There was a women who was 8 1/2 months pregnant. She was at her last prenatal appointment. This was her first baby and like many women are worried about, or at lest "concerned" about the pain of labor. She asked the Doctor, who was a mother her self, "So whats the pain going to be like?" the Doctor said, "Well, it's hard to tell, it's different for every women." That answer was not sufficient for the young lady so she persisted, "Oh please Doctor, just give me some idea of what it will be like." So the the Doctor told the young lady to grab her bottom lip and to pull it out. She said, "Like this?", the doctor said, "A little further." The young mother to be said, "Like this?" The doctor said, "A bit more." So the women pulled on her lip until it was almost to painful to bare. The doctor said, "Thats good." The women said, "well it hurts, but its no that bad." The Doctor then said, "Now take your lip and stretch it over your head and thats what labor feels like." We are not talking about labor this week, but we are going to talk about laborers. Those who work and toil and through their sweat, blood and tears, make a living. Instead of talking about manual laborers or day laborers we are talking about God's laborers. God needs workers, in fact God has a great big help wanted sign posted on the gates of the kingdom. God needs laborers to bring in the harvest and it's not easy work.
One of the most fascinating things about Mormon's and Jehovah's Witnesses is their willingness to work. In fact working to serve the Kingdom Hall or the Ward, as their buildings are called, is part of belonging. Everyone has to work and serve, everyone is a Laboer. Both these "denominations" require their members to actively share their faith and they are sent out 2x2. Who hasn't had a Witness or a Mormon on their porch, door step or in their living room at some point in their lives. These "laborers"are committed and disciplined and they win converts all the time. Going door to door is just to vulgar or simple for us mainline protestants, we have more refined ways of sharing our faith, right? When Amanda and I lived in Dallas while in college there was a team of Mormon missionaries who lived in our apartment building. They were young, like us, and very nice and friendly. We would often have them over for dinner to talk, not just about faith, but life. They appreciated that and we appreciated them and their devotion to their faith. They lived together, all four of them, teams of two, committed to the evangelism of the world. They wanted to go to college, get married and have a family, but first things were first, they had to complete their two year mission in service of their church. When I asked them why they were so committed to their mission they said, "It is a command of Christ." That was good enough for me! While living here in Onaway we have been frequented by two ladies who represent Jehovah's Witness. Even though I've told them plenty of times that I'm a Pastor, they still come and they still evangelize and they will until I tell them to never come back or I convert...which neither will ever happen. As annoyed with both of their zeal (the Mormons and the Witnesses) as I am, I'm also very impressed. We Methodist just don't do that, we don't want to seem brash or pushy. We don't want to offend or alienate, but if we really believe that we posse the way to heaven, than maybe we should be pushy, after all the alternative to heaven...well, it's hell.
In our passage this week Jesus appoints 70 or maybe 72 missionaries, there's some confusion within some of the oldest manuscripts, but the exact numbers isn't really that important. Jesus sends these missionaries out 2x2 as what he refers to as, "Lambs amongst the wolves." Sounds like a very dangerous proposition. Jesus instructs them to take the mission into the cities, towns and villages and to bless those who receive them (meaning share the good news) and to simply leave those who don't (meaning...don't argue). He says, "don't take to much stuff, but only what you need" and that they are representing him and God almighty. Then Jesus goes on to pronounce judgment on the cities of Galilee, towns like Bethesda and Capernium were being placed on notice that they were going to have judgment worse than the gentile cities of to Tyre and Sodom. Not because they rejected Christ, they were more than happy to have him there doing al kinds of great signs and Caperieum became one of Jesus' base cities, but because they refused to repent. They were inthralled with the miracles and signs, but that was it, they didn't repent and it was for repentance that Jesus came to minister. His point was if Sodom had seen these signs, it would have repented, but Capernium still hasn't. Finally the 70 or 72 return and they are thrilled with all the things they have done in Jesus name. Jesus quickly tells them not to be to excited about what they have done, but to be excited that they are saved.
