“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Ps. 126:5-6)
The above psalm was written during a period of hindsight, after the Jews had survived a seventy-year Babylonian captivity and saw the Lord fulfill his promise to return a remnant to Jerusalem. It all made sense for them now. Like the farmer, who plants by the sweat of his brow but in the right season receives a joyful harvest, Israel had returned from a long captivity. They were like sheaves being brought in from the field. Farming is very stressful and toilsome, but it pays off if there is a harvest. A farmer’s joy and success is bringing in sheaves for the harvest.
The church has been called to a great harvest. Jesus told 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” (Matt. 9:37-38). God has given the church a mandate to bring in the sheaves and not allow them to rot in the fallow ground. As Christians, growth should be our main concern.
Of course, God does not desire growth on any terms. His holiness demands that his people come to him in righteousness. The gospel does not leave people where they are; it transforms them to become like Jesus (Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 3:18).
But we must remember that the main task before the church is not to keep people out or drive them away. It is to bring the lost into a transforming encounter with Jesus so they can be added to his body. Outsiders should not be met with fear and suspicion, but with love and truth. Jesus met with all sorts of people – tax collectors, lepers, the demon possessed, and prostitutes. He did not leave them where they were. In every case, he called them to follow him, and amazingly, many times they did!
Churches need to take a look at their growth strategies, assuming that they have them. They should ask, “Are we welcoming our guests? Are we a place where people with questions find answers? Do we minister to all needs, or just those we are comfortable with? Is our building a welcoming environment? Do our visitors return after their first visit? Are we friendly and inviting? Do we want to grow? Are we interested in bringing in the sheaves?”
The last thing Christ told his disciples to do before he ascended into heaven was, “Go, and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). The Lord will not be pleased with churches in decline who are not interested in bringing new people in. Remember, the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.