Reclaiming an Overlooked Missions Strategy

Those of you who fly are very familiar with the pre-departure instructions. “In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you,” the flight attendant announces, and then, after more operating instructions, tells, “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person.”

The last line of those instructions seems counterintuitive. Evidently, we’re supposed to first take care of our own safety and then turn our attention to our child or someone else needing aid? That can’t be right. The child is the helpless one, the needy one. Don’t we assume the focus must be on the neediest first?

The greater need
This is not terribly different from the way we tend to think about missions. In missions, our mind immediately goes to the more helpless among us—those who need our assistance, our compassion, our love and, of course, our Savior. Whether we look at our own communities, our nation, or the world, we see needs—physical, emotional, and spiritual. Interestingly, Jesus saw the same needs. He reacted much the same way as we, with one notable exception. Unlike us, Jesus looked beyond the immediate and saw a greater
need—a more strategic need.

In the ninth chapter of Matthew (vv. 35-36), scripture tells us that, as Jesus was going about the towns and the villages teaching in the synagogues and announcing the good news about the kingdom, He saw the crowds. And He was moved with compassion as He saw their need. The Bible describes these people as confused, aimless, like sheep with no shepherd. The reaction to this scene by our Lord is instructive. He immediately turns His attention away from those who were at greatest risk and towards those who were the most secure—His disciples. Note what He says to them, “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.” (Matt 9:37-38, NLT)

Interestingly, Jesus’ first act, based on His compassion for what He saw, was to tell His disciples to pray. He tells them to pray, not for the lost, but for workers. He tells them to pray, not for the harvest, but for harvesters. Much like the flight attendant’s instruction, Jesus seems to be saying that these people are desperate for what we have to offer, but for
that to happen we need to address our own need first. We need more workers for the harvest. In fact, Jesus labeled it “a great harvest.” The harvest was great then, and it remains great today. It is “white” or ripe and ready for picking—if only we had the workers to send to the fields.

The great harvest
In an article titled, “The Surprising Countries Most Missionaries Are Sent From and Go To” by Melissa Stefan at (posted June 25, 2013), it was reported that the United States currently sends roughly 127,000 missionaries. That sounds like a
lot, and it is true that the United States sends out more missionaries than any other country. However, when one considers that we send only 614 missionaries for every one million church members, this number is not so impressive. There are more than 350,000
congregations in the country. That means on average roughly two-thirds of all congregations send no missionaries at all.

More than two billion people virtually have no access to the gospel. That’s more than 6,900 people groups that lack enough followers of Christ and resources to evangelize their own people. Without outside assistance from missionaries, these people may have no opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus. Add to that, hundreds of millions more who do have access but are just like the Bible described—people who are confused, aimless, like sheep with no shepherd. These are people we see every day as we go about our lives.

Indeed, the fields are white unto harvest. Jesus still commands His followers—His church—to pray for workers. Let’s securely fasten our oxygen masks over our nose and mouth by praying to the Lord of the harvest for more harvesters.

It remains to be seen the specific ways God will respond to this type of praying in your local church. However, you can rest assured that your church and God’s kingdom will be better off for it.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Unfinished magazine.

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