Gathering Laborers for the Harvest

 

Several years ago a “critical issues” questionnaire was sent to a large number of church leaders. They were asked to list what they believed to be the most critical issues facing the church today. In overwhelming response, these leaders agreed that the number one critical issue was the need for trained workers and lay leaders to help in the organization and outreach areas of the church. People who could work under pastoral leadership and help the man of God carry the weight of responsibility. This need has not changed. The question asked most by growing churches is, “How can we cultivate good workers and leaders from among our church membership?” Since the pastor cannot effectively do everything himself, a church’s growth will, quite literally, rise or fall upon this one factor.

CHURCH GROWTH PLATEAUS

Research has shown that churches tend to grow in jumps or spurts. Between each jump the church will experience a “plateau.” A plateau has occurred when the church has seen no growth for at least two full years. Where exactly a plateau will occur varies between churches. But generally a church will experience one somewhere around 50, then another between 70-90, and a third around 130-150, then finally 250-300. Another will often appear at 500, then 700, then just short of a thousand. Unfortunately, many churches are in an extended plateau condition. Try as they might, they seem to be sitting on dead center. Revivals, programs, crusades all help for a while, but they always seem to slide back into the same average attendance. And as any pastor can tell you, this stagnant period of non-growth can be very discouraging. What is wrong?

The cause of these growth plateaus varies. The building may be a restrictive factor, financial condition may hinder, or even the pastor having to work a secular job. But the most common reason, the one reason that applies to almost every level of plateau, is this: they lack of workers and leaders to support a larger church body. It is vial for every church to understand that in order to expand the church membership, he must first expand the worker and leadership base.

David Womack, in his book The Pyramid Principle, states, “Before a church may add to its mass of members and adherents, it must first expand its base of organization and ministry involvement.” He goes on to describe church growth as being similar to piling sand on a table. You can pile on only so much sand before the table is covered and a four-sided pyramid of sand develops. When you have no more space, the sand begins to spill off onto the floor. If you want to add more sand to the table, you must first expand the table size. This is the point of the pyramid principle. You must first add to the base of workers and leaders in the church before you can add to the membership size.

ENLISTING LEADERS AND WORKERS

Someone has rightly pointed out that leaders are not born, they are developed. They must first begin as a follower and grow in the work of God. Involvement by the laity is critical for the growth of the church as well as the development of leaders.

The importance of involvement for spiritual growth is recognized by most pastors. Saints are most content when they are productively involved in church ministry. Saints who are involved will normally not have the negative spirit and self-centeredness of those who are only spectators.

How do you get the leaders and workers needed to staff an expanding organization and insure a growing, healthy church? Remember the promise of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:19: “But God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in Glory by Christ Jesus.” Surely the need for quality leadership and faithful workers falls within this promise!

In his book Organize to Evangelize, Larry Lewis defines three ways to enlist needed volunteers.

PRAY FOR WORKERS AND LEADERS

Jesus himself gave the ultimate solution to the problem when He said, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:38).

Just as important as praying for souls, or for God to provide the money to meet the building payment, is the need to pray for leaders and workers. This is not a “suggestion” our Lord made. Jesus commands us to pray for leaders and workers. “Ye have not because ye ask not.” “Ask and it shall be given unto you.” “If you ask anything in my name, I shall do it.” “Seek and ye shall find.”

Have you diligently called upon God to send you a Home Bible Study Director? Have you sought earnestly for an Outreach Director and good Visitor Follow-up workers? Do you make this a matter of public prayer? Have you stood before the church and said, “Church, let’s pray that God will provide us with a good New Convert Care Director?” Do you ask for God to reveal a particular person to you? Do you then pray for the Lord to burden that person with that ministry before you ask him or her?

How quick we are to complain and how reluctant sometimes we are to pray!

PREACH FOR WORKERS AND LEADERS

Long ago the Prophet Isaiah heard the Divine call, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” The voice of God has continued through the ages ‘calling out the called’ to labor in the harvest.

Jesus preached for workers. He emphasized the urgency of the hour when He said, “I must work the works of Him that sent me while it’s day: The night cometh when no man can work.” To a group of rugged fishermen He cried, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Surely, every true Christian yearns to respond to God’s voice and say, “Here am I; send me.”

Shouldn’t the present-day prophets of God preach for workers? We give an invitation for souls to come to the altar, for members to rededicate their lives. Shouldn’t we also make a plea for needed leadership? Why not say in the invitation: “Is God calling someone here to be a Sunday School worker? Is God calling someone here to be a Home Bible Study teacher?”

People need to be taught and reminded about the biblical imperative of using their God given talents and abilities for the work of the Lord. They must see themselves as stewards of their gifts and skills. If the fig tree gives no fruit, it will be cursed and cut down.

All instruction should be practical and easy to understand. It should challenge people to find their place in the body and provide the opportunity to do so. Many churches teach a “Finding Your Place in the Body” series on an annual basis. They will often use a ‘service gifts analysis quiz’ to help people to finding their natural, God-given gifts. At the conclusion, they will have an “Outreach Ministry” commitment service and a “Church Ministry” commitment service. An outreach ministry pertains to ministering ‘outward’ to reach the lost – visitor follow-up, home Bible study, bus ministry, door knocking, tract distribution, and so on.. A church ministry pertains to ministering ‘inward’ to help the church – ushers, choir members, maintenance workers, nursery helpers, and so on. Since both type ministries are very different in both context and spirit, the church should consider having these commitment times in two separate services.

If you would like a sample of these two types of commitment forms, you can request a sample “A.C.T.S.” (Apostolic Christian Talent Search) commitment form and an “A.C.T.I.O.N.” (Apostolics Committed To Involvement in Outreach Needs) commitment form from the Apostolic Information Service office. Call (317) 781-7712 to request a copy of each.

PERSONALLY ENLIST WORKERS AND LEADERS

Where the commitment service works best for getting workers for your various ministries, personal enlistment works best for selecting department and ministry leaders.

Remember the parable of the husbandman in Matthew 20? What did he do about the worker problem? Did he murmur, complain, and gripe? No. Rather he “went out” after them. He went out the first hour of the day, and then he went out again the third hour, and again the sixth hour, and again the ninth hour, and even until the eleventh hour.

What did he say to these potential laborers when he found them? Notice his appropriate question, “Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?” (Matt.20:6-7). What a question for us to consider! Souls all around us are dying; sin is on every hand; and leaders are needed in the church to help lead people in ministry. Why do so many stand idle?

Notice the answer they gave: “Because no man hath hired us.” This is exactly the reason so many churches find themselves short of quality leadership. No one has personally sought to enlist these people. Sometimes churches have problems with saints simply because they are bored from doing nothing. They are not being used in the harvest and their gifts and abilities are lying idle. No one has truly put forth the effort to train and recruit them for leadership and service.

When going through your church membership list you should never ask, “Will this person serve?” That is not for you and me to decide. Let the person decide for themselves. You will not stand in judgment to answer for them. This they alone must do. Our place is only to call to service. Their response to your call might just surprise you.

Rev. T.W. Massengale is the editor of Perspectives Magazine and an Instructor at Indiana Bible College.

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