If Only We Had…

… young families, teenagers, more people, a building or better place to worship, someone under the age of ___ in our church, a seasoned pastor.

What do you believe you need to make your congregation or fellowship group successful?

I love to look at a Scripture with new eyes – asking God to help me see something I haven’t seen before, or to understand something I perhaps misunderstood before. Admittedly, this has caused me some pain over the years as he has revealed to me things I’ve misinterpreted, misunderstood, or completely ignored.

I was recently reading Matthew 9 and came to the last verse of the chapter, which I’ve heard and used many times in sermons.

 “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:38)

I’ve made comments in sermons such as: “Brethren, we need to ask God to add workers, to bring new people to us so that we can do more for the kingdom.” I’m sure you’ve heard this. I’m also sure you’ve personally asked God to provide more workers, and sometimes those requests are quite specific. “God, if we had a person devoted to youth, we could really grow.” “Lord, please send us some generous donors.” “Father, Son and Spirit, please provide us a building so we can establish roots in a community and serve it for you.”

There’s nothing wrong with these requests, and I believe God has future plans for each one of our churches, but I believe they miss the point of this passage. As I read the text with fresh eyes, there were a few things that I hadn’t really paid attention to previously. Perhaps my observations can be a blessing to you.

Jesus is active at work

Reading the whole chapter, we notice just a few things Jesus did prior to making this statement.

  • Jesus forgives and heals a paralyzed man
  • Jesus calls Matthew – a tax collector – and eats with sinners and tax collectors
  • Jesus teaches about old and new wine and wineskins
  • Jesus raises the dead daughter of a synagogue leader
  • Jesus heals a sick woman – 12 years with bleeding
  • Jesus heals the two blind men
  • Jesus rebukes a demon and heals a mute man
  • Jesus teaches and preaches – healing as he goes

He was meeting needs right where they were. He worked “as he was going.” In today’s vernacular you might think of on his way to work or on the job site, in the neighborhood, in the home – and as our churches change and grow. It seems we are often looking for places to do ministry, places we can make an impact for the kingdom, things we might do, if only we had…, not paying attention to the opportunities right around us. If God is in us – and he is – why are we always looking for somewhere else to do ministry? Could it be that God gave us the job we have, the home we have, in the neighborhood we live in, because that’s where we are needed? Could it also be that God has our congregation or group meeting where he wants us to meet for the present and there is opportunity to join him right where we are? This is not to say God won’t leave us there. We are always prepared to move if it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to the group, but we don’t want to wait to join the harvest in the meantime.

Notice how Matthew 9 ends:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38)

He had compassion on the crowds; he saw them as sheep without a shepherd. They needed care, comfort, hope, security, truth. They were more than he could reach in his lifetime, which is why he told his disciples they would do greater works than he. They would be the workers sent out to the harvest field. They would be the ones to give care, comfort, hope, security and truth. And they would inspire other workers to go out into the harvest field. Could it be that we are the ones to provide care, comfort, hope, security and truth to others by living and sharing the gospel? Is this what Paul meant when he said the love of Christ compels us to no longer view others as “others”?

This leads to the second observation.

God wants to send us out to his harvest field

He wants us to participate with him. He is already producing fruit; he invites us to join in his harvest. Notice that? He has done the planting, the weeding, the watering, the tending of the fields. It is his harvest, and he is the master gardener. All the work has been done in and through Jesus. It’s time to bring the harvest in and celebrate. We are invited to be part of that harvest. We are invited to partake of the glorious fruit of seeing lives transformed, seeing hope restored, seeing people grow in relationship with Father, Son and Spirit. I wonder if we are so busy asking God to bring people to us so that we can do things our way, that we aren’t seeing where God is sending us so we can participate in his way. Notice the text does not tell us to ask for more workers; it tells us to ask God to send out the workers we already have. In other words, there is a lot of work to be done, so let’s get started. What are we waiting for? Are we not allowing our faith to move forward? Big question: Do we trust him for the harvest?

If we do, then why are we continually praying and asking God for what we already have? God has already provided our congregation and/or fellowship group with what we need to participate with him in the present. Could it be that the things we don’t have are the things we don’t need – at least yet? I believe we already have in each of our groups what we need to join Jesus in what he is doing in our local neighborhood, in our work place, in our homes. The harvest is plenty because he is always at work. As we center our focus on the Love Avenue in 2022, it becomes important to start looking around at those whom God has called us to love. Maybe this will change the way we pray.

I believe GCI is going to grow, and many of our congregations and fellowship groups might still be in transition to where God will place them in the future. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a harvest to participate in. Because I also believe God has us where he wants us now, and we don’t have to keep looking forward to what we might do “if only…” He invites us to participate in the harvest right now. You and I are the workers the original disciples were praying for; let’s let Christ’s love compel us to join in the harvest.

Harvesting with Jesus,

Rick Shallenberger

8 thoughts on “If Only We Had…”

  1. Rick,

    I think you captured the essence of the passage. We easily gravitate toward the “us” playing the key role when it comes to church growth, while it is really all about “Him” (meaning Jesus). Our Lord is continually at work opening up gospel opportunities. Waking up to that reality, and being sensitive to it, will make us more effective “missionaries” stewards and communicators of the good news.

  2. This is a perfect sentiment to start our FAST for Grace Communion Charlotte. Thank you RIck Shallenberger.

  3. The authors of the Passion Translation verify what you said. In the footnote for 9:38 it says:”The Greek word ekballo is used many times in the Gospels for driving out or casting out demons. The Lord of the Harvest must cast the laborers out into the harvest fields.” He provides the will and the way. We are in the fields and can join Jesus in the harvest by asking him to open our eyes to see what is available here, where he has placed us. We are willing to be cast! Thank you for your inspirational letter.

  4. Very helpful perspective, Rick. God has always supplied all our needs, and he will continue to give more as we use what he has already given us for His glory.

Leave a Reply