The topic of a perceived shortage of rectors has generated some interest, but should we be satisfied if we had enough?
Let’s just say we had enough rectors to lead all our churches, and enough waiting in the wings to replace those retiring. Does that mean we should stop recruiting and encouraging people to consider vocational ministry?
In other words, when should recruiting be a priority? Do we recruit to fill gaps or for some other reason?
Most of us would agree that recruiting to fill gaps is ultimately short-sighted and to do so is to adopt too narrow a world view – that the goal of our churches is to have enough people to lead them, rather than having enough people to be equipped and encouraged to bring the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth.
I led one of the larger parishes in our Diocese. On most Sundays, there were more than 1000 people. But given there were 40,000 people who lived within the parish and many, many more within a 10-minute drive, while you could think we were doing well, there was so much more that needed to be done. Even with the assistance of other churches, we were barely scratching the surface when it came to people having an opportunity to know the Lord Jesus.
In other words, the perspective we need to have – whether our parish is large or small – is that “we need to be looking beyond our barns to see the fields around us”. We need to be looking beyond the four walls of our churches, and the people already attending, to see the needs of those around us who haven’t met Jesus.
We all need to be like Jesus when it comes to those around us. In Matthew 9:36, when Jesus sees the crowds that are following him, he is deeply moved and has compassion on them, because he saw that they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”. Harassed and helpless because they had yet to trust Jesus, whom God had sent to be their shepherd.
He then turns to his disciples in the following verses and says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field”.
Jesus sees the need: people need to know him. Jesus sees the problem: the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Then he offers the solution: ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field. Ask the Lord of the harvest to raise up more workers.
There is no sense of seeking to fill gaps, or vocational ministry being some sort of profession or career. Nor is what Jesus is saying here restricted to those in vocational ministry. All of us are being called to be workers for the harvest because the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few.
This means as we view those around us with heartfelt compassion – as those who need Jesus as the shepherd of their lives (and all of us are encouraged to be workers for the harvest) – some will be encouraged to consider vocational ministry, because of the gifts and opportunities they have.
If our hearts are open to the needs of those around us then recruiting will be happening all of the time, because we want as many people as possible bringing the life-giving message of Jesus to the people around us, both near and far, so many would be saved to the glory of Jesus.
How we approach recruiting is another discussion, although there are two things I’d like to say that I think are foundational:
1. that the motivation for recruiting flows out of sharing in the compassion of Jesus, and
2. that the local church is primarily responsible for raising and recruiting workers for the harvest.
This is not to say that other ministries such as Youthworks, university ministries or the Ministry Training Strategy don’t have a role. At the recent MTS Recruit conference, we had more than 300 people from 51 of our parishes thinking about how they could be serving Jesus.
Having said that, the very heartbeat of recruiting lies with the local church, as the gospel is proclaimed, people pray for one another, people are discipled and equipped and share in ministry together.
Recruiting isn’t something that other people do. It’s a vital task for all of us to be engaged with, even if we have enough rectors. Because the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Let’s ask the Lord of the harvest to raise up more workers.
The Rt Rev Gary Koo is Bishop of the Western Region.