So why does Jesus send out these 70 or 72 as it were? Was it to give them a morale boost? Was it so he could take a break, go on vacation or something like that? No, Jesus sent the 72 out because there was a need, a great need for the gospel to be preached and the the kingdom to be established and no one person can do that on their own...not even Jesus. The need is still that great and maybe it's even greater. What Jesus has to offer, what the church has to proclaim is still what the world needs. The Harvest is still plentiful and the laborers are still few, God still has a big ole "Help Wanted" sign hanging on the gates of the kingdom. Southern Baptist Pastor Jeremy Hanek, who is under 35 says that, "The church is for others, it's for the homeless man on the street, it's for the single mom who can barley make ends meet, it's for the addict who has lost everything to his addiction and it's for the lonely house wife who finds comfort in another man's arms. The church is for the lost, not for the found." My ecclesiology (beliefs about church) are a little different than his, but I agree with him on most of that. I believe the church is for believers, but a major purpose for our existence is to serve and witness to the broken world we live in. It's important for us to reach out to the world and bear witness to the work, love and mission of Jesus Christ.
In America the least "reached"group is young people, ages 18-35. Only about 8% of that age group, in any community, large or small, regularly attends church. One church that has successfully reached out to young adults, especially young men (only about 2% of men 18-35 go to church) is Mars Hill in Seattle, Washington. This church is pastored by the controversial, but effective Mark Driscoll. In 2002 Mark and three of his friends set out to start a church lead by young people for young people. 80% of the people who attend Mars Hill are between 18-35 and 53% of them are men. They do this by providing an atmosphere that young adults like. There is Facebook, Twitter and WiFi in worship and music that is fun and enegetic. How many of you have ever heard of Celebrate Recovery (CR)? CR has become a network of small groups that meet somewhat regularly, but when they meet the majority of the attendees are recovering addicts ages 18-35. Image a place were 400 18-35 years olds have gathered to worship God and to hear His word. Impressive right? The Harvest is still plentiful...if you know where to look.
Lets look at our town. Lets see what the harvest looks like here in Onaway. According to the 2010 Census there are 880 people, 394 house holds and 214 families. 24% of these households have children under 18. Approximately 30% of the the total population is children under 18. 10% is between 18-24, 29% is between 25-44 and the rest is over 45. 46% are males while 54% are females. We have done well reaching and retaining the 30% or so that is over 45, but we have failed to really reach and retain the other 70%. We need to rethink what we are doing as a church and how we reach out to young families and people. The median age of Onaway Assembly of God is 45 the median age of Onaway UMC is 72. Young people and young families are out there, the harvest is still plentiful, we just need to retool so that we can effectively reach them.
When it's all said and done though, no one has the right formula for reaching young people in every community. The results of places like Mars Hill, Resurrection Church and Celebrate Recovery is not replicatable every where. When I googled blogs on church growth I got a half million hits. When I googled books and reaching young families I got over 20,000 hits. Everyone has an answer, but no one really knows the right answer that will work everywhere. We do know that young people are not looking for a religion, but are put off by religion and institutions. We know they (18-35 year olds) want religious dialog not religious dogma, and we know that it's got to be grounded in relationships, which should not be hard for us Christians right? After all we always say, "its not a religion, it's a relationship."
It can be hard to share your faith, it can even be down right scary, but it's one of the main things we need to get use to doing if we are going to grow. Theres a story about a man who was always saying that he will share his faith when he gets the appropriate "go ahead" sign from God. One day while taking a commuter train to work, a big gruff and burly man sat down next to him. Now there were plenty of open seats, the train car was mostly empty, but this man sat down next to our fella looking for a sign. The burly man began to cry and then sob. Then after a few minutes he began to say that his life was in shambles, that he needed God to save him and then he turned to our fella looking for a sign and said, "won't you tell me how to be saved?" Then the man looking for a sign bowed his head and prayed, "Lord, is this a sign?" That us most the time. The opportunity to share our faith is right in front of us and we simply waste it! Statistically 80% of people who joined a new faith community recently, joined because they were invited to come and visit. Garrison Keillor, the host of NPR's Prairie Home Companion, grew up in a very strict sect of the Plymouth Brethern. Once he got old enough he stopped going to church because he hated it. He swore to never attend church again. One day a friend of his invited him to his Lutheran Church (ELCA). Not wanting to offend his buddy Keillor said yes. After attending off and on for a year he decided to join. All because a friend invited him.
You see, the harvest is still great and unfortunately the workers are still to few. God is still looking for hard working laborers. The pay might not be the best and maybe the benefits aren't always up to par, but you can't be the retirement plan ;). Will you answer God's help wanted sign and "Go and make Disciples?"
Grace and Peace,