Thursday, January 09, 2014

Lesson 7: Harvest and Seed Sowing

As we continue the discussion on the purpose of missions in the local church, let us turn to a more philosophical consideration…harvest ministry and seed sowing ministries.

Oswald J. Smith, the late pastor of the People’s Church in Toronto, Canada, famously stated, “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice while before everyone has heard it once?”  It was a great question 40 years ago and it’s still a great question today.

As I stated in the last post, 3.6 billion people in the world have never met a Christian.  Additionally, it is said that 90% of all Christian resources (time, money, ministry) are committed to 95% of the world that has already heard the gospel.  Less than 5% of the church’s resources go to those who have never heard the message of Christ.

It is understandable that people want to give to “harvest” ministries.  A pastor recently stated, “I want to know where in the world God is moving.  Our people need to invest in places where people are being saved and the churches are growing.”  In crass terms the attitude of giving to harvest ministries is an attempt to get more “bang for the buck.”  There is nothing wrong with investing where God is moving.  However, like all things in this discussion, knowing where to invest requires (a) balance and (b) education (which we will discuss in a later post).

I lived and worked in Kenya.  At one time there were more foreign missionaries per capita in Kenya than any other country in Africa.  The reason for so much missionary activity is clear…the people are receptive to the Gospel and the weather is wonderful.  Yet, even in Kenya there are pockets of people that have never had a missionary presence because they are resistant to the Gospel, mostly Muslims, and they live in harsh and even dangerous areas of the country.  On any given summer the country of Kenya is bombarded with short-term missions from America to work in the slums of Nairobi or in orphanages.  However, few, if any, are going to the unreached areas of country.  There are so many churches and denominations in some parts of Kenya that missions is now a competitive game; each group trying to out-do others in programs that will attract more foreign money.  Of course Kenya is not the only place this is happening, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Philippines and Mexico come to mind as well. 

On the other side of the missions ledger are the ministries in countries that are considered resistant, where there are not many gospel gains, not many converts.  Those who serve in these parts of the world labor among Muslims, Hindus and Buddhist.  In many ways these missionaries are working in hard soil, digging to plant a seed of Good News that may or may not be realized in their lifetime, if ever.  If a local church invests their money into these resistant areas of the world they may not feel they are maximizing the bang for the buck, but then again, it depends on how one defines the Great Commission task.

Most mission minded people know the stories of the pioneer missionaries of the William Carey or Adoniram Judson and Hudson Taylor.  Each one of these seed sowing missionaries did not see a convert to Christ for nearly a decade and, in Judson case, even after twenty years had but a handful of followers of Christ. 

In today’s world we seem to be less patient, as well as less strategic in our missions goals.  If your church determines to invest in those who serve in difficult places, they must be resolute to gauge their investment in terms of small gains in missions rather than great reports of the masses coming to Christ.

As stated earlier, the missions team should seek balance in making these decisions.  I do not believe it is wise to invest entirely in either harvest or seed sowing ministries.  If God is working in places such as Nepal, South Sudan, China, where the church populations is new, small but growing, these are places to truly assess for investment.  At the same time, where there is no harvest but opportunity, such as Senegal, Laos or Bangladesh, consider these ministries as well.

A good verse to guide in this discussion is 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 where Paul discusses the issue of harvest ministries, I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.  It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work.  For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building."