Harvest is Messy
"Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest."
Clean and harvest do not coexist well. This farming principle applies also to mission. If you want a large harvest of souls you better be prepared for the mess it will bring in your church. We need to decide which of these we value more; a clean church or a large harvest, because we don’t have the option of both.
Many Pastors and their congregations are praying for harvest, but don’t want the mess that sinful and broken people bring into their midst. This is what led our founder, A.B. Simpson, to leave the Presbyterian church he pastored in New York city and start a downtown mission to reach those who “felt themselves alienated from the formal church, but not from the Lord”. He wrote, “I left my church to form a church for the people of all classes based on absolute freedom” (All for Jesus—p. 11, 51). He left the church he was pastoring because it did not want the mess of harvest.
I wonder how many of our churches have become the kind of church Simpson would leave?
Tozer stated, the vision of Simpson was: “…to hold up Jesus in His fullness, ‘the same yesterday, and today, and forever!’ It is to lead God’s hungry children to know their full inheritance of blessing for spirit, soul, and body. It is to encourage and incite the people of God to do the neglected work of our age and time among the unchurched classes at home and the perishing heathen abroad” (Wingspread p. 103).
The evangelical church of the 20th century drew from a people pool influenced by Christian morals and values. When I was young, parents who did not attend church often sent their children to Sunday School and back yard bible clubs. Schools distributed a New Testament to students every year and students prayed the Lord’s prayer each morning. Most new believers came into the church with at least some church experience or Christian influence. However, the people pool of the 21st century has changed. The so-called “nones” (no religious affiliation), who now make up the largest percentage of the population, have never been in a church, opened a Bible or been influenced by its teachings. The darkness of this generation is deeper, the brokenness more severe and the bondages to addictive behaviours more binding then ever before. If we really want to see a harvest from this field it is going to create a mess in our faith communities as these new believers begin the sanctification journey toward the likeness of Christ. The question is, are we prepared for the mess?
When (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matt.9:36) Jesus saw the people differently than the religious leaders of his day. The Pharisees saw them as perpetrators of sin and they judged them. Jesus saw them as victims of sin and he had compassion on them. Compassion is a sympathy toward the distress and suffering of others with a desire to alleviate it.
How do we see the people of our community? Do we see them with the eyes of Christ? How we see the people will determine how we respond to them.
Perfectionism, and its ugly sister intolerance, create a fundamental tension in many of our churches. Like the Pharisees of Jesus day, religious perfectionists give no allowance for the faults and failures of people whose spirits may be renewed by Christ, but who’s souls remain badly broken. The process of sanctification for many of these people begins much further back, and may take far longer, then in previous generations.
Jesus said to his disciples,‘The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields’. (Vss.37,38)
But what if those workers bring the harvest into your barn? What will you do with members of the LGBTQ community, prostituted individuals; drug, alcohol and sex addicts, and those who’s souls are suffering from childhood abuse who come to faith, but continue to struggle with sinful temptations and behaviours?
There is no use praying for the Lord to send workers to gather the harvest unless and until we are willing to accept and manage the mess that harvest will bring.