It is that time of the year when churches are working to make sure they have slots filled for Fall ministries. It’s a challenge. “The workers are few.” But before you get discouraged, read Matthew 9:35-38 and remember these points.
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. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”(Mt 9:35-38).
1. Remember that sign-up lists and bulletin announcements hit about as many line drives as warm up swings in the on deck circle. Don’t be discouraged about recruiting if all you have done thus far is announce the need from up front. Bulletin and pulpit announcements are only first attempts, and, honestly, not very good ones. Take those swings if they help you get loose. But, recognize that you will only get a few laborers through that method.
Jesus actively sought out his team and painted a vision (“I will make you fishers of men”). Paul left one of his most trusted lieutenants behind in Crete to appoint elders. And, then Paul wrote what became the book of Titus to direct him in the process.
Sign-up lists don’t get it done, nor do bare pleas from the pulpit.
2. Remember there are children playing on the freeway of a fallen world. Apart from the church Satan will run them over.
When Jesus saw the crowds, had a sense of urgency. He recognized that they were harassed and helpless – – like sheep without a shepherd – – like children playing in the middle of the freeway.
Are you willing to leave children playing in the middle of the interstate without working harder to find staff?
Let’s get it done.
Technical stuff – – In the phrase, “he had compassion for them” the word translated, “compassion,” would mean his heart “contracted convulsively (NIDNT, 2, 599).” It is a rare word: it appears only 12x in the New Testament, all in the Synoptic Gospels. In Matt 14:14, used to describe how Jesus felt about the crowd shortly before the feeding of the 5,000. It is used to describe how Jesus felt before the feeding of the 4,000 in Matt 15:32. It is used in the parable of the unmerciful servant to describe the master who released his servant of his debts. In Matt 20:34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they receive their sight and followed him. Luke uses it of the Samaritan in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Luke uses it to describe the compassion of the Father in the prodigal.
Now, here is the great news about this word. It never appears apart from a corresponding action. Every time that it appears, the Lord, or the character in a parable representing him has this quality of compassion he acts. It is the idea of mercy. “Since seeing and being prepared to help are one, it sets in motion as with Jesus himself, a whole chain of events which together are called eleos . . . Humanity and neighborliness are not qualities but action (NIDNT, 2, 600).”
3. Remember to wear out the knees of your every day jeans. Prayer is the center of what needs to be done. That’s what Jesus said. If you are struggling to fill key slots, ask yourself this question. How much have I urgently pleaded with God for this slot to be filled? What is translated, “pray earnestly,” in Matt 9:35, might also be translated “beg.”
You respond, “Oh, I’ve prayed a lot about it.”
Really? Are you sure? Be honest. How much have you (we) really prayed?
How many times have you pleaded with God on your knees to provide someone for this position?
Have you gotten together with other leaders explicitly to pray, and then prayed, or do you just encourage each other to pray?
Have you fasted and prayed?
So much of the time we talk a lot about praying, and do little of it. And, then we’re not honest with ourselves about our prayerlessness. You don’t need the church to organize something major. Call up a couple of people. Get on your knees and pray.
4. Remember to pray in particular that the Lord of the harvest will catapult workers into the church basement.
“Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers” – The word “send out” appears 81x in the NT. Most of the uses in Matthew (28x) deal with casting out demons or forcibly throwing someone out. For example, just a few verses before, the same word is used to describe casting out a demon (Matt 9:33).
Bruner wrote, “Jesus does not say ‘find’ or ‘recruit’ workers. The idea is this: there are Christian workers already there in this first, and in every subsequent Christian community, and they need to have a fire lit under them to thrust them out of their comforts into the world of need.”
The word is used in the Greek translation (the LXX) of the OT in Genesis 3:24 when the Lord cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden.
Prayer is how fires get lit under potential workers. We’re looking for people to get catapulted into the AWANA program.
5. Remember, we won’t solve spiritual problems with administrative solutions. Churches often seek to solve a shortage of workers by reorganizing, changing the rotation, changing how often people work, etc etc etc. It may be necessary to reorganize, but it won’t solve a spiritual problem. It will give you a temporary shot in the arm, and you’ll be back to the struggle again. Often, CE reorganization is a “long run for a short slide.”
6. Remember not to resent the challenges of recruiting. To be involved in the work of the harvest is our great privilege. It’s God plan that we should pray and cry out to Him and be reminded of the great need. If you are in the game, you’re in the struggle. Be thankful.
7. Remember to practice an elevator speech (something you could say between the first and fourth floors on the elevator) that will paint a vision for why someone would want to serve. Jesus concisely summarized the need with agricultural terms – the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. How could you describe your need in a compelling way in a few lines.
Why not practice writing out one paragraph of why you would ask someone to fill the slot in question? Or, practice giving the speech with other members of your team.
A good elevator speech that envisions with people why they would want to serve, will avoid the error described in the next point.
8. Remember not to apologize for opportunities to serve, or to act as though you are asking people to do something for you. I remember a number of years ago (in a different church) listening to someone recruit nursery workers for Christmas Eve. The conversation went something like this, “I hate to ask you to do this. I apologize for bothering you. But, I wonder if you could help me out by working in the nursery.”
That is a recruiting disaster. How could we apologize to anyone for asking them to hold a baby on CHRISTMAS EVE! What greater way could there be to honor the Lord’s first advent, then to ask people to rock a baby (in a warm and comfortable nursery rather than a stable)? What better investment than to allow young parents the opportunity to sing Silent Night?
It would be so much better to say, “Listen, we have a real opportunity to invest in the Kingdom. Why not come in as a family and work in the nursery. If we are really blessed we will have several babies present, and you can rock them, and pray over them, and encourage their parents. And, who knows what God might do? Someday you may find that your one evening of service in the church nursery changed everything for this family. It might be that you would rock the next George Whitfield. But, even if it isn’t Whitfield – – could anything be more beautiful than caring for babies on Christmas Eve.
While we’re on this topic – – I think it is preferable to say, “I’m thankful for you serving,” rather than, “Thank you.” It’s not a grave sin to say the latter. But, I think thanking people implies they’re doing it for us. Whereas, saying, “We are thankful,” reminds all involved that we are doing this for the King. And, when we serve in tough settings, Jesus considers it a personal favor (Matt 25:40).
9. Remember that are not alone in your recruiting challenges. One of Satan’s schemes is to discourage leaders by whispering in their ears, “Something is wrong with your church. Other churches are not facing this struggle.”
It’s a lie.
There have always been a shortage of workers. Jesus said it Himself, “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”