“The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields. Now go, and remember that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves. Don’t take any money with you, nor a traveler’s bag, nor an extra pair of sandals. And don’t stop to greet anyone on the road. Whenever you enter someone’s home, first say, ‘May God’s peace be on this house.’ If those who live there are peaceful, the blessing will stand; if they are not, the blessing will return to you. Don’t move around from home to home. Stay in one place, eating and drinking what they provide. Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve their pay. If you enter a town and it welcomes you, eat whatever is set before you. Heal the sick, and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near you now.’” Luke 10:3-10 ESV
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34,35 ESV
We started out the leadership meeting by going through our “highs and lows.” Everyone around the table shared the highest and lowest moments since our previous meeting a month earlier. One of my student leaders, we’ll call him David, became flustered when I asked him how his month was. I could tell immediately that he was bitter and burned out.
David recounted how one of the guys from his small group had begun doubting his beliefs about God’s love. Another had begun to isolate himself after his girlfriend broke up with him. Two other guys were not taking the Bible study seriously and were a constant distraction. David had about 14 guys in his group and it became obvious that it was more than he could handle. Just as obvious, though, was that he really loved these guys and felt a pastoral burden for them.
David looked at me and said, “I go to visit one of the guys (we’ll call him Rob) every Sunday after church. Ever since Rob’s girlfriend broke up with him, he started smoking and stopped coming to church. So every Sunday we spend some time talking about the sermon. When I asked Rob why he just watches the sermons at home, he told me that he has a hard time trusting Christians. He went on to say that he notices how the guys from our small group don’t invite him to anything. And unfortunately, it’s true. The guys from the group do feel awkward around Rob and they always have an excuse when I ask them to come with me to visit him.”
There was an awkward silence and then David looked down and said, “I know that I’m not alone. I have lots of friends, but being a leader is really lonely.”
“I know that I’m not alone, I have lots of friends, but being a leader is really lonely.”
. My heart broke for him. I realized that I had set him up poorly as a leader and I needed to rectify this. What David needed was a partner, a Barnabas, to go with him to minister to the group. Looking back, I realize that if I had set up my college ministry the way Jesus set up his ministry, this young man might not have experienced that lonely burnout. Jesus taught us two key ideas which help give us success in ministry situations: 1) You are going to need help. 2) You need help that moves with you.
1. You are going to need help. After a moment of silence processing what he had unloaded on the group, I told him, “You are doing a good job, David.” The other leaders at the table also began encouraging him. It was a visible display of the phrase "iron sharpens iron." We began talking about strategies that David could implement to help his small group thrive. David listened intently as his heavy spirit started to lift and our team of leaders began to play a crucial role in his life by encouraging and collaborating with him.
Ministry is hard. Anyone who has been in ministry for two minutes knows this is true. Whether your ministry is in a small group, at your workplace, or in a neighborhood, Jesus never intended for us to address the difficulties of ministry alone. He sent out his disciples two by two -- read Two by Two and What Makes a Church Strongif you haven't yet. It’s not just pastors who need partners in ministry. Burnout happens at every level within church hierarchies. Whether you are a student leader or a pastor over several church campuses, you need solid Christians by your side.
This strategic collaborating and encouragement shouldn’t just be for the sake of growing a ministry. David needed more than just people who encouraged him. He needed people to walk with him and love him as well. We need to prioritize loving one another and obeying Scripture over growth in the ministry. Remember, Jesus taught that this is our new commandment and the Apostle John tells us that if we pursue loving each other we will find the power of God.
Jesus says in the Gospel of John “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” In other words, even worldly people should be able to perceive our identity as disciples of Jesus by our love for each other.
John goes on to explain how this works in his first epistle. “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” The reason people can see our connection to God is because God’s Spirit dwells where there is love. God lives in us and and is present among us when Christians love each other. Our connection is also made evident since our love is a fulfillment of His love. Scripture shows us that when we love our brothers in ministry, our connection to God is made evident. God dwells with us and our love is a fulfillment of His love!
So then, I could see David needed more than just a team of encouragers. He needed someone to get in the trenches with him. He needed a brother in Christ to go with him to help him in whatever life situation he encountered. David needed the second key idea in Christ’s ministry model. He needed a brother to walk with Him and display Christian love as they ministered together.
2. You need help that moves with you. Jesus told us “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.” Clearly David was doing several things right. There were fourteen young men in his college guys small group, so it was obvious he had an ability to rally young men together. David was filled with the Spirit. This became clear to me when I saw him teaching the Scripture to his guys. He was reaping a great harvest with his small group. Even with all this talent and anointing, however, David was at his limits.
David needed to find a Barnabas. When the Holy Spirit set aside Paul to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, He partnered him with Barnabas (Acts 13:2). A Barnabas is someone who matches your spiritual maturity and is active inside the areas of your ministry. Wherever Paul went, so did Barnabas. Later on in Paul’s life, he called for helpers like Mark and Timothy to come to his aid in sharing the Gospel. Paul also spoke of his love for his co-laborers in the book of Philippians. Even someone as powerful and effective as Paul the Apostle desired help in his ministry and the love found in Gospel partnership.
People in the world, then, need to see God’s love displayed -- their salvation depends upon it. People in our churches and ministries need to see God’s love displayed as well. When we share this culture of love it becomes contagious and captivating. This was Christ’s intention when he sent his disciples two by two into people's homes. Since God’s love was displayed when his disciples loved each other, he sent them to dwell in people's homes rather than gathering people for a church service to see his love displayed. Christ wanted to display this love within the places where people lived. Christ wants to display this love in our neighborhoods, workplaces, family gatherings, and friendship groups.
David needed this sort of friend and partner in his ministry. He needed a Barnabas to go with him to see Rob on Sundays. I began to explain to my leadership team that we are not made to bear our ministries alone. As Christians we are responsible to help with the work of each other's ministries.
This can be a difficult to implement. Jesus’ way requires solid Christian friendships. It requires Christians who are ready to labor in other people's ministries. All of that can be difficult to come by. That is why Jesus told us to pray for more workers to labor in the harvest. If we pray, the Lord can miraculously bring helpers into our ministries.
One of my older student leaders understood what this meant. He put his arm around David and told him, “I’m free on Sundays, how about I visit Rob with you? I think I probably could help with your small group too.” Tears filled David’s eyes. He told me later that moment was like a river of life in a dry desert. The Lord’s love for David was being displayed through his “Barnabas.” Everyone on my leadership team clearly saw this love being displayed. And it changed the way we did ministry.
Lets pray together: Jesus, I want to obey Your command to love my fellow Christians. Show me opportunities to invest in other people’s ministries. Give me opportunities to display your love before others. I ask You, Lord of the Harvest, to send more workers into the field. I know that You see the lack of workers within the harvest and I bring my desperation, my bitterness, my exhaustion before you Jesus. I know that if I ask, You will be faithful to send help. I rely on you as my hope Jesus…. (Continue praying as you feel led)