When [Jesus] 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.’ Matthew 9:36-38 (ESV)
Would you resolve to pray afresh in 2018 that the Lord of the harvest would raise up laborers to go out into the harvest?
I sense that in the denomination in which I serve, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, we have ceased to take Jesus’ call to prayer for laborers as seriously as we ought in recent years. Brothers and sisters in other churches may be flagging as well.
Today, there is a shortage of good men to serve as pastors in Jesus’ church. Regularly, I field phone calls and emails from members of search committees asking for suggested candidates. Some congregations are discouraged because of the apparent lack of men who would fit their particular need and situation.
The crisis is now. But a greater crisis is also looming, at least in the RPCNA.
Our denomination reached a similar crisis point nearly 30 years ago. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the church felt the need for more laborers. With the presentation of the RPCNA Home Mission Board’s vision for “Seven More By Ninety-Four” (seven more congregations by 1994), there was an urgent call for prayer that the Lord would raise men up for ministry.
I was young then, but the Lord used the prayers of the church. The words prayed in my hearing (and through my own lips) impressed a Spirit-shaped mark upon my soul that was part of my calling to pastoral ministry. Not only was I called, but many men were called. Many pulpits were filled. More churches were planted.
God’s answer at that time, ironically, is part of the looming crisis today. He sent out laborers. By my rough count, about 40% of the active pastors in the RPCNA today were born in a ten year window between 1975-1984; all of these were young men and boys during the years that I remember the church praying fervently. Had the Lord not raised them up, there would be no need to replace them in the future.
The new problem is that there is no significant numerical wave of younger men formally in the pipeline at present. In about thirty years, the men who were “prayed into ministry” by their seniors will hit retirement age. Who will replace them? The good news is this: the Lord has answered our prayers before and he will answer us again, if only we would call upon him.
As we pray, the Lord will also lead us to act. People in need of a pastor often think to make phone calls to professors at seminaries or pastors of churches with interns to ask “who’s available?” In a sense, that is to pray and to act too late, even if it is the right response in the moment.
We are all in need of our next pastor, however quickly that need becomes manifested through vacancy. How will the need be met? In all likelihood, the future pastors are already in your congregations. Today, we need to start praying and asking “who’s available?” as we look in our own pews for newborns, toddlers, teenagers, and older men that the Lord is calling. As I’ve written before, presbyteries who pray to see their own men raised up usually see far healthier churches than presbyteries who are dependent on others to provide pastors for them.
Effective pastors do not come from nowhere. Long before those of us currently serving as pastors were in seminary, the people who “prayed us into ministry” were also feeding us God’s word, encouraging us in our vocations, inviting us to participate in ministry, exposing us to a wide array of people, enjoying life with us, stocking us with books, enduring late night discussions with us, feeding us physically, and entrusting us with responsibilities.
Pastors are brought forth in God’s plan through godly mothers and fathers and through healthy congregations. They are trained through the slow and sustained efforts of the Jochebeds, Hannahs, Elizabeths, Loises, and Eunices of today. As my grandfather used to say, it usually takes about twenty years to cultivate faithfulness. Do the math; it means we need to get started now. The pastors and seminaries who do the final work of training can only work with what they’ve been given. Thus, your prayers are desperately needed.
Pray the words of Matthew 9:36-38 both generally and specifically. Identify specific young men for whom to pray. The seeds of the requisite gifts and graces for pastoral ministry can often be seen in boys as young as two or three years old. I’m always looking for such candidates. Please join me. Start looking for yourself. Start praying for these boys and young men by name, and pray for their parents too. However, hold them up before the Lord with an open hand. He may have other plans for them. And, do not share with them that you are praying for them specifically. God must ultimately do the calling. He’ll use your prayers to do it.
I have the promises of God in one hand and a list of specific names in the other. Will you join me in this endeavor? In coming months, I plan to write about how to pray for such men more specifically.
Let 2018 be a year of renewed commitment to pray for laborers. If we pray in these ways now, the needs of 25-30 years hence will be met. Pray personally. Pray for the same as families. Request prayer for laborers at prayer meetings and conferences. Pester your elders and pastor to lead in prayer for the same until they do. The kingdom of Christ will be extended. The the harvest will be gathered. God will be praised.