Workers (part 1).
In this series of posts we are seeking guidance from the Scriptures for how to act on God’s mission and also noticing how the ministry of Empowering Subjects is seeking to do so. Though all the Scripture can guide us, as Christians we place special attention and emphasis on Christ himself. This includes allowing him to govern our basic strategy.
In Matthew 9 we gain helpful insight about the mission by observing how Jesus responded to crowds of broken people he saw. They were harassed, helpless, leaderless people, and Jesus said they constituted a harvest (Matthew 9:35-38).
Harvest is used to refer to a few different things in Scripture, but here it means the people were open to entering the kingdom of God (as in John 4:35-38; Romans 1:13). We must never lose sight of the fact that people’s ultimate need is to come under the reign of the King.
We may sometimes wonder if there is a plentiful harvest around us today. I have certainly struggled with that question. It is helpful to notice that Jesus’ statement that there is a plentiful harvest (v. 37) follows immediately after his statement that people are harassed, helpless, and leaderless (v. 36). In other words, the context of his harvest statement is that people have trouble in their lives. Frequently, problems shatter people’s delusion of sufficiency and independence and open their hearts to God and his help. This is not true for everyone, of course (cf. Revelation 16:8-9, 10-11), but it is for many. As long as people face trouble, there will be a harvest.
The context of v. 36 adds another piece to this puzzle. Verse 36 follows and is based on v. 35. The crowd (v. 36) gathered in response to Jesus’ ministry (v. 35). That suggests that as long as people are drawn to Jesus, there will be harvest. We may have much to learn about how to approach and work with them, but as long as people are both broken and attracted to Jesus, there will be a harvest.
This may be difficult for us to understand or accept since church attendance is way down these days, and many people today don’t want anything to do with church. But the fact that people are not beating down the doors of our churches does not mean they are closed to Jesus. For my entire life people have been more attracted to Jesus than to the church. Yes, ideally the body of Christ will point to and pave the way toward Jesus, but we must remember that he is the ultimate drawing power, not the church. Unless your church is better than Jesus, you should be making him the drawing power anyway, not your church.
Putting Jesus front and center instead of the church seems all the more important in a consumeristic society where people church shop. It would be tragic if people came to shop at our church but then moved on because they didn’t like the music, parking, style, length, building, etc., without making a decision about Jesus. The primary decision they need to make is about him, not the church, but most guests don’t seem to know that he is the thing they should be focusing on. Their focus, in true American fashion, is whether they “like” our services.
Yes, people need church. But if we focus on first showing people Christ and helping them grasp his message, they will be in a better equipped to properly evaluate a church. After they become Christians we can teach and orient them about the church so that they can avoid shallow judgments about it. We could say much more about all this but my main point is that people’s aversion to church doesn’t mean they are closed to Jesus and the gospel. As long as people are broken and attracted to Jesus, there will be a harvest.
“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”Matthew 9:37
The trouble, though, is that the workers are few (v. 37). Jesus here reveals his basic mission strategy. It is to increase the number of workers. How does that sit with you? These days I hear a lot of people emphasizing a lot of things that they believe the church needs to be doing in her mission. Some of these ideas seem totally off base to me and some seem to have merit. In contrast to all the new, cutting edge ideas, Jesus’ strategy can seem too simple or out of date. We need to remember, however, that a focus on increasing the number of workers has distinct advantage of being the strategy of the Son of God, the head of the church! As Christians, shouldn’t we follow Christ?
Three other important truths about workers are found in this part of Matthew. First, Jesus is the one who sends out the workers. There is a Lord of the harvest, and it isn’t any of us (Matthew 9:38). Previously, I tried hard to motivate workers, but I am done with that. I will teach what Scripture says about workers and make people aware of opportunities, but I have given up the burden of feeling responsible for getting people involved in the mission. It is the Lord who sends out workers, and I intend to stay in my lane going forward. Besides, if we persuade people to get involved in reaching out against their will, it won’t be a good experience for them or for those they “do evangelism on.”
Second, we are to pray for workers. This is interesting. The Lord of the Harvest wants us to ask him to send out workers. I think maybe this is because he wants us to realize we are not in charge, be aware of his involvement and know how desperately we need him. It is worth noting that the word for “ask” (v. 38) is a strong word that means “entreat, beseech, implore, or beg” (cf. ESV “pray earnestly”). We should add to our regular prayers an earnest request that the Lord of the Harvest send out workers. How often and how earnestly we do so indicates something about what we believe about the need for workers and who we believe sends them.
Third, workers need to be equipped. Here’s another amazing insight: Matthew 10 follows Matthew 9! My point, of course, is that Matthew 10 is contextually related to the end of chapter 9. Remember there were no chapter divisions in the original New Testament documents. After underscoring the need for workers (chapter 9), Jesus further equips the twelve and sends them out (chapter 10), calling them workers (v. 10).
It is important to know that training and teaching are not the same. Training includes teaching but is not limited to it. Jesus shows us that training entails much more. He had already begun training the twelve by choosing them as a small group to focus on and allowing them to observe how he carried out his Father’s mission (cf. “be with him” in Mark 3:14-15). Now he gives them power (Matthew 10:1) and additional instruction (10:5ff.), and he sends them out to actually practice what he is training them to do (10:7-8). He himself also continued to set the example of what he was calling them to do (11:1). Mark’s account of this event (6:30) and Jesus’ later example with the seventy-two (Luke 10:17-20) both show that Jesus also processed matters with his followers when they returned from training missions.
If we allow Jesus to guide our mission strategy, then, we will focus on increasing the number of workers. We will do this by trusting the Lord of the Harvest to provide them, praying earnestly for them, and doing what we can not only to teach them but to actually equip them.
The ministry of Empowering Subjects seeks to follow Jesus’ strategy. Its whole purpose is to empower subjects of the King to change the world like he did. Empowering refers to giving people courage and confidence to be a worker useful to God by providing knowledge, examples, equipping, support, and pointing people to the power of God and his Spirit. The Empowering Subjects seminar is broad teaching suitable for the whole church on the theme of the kingdom of God, the general way Jesus changed the world. The follow-up training follows Jesus’ example of narrowing down the focus to a smaller group who are willing to be equipped for the mission. We pray and the Lord provides people who can grow as workers, and we gladly provide the follow-up training to whoever and however many the Lord gives. Through the follow-up materials and the support of the small groups, participants offer their hearts and lives to the Lord so that he can mold them into the workers he said are needed.
For more information on how Empowering Subjects is equipping workers for the Lord’s harvest, see here.
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