35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38)
I miss not teaching on a college campus. The sound of students sipping coffee as they rush to their 8 AM classes. I miss the hustle and bustle of the sidewalks. The smell of freshly cut grass in the afternoons. I miss the never-ending questions about whether I plan to adjust the deadline for a class assignment in an effort to help provide temporary relief to the students in my class from the general stress of college life.
I was reminded of my change in status from resident professor to inner city pastor while sitting in a familiar conference room in the Global Ministry Center of Baptist Mid-Missions in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ve traveled to Cleveland for the past 12+ years to join a council of men and women who oversee the operations of the mission. It is a great opportunity to reconnect with fellow pastors and receive reports from missionaries. I always leave challenged by the amazing provision of God for the mission family. I also leave concerned about the decreasing number of people who are replacing those who have gone before us.
The BMM president, Dr. Patrick Odle, reminded us that although the mission had the joy of welcoming 6 new candidates this year, we also had the difficult task of saying goodbye to 22 missionaries due to retirement or resignation. Both types of goodbyes are difficult. Attrition is the new enemy to the modern missions movement. When I heard these types of statistics in previous years, I found comfort in the fact that I was returning home to Greenville to do my part to stem the tide. I had the privilege of recruiting new candidates from a fishing hole full of millennials and gen-zers each year on the campus of Bob Jones University. I made it my mission to encourage as many students as possible to love God, cherish His Word, and make disciples of the nations. The need is massive.
To put things in perspective, when Baptist Mid-Missions was started in 1920, the world population was roughly 2 billion souls. Today, over 100 years later, the world population is pushing 8 billion souls. 2 billion of which have never heard the Gospel! From a human perspective, this is the time to increase the number of missionaries sent out each year NOT decrease them. I do believe that part of the solution involves creative applications for business as missions on the field. But in the end, the goal must be the establishment of healthy churches across the globe who can repeat the process of making disciples. I found the following list of 10 items from Planting Cross-Cultural Churches by Donald Hesselgrave to be very helpful:
Sending Churches Convened
But I digress into “teacher mode.” 😊 Now as I travel back to Minneapolis, I find myself on the outside of the classroom looking in. My status has changed from full time professor to visiting lecturer. How does God want me to participate in the global need to send forth laborers into the harvest field from the context of an urban church in Minneapolis, Minnesota? From a human perspective, the move back to Minnesota greatly hindered my immediate influence on the next generation.
At times like these, I am so grateful for God’s Word. While Jesus is pleased when followers of Jesus point others toward global missions, He is far more interested in having us ask Him for the solution to the global need. We are first and foremost called to PRAY EARNESTLY TO THE LORD OF THE HARVEST TO SEND OUT LABORERS INTO HIS HARVEST (Matt. 9:38).
The practice of prayer is not connected to the location of your ministry, the size of your congregation, or your platform of influence. A genuine follower of Jesus is welcome to pray wherever God has him, whenever God burdens him, for however God leads him. I was once again confronted with my need to rest in His plan to reach His harvest instead of thinking it is up to me to convince workers to join Him. God hears my prayers in Greenville, Cleveland, and North Minneapolis.
Therefore, I would like to pass along one more nugget of advice that I received from my time in Cleveland this week. Dr. Patrick Odle encouraged us to join him in humbly seeking the Lord of the Harvest and asking Him to send for laborers into His harvest each day by setting your phone alarm to alert you at 9:38 AM and 9:38 PM each day. Will you consider joining me twice a day to pause and ask the Lord of the Harvest to send forth laborers into His harvest?