The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.Matthew 9:37
There are many more people wanting to be discipled than there are Christians willing to disciple them.
That’s the difficult truth I’ve learned working with ATLAS of West Central Minnesota, a mentor-based disciple-making ministry in Willmar, MN. There are more people wanting to grow in their relationship with Jesus, than there are Christians willing to give of their time and of themselves to help them.
The demand for disciple-makers is great. The supply, unfortunately, is low.
Not a New Trend
I tend to think this must be because of the time we live in or maybe because of our consumerist culture that has bled into how we approach church. But then I remember this isn’t a new trend. In Matthew 9, the crowds following Jesus swelled as he went from village to village, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the gospel, and healing the sick and afflicted. Jesus showed compassion to them because “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matt 9:36)
Jesus then turns to his disciples and says, “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.” (Matt 9:37-38)
Hungry for Discipleship
Now, when I say there are people “wanting to be discipled,” they aren’t walking around with a sign hanging on their neck saying “Someone Disciple Me.”
But when we take time to listen to people, hear their stories, and try to understand their hurts, mistakes, and regrets, we can begin to hear their desire and cry for someone to walk alongside them through life in an intentional way.
At ATLAS, we seek to equip volunteer mentors to meet hurting people at their point of need and begin to disciple them from there. As we connect with hurting people, one of the questions we ask them is why are they interested in having a mentor in their life? These are just a sampling of the responses we’ve heard from people over the past five years.
- “I’m looking for deeper spiritual meaning.”
- “I want to learn how to grow spiritually.”
- “Help me to feel/learn what God desires in my marriage.”
- “A better understanding of God’s plan for me and how I can follow it.”
- “I hope to learn how to develop a better relationship with God.”
- “I’m looking for hope and strength.”
- “Guidance for a successful sober life with Jesus.”
- “Help to live a happier, more fulfilled life through Christ.”
- “Clarity for my life.”
- “To help me with a better way.”
- “Someone to help strengthen my faith.”
- “I want more hope in my life.”
- “Guidance to help get my life in order again.”
Their words reveal that people are hungry for discipleship.
It should be revealing, though not surprising, that Jesus’ response to the crowds in need was to call his disciples to pray for more laborers. He was teaching his disciples – and us – that when you have a need, you pray about it.
It’s also revealing that Jesus says we are to pray to the “Lord of the harvest.” I love this because Jesus is pointing out that this great need before them was not bigger than God’s ability. He still reigned over the harvest. Each soul within the harvest belongs to the Lord of the harvest. And the machinery the Lord uses for his harvest are:
- Prayer, and
- The called people of God proclaiming the gospel. In other words, his laborers.
Therefore, our first response to a need for disciple-makers should be to pray to the Lord of the harvest for more disciple-makers.
As we pray, the Lord of the harvest faithfully calls and raises up more workers – both volunteer and vocational – to make disciples.
But as we pray, we also need to ask ourselves, what about me? What is God calling me to? If God is stirring in you a desire to obediently make disciples, then therefore go and make disciples. Jesus has called all his followers to do exactly that:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
We can do this eagerly and faithfully because the Lord of the harvest is with us always.
NOTE: Here are a few book suggestions if you are interested in reading more about making disciples.