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The Other Lord's Prayer

Chris Green

The Other Lord's Prayer

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few'.
Matthew 9:35-38

A great day to be a worker

Our world, says Jesus, is lost and leaderless. Echoing the criticisms of the prophets , he denounced the religious and political leadership of Israel for failing to care for their sheep. Those who should be overseen and protected were wandering. And this was no happy freedom; in his words the lost people were ‘harassed and helpless'.

And so the great shepherd-king came . Jesus himself shouldered the duties of the missing shepherds, and initiated a time when salvation could be offered to all the nations. And in the scene which follows this section, he installed the Twelve as the basis for a renewed people of God with renewed shepherds under his care.

The apostles' foundational ministry would need to spread further than Israel for the whole world to come under his universal kingship, and so he tells them his second view of our lost and leaderless world - it's full of people ready for ‘harvest'.

That double view - a double agricultural image of people utterly lost like unpastored sheep, but ripe and ready for collection like heavy heads of corn - is one which has not changed. Today is still a day of unparalleled need and unparalleled opportunity.

And so the requirement Jesus identified runs on. He intends to replace those absent shepherds with new ones who will work with him. Even the Twelve will not be adequate for this task because ‘the workers are few'. Jesus has outlined the greatest need and greatest opportunity in world history, and he needs many more people to join the work of pasturing the sheep and gathering the harvest. It's a great day to be a worker because it's the gospel day.

Are you praying for workers?

Since neither the need nor the mandate has changed, Jesus' solution must still stand too: ‘Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.' We are to pray for the provision of workers.

This is Jesus' other Lord's Prayer, and it's one we hardly use in our churches. As Christians we often ask one another, ‘What should we pray for?' - and yet there is a direct command and framework from Jesus himself. Is this a day of lost people, false shepherds, but still the day of the gospel? Then we should obediently start praying for workers.

As you pray for the congregation you are part of, is this one of your constant prayers? Do you see the world around you as lost and leaderless? Do you see their need for workers? Do you ask the Lord of the harvest to send our workers?

Are you training workers?

The concept of the work and workers carried over from Jesus to the early church, and is a term found frequently in the New Testament. Paul's strategy in recruiting, training and deploying church workers can be clearly traced in Acts, most obviously in Timothy. Here was an enormously gifted young whom Paul took under his wing at the recommendation of the church, and who learnt both theology and good pastoral practice over a number of years. He learnt by being close to good teaching and by being sent out on his own, whether to friendly or hostile settings.

But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he was served with me in the work of the gospel.
Philippians 2:22

This was a pattern which Timothy was to put into practice, and which it is clear Paul expected Timothy to expect of others. So here is a second set of challenges for today. Are you, like the church at Lystra, actively nurturing and seeking out the next generation of workers from among your members? Are you spending time with them to make sure that they have a good theological grasp and a range of ministry experiences?

Having prayed that God would raise up workers, are you expecting him to answer that prayer from among your current membership, and are you ready to have an apprentice when he does?

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,' and ‘The worker deserves his wages.'
1 Timothy 5:17-18

Are you supporting future workers?

These workers will spend the majority of their time in preaching and teaching and so it's important they have the skills and reliability to do that properly. Workers who have reliability without ability will bore people, but workers who have ability without reliability will become plausible false teachers.
To ensure that the workers are able to do the job faithfully they need appropriate training, and to acquire that they need time and money.

Someone who cuts off a promising career to work with a church part-time and explore what full-time church work might mean needs a salary. Someone who decides to spend time at a theological college needs money. Independent students and Church of England ordinands who want to stay more than the bare minimum of time need extra funding.

Being obedient to what the Bible says about producing workers will mean more than praying for and identifying workers; it will mean your church agreeing to fund them realistically.

Are you clear on what workers need to know?

The workers we all need are to do one task above all: to teach the Bible well. That means having a careful look at the kind of training available and choosing the best on this criterion: is this a programme which will equip someone for a life-long ministry of faithful Bible teaching? Quite clearly that was what Paul gave Timothy, and what he expected Timothy to live up to and to build others. It is the key question to ask. It is vital that potential workers learn early on that this will be their primary and life-long task, and to evaluate every aspect of their ministry training in the light of it.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who handles the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

Such training will include how the Bible is communicated publicly and privately, to a large crowd or a grieving daughter, or a new Christian or on a denominational committee. But the heart of the training must be a correct and deep understanding of the Bible.

Deep understanding of the Bible leads to a better understanding of other subjects, and good workers need a wide grasp of theology too: biblical theology will help them put the entire Bible together in a coherent pattern; systematic theology helps them sort the biblical material into relevant areas and themes; historical theology helps them understand how previous generations of Christians tackled their own burning issues, just as ethics trains them to tackle ours.

Good training involves discerning how our world understands itself and how to communicate to it, and now to plant, lead and pastor mission orientated churches which will make the next generation of disciples. The Bible stands at the centre of all these disciplines, controlling and informing them, but they each need studying in their own right, and that takes time, at least two years and often more. It really does take that long to gain the basic skills. To fall short at this point is to undercut all the good work which has gone on in the home church.

Those who have had poor theological training themselves must surely be concerned that the next generation receives the best training possible. Although we all recognize the importance of practical training for full-time ministry, evangelicals ought to give the highest priority to biblical and theological development.

A strategy for obedience

What, then, is your church going to do to produce the workers our churches need for the future? What we have seen suggests a five-fold plan, which every congregation should have as part of its obedient strategy for making disciples.

Praying

Ask God regularly to raise up workers.

Identifying

Expect him to answer your prayers from among your congregation.

Recruiting

Take such people under your wing to give them theological and ministerial depth.

Resourcing

Provide the money for them to have the fully rounded training they need.

Training

Ensure that the training they have will equip them to handle God's word properly and in depth, otherwise you are wasting your prayers, their time and your church's money.

© The Kingham Hill Trust
This article was written by Chris Green, who is vice principal of Oak Hill Theological College. He was formerly minister of Emmanuel Church, Tolworth, Surrey.
It has been published as a booklet and is available from 9:38 and Oak Hill Theological College