see the priority of loving, befriending and helping those with massive needs. Mission must proceed with a large pastoral heart for people and pastoral work must always lead to seeking lost and needy sheep who need the gospel above all else.
The kind of workers we need are people who care deeply both about the gospel and about people; who love mission and love people; who have a heart for evangelism and for edification, for word and for deed. We need pastors, preachers, church planters and ministry leaders who have the loving shepherd heart of our Saviour, and who are passionate about his mission of seeking and saving the lost.
Gospel dreams and visions
At the backend of Jesus’ statement about harvest workers there is a second vital perspective. The foremost action to be taken is prayer! ‘Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’ (Matt. 9:38).
The field is his field. The harvest is his harvest. And the workers must be raised up and sent by him. Our foremost responsibility, then, is to pray. We must pray that God would raise up a generation of leaders for the advance of the gospel.
Personally I wonder how prayerful we are for gospel harvesters. Churches should pray often that God would lay the priority of the gospel on the hearts of many. Our churches should pray that God would stir in many hearts a passion for evangelism. We should pray for missionaries to be raised up.
Joel 2:28 speaks of end times young men and old men in action. Understanding that it includes everyone – for ‘young men’ read ‘young men and women’ and for ’old men’ read ‘seniors both men and women.’
Let’s read that scripture then from the above missional perspective. Thus we must pray for young men to dream gospel dreams and old men to see gospel visions. Pray for your church, that it may be a sending church, giving away its best for work in other parts of the harvest field.
The harvest is plentiful. The workers are few. But God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. The question is, do we ask for much? Do we imagine much? Do we have a vision for the knowledge of God covering the earth as the waters cover the sea?
The work is not done until Jesus comes again. Until then, more harvesters are needed.
Dr Murray Capill is principal, Reformed Theological College, Geelong and author of The Heart of the Target (2014) (See Resources) and Preaching with Spiritual Vigour (2003). Link: firstname.lastname@example.org;RTC, Waurn Ponds, Vic. Links: http://www.rtc.edu.au / 5244 2955.
RTC also operates SOLA Ministry College serving Geelong region churches. Combining the resources of a theological college and the expertise of local pastors and church leaders, SOLA ably provides affordable, accessible training that equips believers for mission and ministry.