by Duane Beck
Consultant to Pastors on Leadership and Local Ministry
“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, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
I was born and raised in the golden wheat fields of Kansas. My life was shaped by this “agri-culture.” The golden heads of wheat looked ready for harvest, standing upright and waving in the wind. However, Dad would say that we should wait until the golden heads of grain bend down, as if in prayer, then it’s time for the combines to move into the fields.
Matthew 9:36-38, “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, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Active local ministries can revitalize our churches, and give purpose and vitality to our members. Some churches seem to exhibit symptoms similar to long-COVID such as fatigue, exhaustion, low energy, and difficulty concentrating. To help rejuvenate local mission, here are a couple of simple suggestions that church leaders can adapt to fit their unique congregations.
First, Prayer: Jesus looks through our compassionate eyes. What does he/we see in our neighborhoods, towns, and cities? Occasionally, my Spiritual Director would ask, “Are you praying that God will raise laborers for Jesus’ ministry?” The congregational prayer at the sharing time during worship is a wonderful opportunity to regularly pray to see our neighborhoods, the city, and the county as Jesus sees them. Encourage small groups, and classes to uphold your neighbors.
Second. Pay attention to what people are already doing. A pastor told me that his church had no local ministry. I asked “What energizes your people? What gives them life?”
He said, “Oh, it’s caring for each other.”
“How far does that caring and compassion reach,” I asked.
“Into the community around us. Our people share ordinary and yet amazing acts of compassion with our neighbors.”
“That sounds like Christ’s compassionate ministry, ” I said. What a great foundation to build an expectation for ministry. Have you ever thought of interviewing persons during worship?”
I have found that interviewing individuals during worship about their daily lives was one of the best ways to encourage people to pursue their passion and recognize their God-given purpose. The interviews were centered around a basic outline: Describe your work. (I mentally noted their gifts). Where do you see the Spirit bubbling up? What are your personal and faith challenges? How can I pray for you? Pastoral visits at peoples’ workplaces or over lunch at a nearby cafe were great opportunities to hear their stories that could be shared with the congregation.
Annie was a shy accountant working in a corporate office. One day, the CEO called her into his office and shut the door. Annie was worried that she might be fired. However, he surprised her by asking Annie to pray for him. His son was making some bad choices, and he was at his wits’ end on how to respond. The CEO had caught the wind of her spirit. What the CEO didn’t know was that this quiet woman would start her day by opening her desk drawer and reading from her Bible, still out of sight in the drawer. Annie would silently pray for her colleagues and smile at them as she did her work. Although Annie would almost panic at the thought of giving a short speech at church, she felt comfortable being interviewed. The interview followed a basic outline: What do you do? Where at work do you sense Jesus’ Spirit showing up? What challenges to your faith do you face? How can we pray for you?
I interviewed people who volunteered or were employed at nonprofits, a stay-at-home-parent, medical people, teachers, retired folks, factory workers, and business owners. It was like a “Now Testament” alongside the New and Old Testament readings just before the sermon. It was a witness to the word made flesh in peoples’ daily routines and contacts. We heard what gave life and purpose to our brothers and sisters. We began to affirm one another’s gifts and mission. People were inspired to be conscious of their daily lives. We prayed for each other.
Explore ministry opportunities that other congregations are involved in. I will be announcing webinars for those who want to hear about ministry to incarcerated people, and to those who are formerly incarcerated. In addition, another Zoom webinar will be scheduled to learn more about the ministries of inner healing.
Interim Conference Leadership Team