God wants more laborers.
We all know the passage. “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Mt. 9:37-38). Matthew records this exhortation from Jesus on the heels of some commentary. He tells us that Jesus saw the crowds and felt compassion on them. He had compassion for the lost sheep without a shepherd. In that context, we find Jesus’ solution to a ripe harvest: more laborers.
Now, do not miss the thrust of the passage. Who provides the laborers? Jesus turns to his disciples and tells them to pray to God for more laborers. It is ultimately the Lord who calls workers into the harvest. On our end, workers are not manufactured, created, or produced. We do not make people laborers, God does. However, we call, identify, cultivate, and send those that God would produce.
Earlier this week, the Baptist Press ran an excellent article by my friend Scott Hildreth titled, “Calling out the called.” I encourage anyone in local church leadership to read it, ponder its implications for your congregation, and read it again. Scott talks about the need to call out those whom God is calling to the harvest. Sometimes, I wonder if we focus so much on asking everyone to be “missional” that we forget to identify and equip those who would lead out in the ministry of the church.
As Scott recognizes, we certainly need to encourage every member of our congregation to serve God in their vocation, in their local church, and through personal evangelism. But God is still in the business of training up pastors and church planters, and he will call them out of our churches. Pastors and church leaders, we have a responsibility to identify, equip, and send ministers and missionaries.
Pray for laborers from your congregation.
The exhortation to pray for laborers extends to your church. Often smaller churches do not feel they have the ability to send out pastors or missionaries. Very often, they are concerned about finding enough people to run their own ministries. That is an understandable concern, but it is simply not the kingdom focus of Jesus. The irony is that very large churches often feel the same pinch, as they develop large programs and initiatives that require lots of manpower to keep running. Regardless of size, the ministry of sending workers into the harvest is for every local church. Sometimes, making disciples does not mean growing your church.
And it is in the pinch that Jesus’ exhortation makes so much sense. Where are all of these workers? Simply put, we must pray for them. Does your church regularly pray for some in its body to be called as missionaries, pastors, or church planters? I am not talking about general prayers that God will show us what to do or that we can be used wherever we are. We need to pray that too, but Jesus exhorts your church to pray that it will send out laborers into the harvest. Does it pray for some members to recognize that calling of God to be sent? Do you, church leader, pray personally for a ministry marked by mentoring and sending?
Look for laborers in your congregation.
As we pray, we should do so with expectation. God wants laborers, and he will provide them. It is our responsibility to identify these workers, and it happens in a number of ways. That calling may be to the nations or it may be to neighbors. Nowadays, those two callings may not be so different. Here in Houston, I pray our churches will identify men and women who desire to pick up their lives and move across the world, but I also pray that our churches identify many called to plant more churches right here in the city.
Houston needs more churches, and we need all kinds in all sizes and all languages. Most likely your city does too. But this kind of sending will only happen if churches intentionally look for laborers in their own congregations and shepherd them through their calling. Regularly challenge your congregation to listen for God’s calling. This happens from the pulpit. It happens in Sunday school classes and small group gatherings. It happens through short term mission trips and partnerships with local church plants. I encourage you to sit down and take 15 minutes to make a list of the ways you can call people in your congregation to the work of the ministry. As you begin casting this net, praying earnestly for God to produce, then watch for people to rise to the occasion.
Train laborers to go out from your congregation.
Our work is not, however, merely convincing someone they should leave our church and go start another one. As we identify, we must help people discern that calling. Are they prepared? Churches that are willing to send workers into the harvest must be prepared to equip them to go. By equipping, I am not talking about financial resources (although that may be part of it). I am referring to the tools of spiritual formation necessary for someone to labor well. Do they have a deep faith? Are they practicing ministry and mission now? For a church to send well, it needs to know the answers to these questions.
A church that cares about sending will be intentional about equipping. Provide opportunities of service for those called to go. Create pathways for them to learn by doing in your own congregation. Think of this as advanced discipleship. People learn best when a new experience creates the need for better understanding. A fortunate side effect is that you are also creating a work force inside your own congregation when you create a training pipeline.
This does, however, require church leaders to allow others into positions of influence. It may not be easy or comfortable, but offering a pulpit and a microphone to a pastor in training is necessary. Interestingly enough, though, this creates space for mentoring those who would be sent. Any pastor or church leader worth their salt knows that shepherding is much more than a title and intersects with every area of life. Equipping future shepherds well requires pulling back the curtain and letting them see the balance required.
Finally, all of this is for nothing if we are not willing to release our best into the harvest fields. Send and partner: that is the relationship to maintain with those called into the harvest. By doing this, we multiply our effort and the gospel grows. Pray, identify, equip, and send.