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The Harvest is Plentiful

Jesus says the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. But I suspect we all act like the harvest is moderate and the workers are plenty.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 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 9:35-38 from Today’s New International Version

I recently realised that throughout my Christian life I have always had the impression that normal evangelism, at least for normal Christians, consists of telling my half a dozen close friends about Jesus and continuing to love them and pray for them even if they don’t become Christians.

While I certainly want to continue to do these things and encourage everyone else to do these things, it seems to me that that is not the whole picture. I have been acting like the harvest is moderate and the workers are plenty.

Plentiful Then And Now

Matthew chapter 9:35-38 tells us about a time when Jesus was confronted with crowds of people in need of spiritual leadership. 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.” Then the very next thing that Matthew reports is Jesus sending out his twelve disciples to do exactly that. (Matt 10, cf Luke 9:1-3)

In our world marred by turmoil, violence and despair, can there be any question that Jesus still compassionately says the same thing? When millions of people are becoming Christians but are unable to access basic Bible teaching or even Bibles can there be any question that the harvest is still plentiful but the workers are still few?

Even in my home of Australia, if every person who attends any kind of church at all regularly tells 6 friends about Jesus that will still leave at least half the population never hearing. And the reality is that at least half the people who attend church in Australia are attending churches where new people are seldom coming to know Jesus. But while some churches are shrinking in numbers rapidly, some churches are growing even more rapidly. It is safe to say that the harvest is more plentiful than my previous expectations of evangelism assumed.

Not Just Evangelists

But is this just the job of people who are especially gifted in evangelism? Presumably people who are given by God as Evangelists or Missionaries are going to be particularly important in this area (eg Ephesians 4:11-12). But the Bible also seems to assume that all normal followers of Jesus will have opportunities to point others to Jesus who are not necessarily in their closest circle of friends. For example, 1 Peter 3:15 instructs regular Christians to ‘be prepared to give an answer to EVERYONE who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have’.

And at a pragmatic level, Australia has a very high number of paid vocational ministry workers compared to most other countries. It seems unlikely we just need more evangelists. Rather we need to examine our expectations of normal evangelism for normal followers of Jesus.

The Lost Art of Hospitality

Maybe a better approach would be to be friendly to new people I meet with the hope of having the opportunity to naturally share the message of Jesus with them. It seems to me the biggest problem with this is meeting and becoming friends with new people.

I recently heard a person who had moved to Perth from Sydney comment that Perth was a hard place to make new friends in because Perth people have their existing circle of friends and aren’t very inclined to include new people. He went on to say that all his close friends in Perth have also moved here from elsewhere. I found this mildly amusing because a few months earlier I had met an American who had told me almost exactly the same thing about his experience of moving to Sydney. And a couple of weeks ago I read about a similar experience of an English person moving to America.

There is a bunch of research and commentary that now suggests that this is a trend in the western world. Specifically, that although we have superficial connections with a great many more people through television, the internet and other media, that we are becoming more insular in our real friendships. And that is exactly the way I have been thinking about evangelism.

This trend makes it harder to follow the Bible’s instructions to practice hospitality (eg Romans 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9). It is increasingly hard to meet new people and show simple care, let alone to get beyond the superficial. Surely this should call forth our compassion – ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few’.


So if I’ve got this right it means a couple of things.

Firstly, it means that following Jesus should normally include seeking to include new people I meet in my life with the hope that I will have the opportunity to point them to the source of all true hope – Jesus.

Secondly, it means that compassion for people needing God’s leadership should motivate me to work at being different from the trends of my culture which make me want to just insulate my existing circle of friends. So I am going to have to get creative about organising my life differently.

Thirdly, it means that it is going to be difficult, not because of any failing in me, but because I will be going against the trend in my community at large.

So this being the case, my plan for 2010 is to learn to pray each day, ‘Lord God, send out workers into your harvest and send me to point someone to Jesus Christ today’.

 Photo Credit: “”, © 2006 Tim VanReenen, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

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