The russet hues, golden fields, and crisp air awaken us to the reality that the harvest season is here.
As a follower of Jesus with a passion for evangelism, autumn is always a time of motivation and expectation. If I am honest with myself, it is also a time of challenge and even lament. The autumnal surroundings beckon us to hear the words of Jesus: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38).
This time of year, the harvest field is burgeoning. Somehow, with summer’s end and the commencement of the school year, the highways seem busier and grocery store lines longer; the workplace is humming, and there is a sense of everyone getting ready to dig into a rhythm of work. It is harvest time.
This is often the time of year when the Church invites its members to go deeper in their faith and service, to join the choir, the altar guild, a discipleship group, to be a greeter, to serve the Church, and to be engaged in its mission in the community and the world. I love fall kick-off Sundays when parish halls display information on the ministries offered at local congregations, encouraging fellow believers to work in the harvest.
Even more inspiring is seeing the laborers in action: providing backpacks for needy students, feeding the poor, offering fall festivals and health fairs for the community, and praying over teachers and students as they start their new school year. It is often the time of year when the Church invites new people to come and explore the Christian faith through initiatives like Alpha, Explore God, and seeker Bible studies. In many ways, harvest season is when the Church is most alive in the mission of God. The Lord of the harvest’s laborers are back at work and worship, and it is electric.
Along with being energized by harvest time, I am distressed. I think of the recent data indicating that, even in the past three years, 7.5 million more Americans report they are not “active in religion” (links below). According to Pew Research and the NORC General Social Survey, nearly 1 in 4 Americans now say they have no religious affiliation, with 30% of people under 35 saying they have no religious affiliation. 34% of Americans say they never attend a worship service (except for a funeral or wedding ceremony). Perhaps even more alarming is that 1 in 6 Americans says they don’t pray. And yet only 3% say they don’t believe in God and only 5% claim to be agnostic.
There is a belief in a higher power and sense of the divine but a distrust of and distaste for organized religion. When I connect the poll and survey numbers to the faces of friends, family, neighbors, and members of my immediate community who don’t know the living Lord, I ache.
I want to reach out to each one, listen and come alongside them and share the amazing truth that God is real. God is alive. God cares beyond measure and loves unconditionally. God revealed himself in and through Jesus Christ. I want to say, “What you are searching for has been made known” (see Acts 17). I groan, knowing that even in my immediate circle of influence, I desperately need fellow laborers to come alongside me in sharing the Gospel in word and deed with my friends.
Of course God is the great evangelist. It is his mission and by his grace alone that we are saved. Yet the Lord does clearly call us to be His ambassadors. (2 Cor. 5:18; Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16). He commissions the Church, his mystical body on earth, to bring the good news into the world.
And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-16)
Interestingly the early church never had to be taught methods of how to share the Gospel. We don’t read Paul teaching evangelism techniques or witness skills. The first followers of Jesus were so transformed and ignited by their encounter with the Risen Lord that “they could not help but speak about what they had seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). They shared “to make their joy complete” (1 John 1:4). The Gospel burst forth in their lives, in their speech and in their actions. “And the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47). Canon Michael Green, evangelist, Oxford scholar, and Chair of the Decade of Evangelism for the Anglican Communion under Archbishop George Carey defined evangelism as “overflow” (Evangelism Through the Local Church, p. 8).
Serving as a diocesan Missioner for Evangelism, my first instinct is to encourage every parish to engage seekers, to stretch beyond the church walls, going into the neighborhoods and places people frequent, offering ways for people to meet Jesus and to explore the Christian faith.
Yet what is needed more than anything else is for Christ’s body to be so enlivened by his life that sharing Jesus is natural and unstoppable. We don’t need more methods – we need motivation! EVANGELISM AS OVERFLOW.
Still, over 80% of people come to faith through a connection with a friend or family member. We need people filled and overflowing with the Gospel. Programs, seeker series, dynamic teaching and preaching, and social justice work alone will not accomplish the mission. We need people overflowing with the good news in word and deed.
A person who has fallen in love cannot be silenced in their infectious joy. Or a more mundane example: humans are enthusiastic about sharing a good film or new recipe with others. Yes, there are cultural obstacles and sensitivities that prevent people from sharing Jesus. Yet I would argue that the deeper issue is that his followers do not take the time and make the space to be truly filled and nourished with the abundant life God has for us. And so we do not overflow with the good news (John 10:10). To be blunt: we cannot give what we do not have.
As followers of Jesus, especially in this harvest season, we need to ask ourselves, “What are we feasting on?”
The Master and Lord of the harvest has prepared for us a great banquet, a true feast. He first invites us to be filled to overflowing, so that we might overflow and invite others. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
As the church leader and Methodist pastor D.T. Niles wrote, “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”
This harvest season we are invited to feast on the Sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus, to immerse ourselves in his word through the Daily Office, to hold fast to his promises of unconditional love, total forgiveness, and the gift of his Spirit. And we are invited to pray for more laborers to join us in being filled, so that we might overflow in the harvest field, which so desperately needs to know there is a Savior and that the Savior is inviting them also to the great banquet feast. “Today is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
The Lord of the Harvest is waiting … on all of us.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
Carrie Boren Headington’s other posts can be found here.
- Michael Lipka, “A closer look at America’s rapidly growing religious ‘nones’.” Pew Research (May 13, 2015).
- Emily Swanson (AP), “Poll: Americans are disconnected from religion, but believe in God.” Crux (March 23, 2015).
- Tobin Grant (RNS), “7.5 million Americans have ‘lost their religion’ since 2012.” Huffington Post (March 13, 2015 ).
- Michael Hout and Tom W. Smith, “Fewer Americans affiliate with organized religions, belief and practice unchanged: key findings from the 2014 General Social Survey.” (March 10, 2015).
- “Sharing religious faith online.” Pew Forum (Nov. 6, 2014).
- Frank Newport, “More than 9 in 10 Americans continue to believe in God.” Gallup (June 3, 2011).