Every church planter and pastor wants their church or ministry to grow. This is not a bad desire, it is a great desire. People in my tribe (Reformed) often turn their nose up at church growth, but this is silly, and downright wrong. Growing churches means that more people are hearing the gospel. Yes, there are cases where growth can be unhealthy, but having bad apples on the tree does not mean we should discount all apples. Churches and ministries are built to grow when they are functioning properly. Every pastor and planter should desire to see ministry growth. The gospel is a life-changing message. When that message begins to take root in a people and community the results can be phenomenal (see Acts).
So I want to share 4 principles from Matthew 9:35-38 that I believe can help church planters and pastors foster growth in their church or ministry.
Matthew 9:35-38 (ESV) - 35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
4 principles from Matthew 9:35-38:
1. Planters and pastors must have a broken heart and compassion for the city.
Notice in verse 36 that Matthew records Jesus overlooking the crowds, and he had compassion for them. Cities are not the buildings, roads, or signs that hang in a geographic region, they are the people. Cities are made of people. Jesus saw the people and had compassion on them. Why? They were sheep without a shepherd. In particular, they were sheep without Christ, the chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).
Do we truly have a burden for those people of our city who are helpless and harassed because they live their lives daily without the presence, peace, and power of the chief Shepherd - Jesus? We should. Like Nehemiah who heard of the condition of Jerusalem and its people, he wept bitterly. He was distraught. We should pray God would burden us for our cities and give us a passion for the people without Christ who live around us. Ministry is first and foremost about people, not tasks.
2. There are plenty of people to reach in your city.
Jesus tells his disciples that the harvest is plentiful. There are tons of people to reach. The harvest is massive. However, when you look at how some pastors and church planters act, you would think there is only a handful of people to reach and other churches are their competitors for reaching them. Pastor, your church is not the only church in the community. Those other churches are not your competition. If every church in the community filled their buildings up with lost people in our cities, there would still be thousands and thousands of lost people in our cities.
We need to leave behind the small-minded, territorial attitudes about other churches and ministries. We should celebrate when other churches are growing. They are not taking the only available lost people. The moment we realize that there will always be an abundance of lost people around us to reach, we can begin cheerleading other churches to be successful. I believe it would change the culture of our local churches if we were more vocal about our happiness for the success of other churches. You will always win when you are pro-church, instead of anti-church. Root for your neighboring churches and ministries.
3. The number of laborers you have will determine the size of your harvest.
This point was emphasized by a pastor at the 2013 Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. The pastor was from Kenya and he expressed that Matthew 9:37 shows us that the harvest is great, but we don't have sufficient laborers. This point raises out of the text implicitly because Jesus shows them that it is not a lack of harvest that is the problem. It is a lack of laborers. If we want to reap a large harvest of people, then we need a large army of laborers.
This immediately raises the question about how we are doing raising up leaders. If you want your ministry to grow, then you cannot do everything on your own. You have to identify, train, equip, and empower leaders around you. If you want to reach a large harvest, then you need a system and process for surrounding yourself with competent laborers. If you want to remain small, then keep doing everything yourself. The size of your harvest will depend on how many leaders are working alongside of you.
4. Prayer is a vital part of our ministry labors.
Notice that Jesus' instruction for the disciples concerning the lack of laborers was to pray. Yes, go and recruit. Yes, train and equip. But all of this should begin, continue, and conclude with prayer. There is too much riding on our efforts to not be praying. Prayer is a vital component of ministry. If you can do your ministry without prayer, you are in trouble and your ministry is built on the wrong things. We must pray to the Lord of the Harvest to give us laborers for the fields. We need to pray God would grant us more leaders. I believe this includes the prayer that God would bring leaders to our church, but I also believe it includes God giving us eyes to see the leaders that He has already sent us.
We were not always church planters and pastors. We were not always concerned about the things of the kingdom of God. God changed us. God gave us eyes to see and passion to pursue the kingdom. We were likely invited by another leader at some point to join in this pursuit of expanding the kingdom of God. We did not just arrive in the role of pastor or church planter. This tells me that there may be all-star laborers just sitting in the seats of our church, waiting to be asked, waiting to be unleashed. I believe this requires prayer. We should pray God would stir the hearts of people to desire to labor for His kingdom, and we should pray that our eyes would be opened to identifying those people.
Notice that these four points touch on both hearts issues and philosophy of ministry approach. The first and fourth points are both heart issues. Your compassion for the city is a heart issue. Your willingness to make prayer a vital component of your ministry is a heart issue. The second and third points are philosophy of ministry issues. Understanding there are plenty of people to reach, believing you need to equip other leaders gets to the core of your philosophy of ministry.
I challenge you to work through each of these points from Matthew's Gospel. As a church planter and pastor, you want your church or ministry to grow. I know I do. But we must have both the right heart and philosophy of ministry to see this happen.
Question: which of the 4 points would you say is your strongest and which is your weakest?
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