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A Spiritual Labor Shortage

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There has been a lot of talk recently about a current labor shortage, as many businesses find themselves short-staffed and unable to find or keep employees. I’ll defer to those with more expertise in the economic field to offer explanations why this is happening and what can be done to solve it. Instead, I want to discuss a related spiritual phenomenon that existed for a long time and whose solution is one that I think we can all grasp and work towards.This spiritual labor shortage is one that was pointed out by Jesus and continues to this day – not enough laborers to minister to the needs found within our world. We find Jesus discussing this in Matthew 9:36-38:

When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”

The Shortage Then – and Now
In this passage we see Jesus looking at the world in which he was ministering and seeing much spiritual need; people were like sheep that find themselves wandering aimlessly and into dangerous situations when there is no shepherd to guide and care for them. Notice that Jesus is not angry with the crowds and does not complain about them – which he could have since their condition arose due to their rejection of God as their shepherd. Instead, Jesus has compassion upon them, yearning for them to be led back to the way. That compassion is what prompts his words about a plentiful harvest but few laborers. Just as great demand but limited supply leads to things being on backorder, so, too, fewer laborers in the fields of spiritual harvest means less people coming under the care and guidance of the shepherd. But whereas a delayed delivery or a long wait at a restaurant leads to temporal frustration and inconvenience, the lack of workers to help those who need to know and be led by the shepherd Jesus, has eternal consequences and causes significant loss in the present age.

I don’t think the “market conditions” Jesus noted have changed much in the past 2,000 years. Great crowds of people continue to walk around like sheep without a shepherd. Rather than being discouraged by that reality, we should see it as an indication that the “harvest is plentiful” in that many people are longing for guidance and help in this world – especially in these confusing times. There also continues to be a labor shortage when it comes to people seeking to lead these people back to the shepherd. There are all sorts of things to distract us from looking to God and living out His calling upon us in this world – including things that we might not be able to have in a timely fashion right now. While not discussed as much as the labor shortage in the country, there is also a volunteer shortage seen in churches since the pandemic. Churches have always had trouble finding people to serve, but like so many other things, it seems to have been accelerated by the pandemic. Many faithful people are pulling back from serving out of health challenges and many others falling out of the habit of serving or having an easy reason to opt out. But it is not just through working or volunteering at a church or a ministry that we participate in this harvest of helping people to meet the shepherd. There are multiple opportunities in our daily interactions in which we can point to Jesus and show others how his care and guidance is what we need . . how he is the Good Shepherd. The divisions of our world can push us away from these conversations, causing us to discuss only topics that are safe and comfortable for us and our families.

The Solution Then – And Now
Jesus does not just identify the problem, he also offers the solution to this shortage – pray. Pray for more workers to be raised up, that more people would go out to the sheep who are in need of a shepherd. It is easy for us to forget the power of prayer for these sorts of challenges: we either move to various “practical” challenges that we think will mobilize people into the fields of harvest, or we do it without really believing that it makes a difference. Are we earnestly praying for God to send out more people into the harvest? For a long time, I thought this just meant more missionaries and pastors – that more people would be called to vocational ministry. Maybe it would also apply to getting more people to volunteer in children’s ministry or student ministries as well.  However, our recent sermon series titled “ReFrame” was a great reminder that God calls every Christian as an ambassador for Christ to serve Him in their homes, work, schools, communities, and wherever else they find themselves (you can find some awesome stories of people doing that here). In fact, we often see in the Book of Acts that it is not the apostles or leaders of the church that God used to help bring new people to meet and follow Jesus as their shepherd, but unnamed and unknown people (see Acts 8:4; 11:20). We should regularly pray for the things that make us sad, scared, and worried in this life, but we should also be praying for God to burden the hearts of those who view themselves as ambassadors for Christ to reach out to the world. When we pray this way, not only do we see God working in others, but also within ourselves. I love that right after Jesus tells the disciples to pray, he sends them out (see Matthew 10:1-42). When we pray for something, we need to be willing to be the answer to our own prayers as well.

See the Problem . . . and Be the Solution
May we recognize that there is a spiritual labor shortage and pray accordingly. As we do so, we need to open ourselves up to be used by God where we currently are or to new places God might call us to help reach sheep who are in need of a shepherd. The harvest is plentiful, the workers are few . . . but do they include you?

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