I was sitting in church recently and heard a familiar line, but I don’t buy it.
The pastor was vision-casting about what a great future the church has. Souls to reach, ministries to start, projects to complete. So far, so good. Then, he turned a corner. “But, if we fail to live out the dream that God has for our church, God will raise someone else to fulfill this dream, but we will miss out on the blessing.” The house erupted with a thunder of “Amens.” I sat back thinking, “Hmm.”
“I am not sure I believe that,” I told my wife afterwards. A long conversation, lasting on and off for several weeks, followed. The more I thought about it, the less comfortable I was with this statement. Three reasons came to mind.
The workers are few
“God will raise up someone else to do it” doesn’t seem to square with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 9:37, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” (NIV)
God can, of course, do anything he wants to do. That is one of the great things about being God. Psalm 115:3 records, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.” (NIV) He can do whatever he wants. But, He (apparently) wants to limit His activity. And the limit has to do with workers. The bottleneck of the evangelistic/ disciplemaking process has always been workers. In big churches and small, the bottleneck is always the same: workers.
In small churches people seem surprised by this. “The problem around here is, we are so small. Being so small, we can’t find enough workers and the same people keep doing everything.”
In big churches people seem surprised by this. “Do you have any idea how many workers it takes to run a Sunday School the size of ours?”
For some ideas about how to recruit workers, consider Bill Hybels’ ACTS plan.
God is not pictured in the Bible as a coach with a really strong bench. That is, he is not pictured as a coach that has lots of workers, lots of capable players. If the someone on the first string blows a knee, no worry, we pull someone off the bench–and we have plenty of them.
No. God is pictured in the Bible as the owner of a huge farm. The harvest is plentiful and abundant. Still, we may not get all the harvest in. What is the shortage? Workers.
I am aware that this discussion touches on the whole issue of predestination and free will. If you are strong enough in your Calvinism, this problem goes away. Pushed too far, we echo the words of the men who scolded William Carey: “Sit down, young man, if God wants to save the heathen in India, He will do it without your help or mine.” Truth is, He won’t. Whatever else you believe about predestination, you have to believe this: “And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Romans 10:14 (NIV) According to Romans 10:14, no one ever gets saved except that someone preaches to them.
The mission angle
From the viewpoint of a missionary’s kid, I will tell you that most missionaries don’t feel this way. Most missionaries don’t feel like, “If I don’t go to Africa, God will raise up someone else to go; but I will miss out on the blessing.” Most missionaries have a profound conviction that unless they go, no one might go. That group of people in that country at this time, just might not hear the gospel unless I go and tell them.
This conviction drives them to action. It pushes them out of complacency. It compels them to leave family and friends and the comforts of an American lifestyle.
If God will raise someone else anyway, but I will just miss out on the blessing, well, I might can do without that blessing if I get some other stuff. If I get to raise my kids in nice English-speaking schools in the suburbs with nice shopping and nice restaurants and where everything is nice. If I don’t have to leave my parents or leave my grandkids and leave the home I love, I might can live without a blessing or two.
Paul said, “The love of God compels me.” It leaves me without any other choices. It restricts my options. I think Paul had a conviction that if he didn’t do it, it just might not get done. That is how the first missionary thought and that is how most missionaries think.
The parenting angle
Another perspective on this is the parenting angle. I have a profound conviction as a dad that there is something I need to give my kids that no one else can give them. If I don’t live out my calling as a dad to my kids, God won’t raise up someone else to do it. It just won’t get done and my kids will grow up with a hole in their heart because I didn’t fill it with the love and attention that only a dad can give.
I feel the same way as a husband. I have a calling from God on my life as a husband. There is a love I am to give my wife and if I don’t give it to her, it just won’t be done.
In every arena of life, this is true. The Bible says, “for each one should carry his own load.” Galatians 6:5 (NIV) If I don’t carry my load, my load just may not be carried.
I believe that God has certain things for me to do and if I don’t do them, they just might not be done. I believe the same of you. He has people for you to love, kids for you to raise, lessons for you to teach, a class for you to grow.
I believe for many of you, part of God’s calling on your life is to work with a small group or Sunday School class that grows and divides, grows and divides, grows and divides. If you don’t do it, it just might not be done. You can reach 1000 people in 10 years by doubling your group every two years or less. You can launch a class planting movement. It may be God’s calling for you, and if you don’t do it, it might not get done.
Live with passion. Live with urgency. The night is coming when no one can work. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephes. 2:10 (NIV)