I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
John 4: 35, NIV
Can you see the harvest? Lives without Christ are fertile ground for seeds of the gospel. But like a farmer, our vision and motivation go beyond the planting. Can you envision the coming harvest before the field has even begun to sprout, while the seeds are deep in the ground? Joining God to harvest our world takes faith to see the unseen, then hard work to cultivate the crop. In God’s harvest, he is the farmer directing the process, and we are his field hands. Joining his mission means we must roll up our sleeves and get our hands in the earth.
In the first church I served, we spent major amounts of time and effort joining forces with other local churches to present large productions. Our intent was to attract non-believers in our town to experience the gospel. In my next church, I started a community chorus for that same purpose. These were valuable worship experiences and enriched the spiritual and artistic lives of the participants. But they did little to move us out of the church and into our community. From there I went to a church that produced a large living Christmas tree presentation annually. In my last stop in local church ministry, I produced and directed a Christmas pageant aimed at evangelizing our community and region. Twenty-eight years of ministry were invested in those four churches with many long hours spent on productions.
For decades, music ministries have put tremendous effort into living Christmas trees, passion plays, patriotic programs, and other multimedia extravaganzas. As worship experiences, these productions can be valuable to express our love for God, proclaim the gospel, and inspire us to be disciples on mission. But they must not be our only strategy for outreach. Our primary strategy must be to mobilize Christians, sending them into their circles of influence with the gospel. I’m not saying that celebrative worship events have no place in a church’s outreach strategy. I am saying that they must not be our only strategy or even our primary strategy. If we really want to give a gift to our community, we must go where they are, ask them what they need, then proceed to meet those needs. Then when we present a worship celebration, we can include stories of lives changed through our missions work.
This missional intent was fulfilled in the last of the four churches I served – First Baptist North Augusta. In that church my ministry became refocused on mission to my community. Three mission opportunities had great impact on my life and ministry there. First, our youth minister, Mark Owens, and I partnered to take our youth group on mission to our town and region. Budget cuts forced us to develop local mission projects after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.
First, we would target a community. Each day there, our youth minister coordinated home renovation crews and I coordinated mission Vacation Bible Schools in a park, apartment complex, or mobile home community. Each evening we teamed up to lead our youth music groups to do outreach concerts in the target community. The relationships built during a week of intensive service in one location were transformational, both for our participants and those we were serving. We presented these mission projects several times annually in our own community and local resort areas. Eventually this mission-music partnership grew to regularly involve 50 to 100 youth in home renovations, sport camps, beach ministry, mission Vacation Bible School, and mission block parties. I was hooked. The growing maturity we saw in our youth was reflected in both their commitment to discipleship and their depth of worship. Their lives were going full circle.
Second, I became active in the fledgling arts council of our town, serving as president for two years. Third, during my last five years, I served as musical director for an award-winning community theatre – the August Players – giving six weeks or so annually to recruit, audition, train and direct their annual Broadway musical show cast. The relationships developed in the arts council and community theatre gave me a wonderful context for personal mission.
I cannot adequately express the fulfillment these mission experiences brought to my life and ministry. Just as we had seen in our youth group, mission involvement ignited my commitment to deeper personal discipleship and worship. Going full circle, the cycle of worship-discipleship-mission dawned in my own life. The ministry opportunities through my community involvement outside the church were abundant. I was able to build friendships and working relationships with countless friends in all stages of spiritual need and spiritual development. I was able to point many friends to the power and grace of Jesus Christ. My vision for the harvest was enlarged. Yet, I could have done even more had I been more intentional in those opportunities.
It is a difficult journey of learning and faith to let God transform our thinking into the missional mindset. But there is joy and excitement when God shows you a new life as a missionary in your own community more closely aligned with his Word. And joy is multiplied when you are able to bring along others to join you in the fields of harvest. Try it… you’ll like it! — Mark Powers