By James M. Renihan
“And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.'” Matthew 9:35-38.
Our savior cared about sinners. His travels took him throughout the land of Israel, witnessing everywhere the struggles and difficulties of the people around him. As he contemplated the people and their needs, he urged his disciples to consider the scene, think, and take action. Workers were required-when the harvest is ripe, it must be gathered in, or the crop will rot on the vine.
Our world is not very different from that of Jesus’ day. It is full of the same kind of weary, hurting, struggling people. I suspect that Jesus’ advice to us would be the same as he gave his followers: consider, think, and take action. We ought to do this.
Did Jesus struggle with false religion? So do we. It may not be scribes and Pharisees who are our enemies, but deceitful teachers are everywhere. Did Jesus comfort men and women overwhelmed by their sins? So must we. The similarities are too many to miss. The needs of our day are just as great as they were when the Lord spoke these words.
But it is especially interesting to note what he said to his disciples. With great needs all around him, he urged them to take action-but not the action one might expect. He turned them heavenward, commanding them to pray, seeking the face of the sovereign Lord of the harvest that he might send men to gather in the crop. Divine initiative must always have first priority.
In my own experience, I have been amazed at the opportunities open to Reformed Baptists. I have been privileged to visit several countries where amazing doors of ministry are open. Veteran missionaries are issuing calls for workers; scattered groups are calling for churches to be planted. But where are our men? This is a question that we must face and answer seriously. The harvest field seems to be ripe-and we need laborers.
Would we not do well to heed the words of the Lord Jesus, and begin focused prayer on this need? The Scriptures clearly teach us that God calls some men to serve him in places of ministry; this is what Ephesians 4:7-16 is about. Paul teaches us the same things that Jesus says, i.e. only the Lord can send forth men. But we must pray to this end, asking God to raise up servants, equipped and ready to go into the harvest field. Will you pray that the Lord will give us more men? Will you seek to make this a priority in your church’s prayer meeting?
Of course, while prayer is the first action we must take, it is not the only action. We must expect that the Lord will hear our prayers, and be ready to identify the men he sends to us. They will not come with a sign affixed to their chests: “The Lord Sent Me”! Rather, they will be the young men sitting next to us in church; or perhaps across from us at our dinner tables, in our own families. Often, they will have an overwhelming sense of apprehension-they suspect that the Lord is calling them, but they know too much of their own sinfulness to believe that this could really be true. And they need the encouragement of the church.
Pastors should always be on the lookout for the answers to their prayers: men sent to their churches. These shepherds need to find ways to encourage and cultivate such men to pursue the gospel ministry. A truly sent man will face many obstacles. These may be personal (for example, opposition from loved ones); or financial, or many others. He will distrust himself, he will struggle with pride. But he must be encouraged. The Apostle said that ministers must seek to replace themselves by training others (2 Timothy 1:8-2:13). This should be a priority of the ministerial task. Pastors must pray, and must encourage.
This can be done in many ways. When a church prays regularly for workers to be raised up, the idea will be on the minds of the godly. Pastors might consider each of their men, and offer those who are serious about the things of God opportunities to determine if they have the gifts requisite for ministry. While only some are sent by Christ, it is incumbent on the church to identify them. By beginning with simple tasks-leading a young people’s Bible study, or presenting a devotional to a small group, it may be possible to spot those with rudimentary gifts, and help them to develop. One of the qualifications for a minister is the ability to teach, and at some point there must be opportunity in order for the evaluation to be made. Small, less formal settings are often the best place to begin.
In addition, pastors may use other means to recognize potentially gifted men. One simple method is to pay careful attention to prayers offered in public, and participation at public meetings. Does a man show aptitude in public prayer? Is he able to organize his thoughts and express himself well when he answers a question, or offers a comment during a Sunday School discussion? Even in these circumstances, the beginnings of gifts may be discerned. Likewise, pastors need to listen to their people, and encourage them to help identify called men. When the people have a growing respect and appreciation for a man; when they see that he lives as he should, and demonstrates genuine care and concern for others; when he speaks to them about spiritual things, and they receive help, they should speak of this to their pastor. He will be helped enormously by these comments.
No one will deny that the needs are real, and before us. Will we obediently pursue the laborers, as commanded by the Scriptures? Let us pray for the Lord’s blessings.