“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 leaders 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 burnt out.
David recounted about 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 it was more than he could handle. He cleary 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. We spent some time talking about the sermon every Sunday. When I ask Rob why he just watches the sermons at home he tells me that he has a hard time trusting Christians. He tells me that he is aware of how the guys from our small group don’t invite him to anything. It’s true, the guys from the group feel awkward around Rob and they always have an excuse when I ask them to come with me to visit him.”
David looked down and he said “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 I had set him up poorly as a leader and I needed to rectify this. What this kid needed was a Barnabas to go with him to minister to this guys group.
“I know that I’m not alone, I have lots of friends, but being a leader is really lonely.”
Had I set up my college ministry the way Jesus set up his ministry this kid might not be experiencing this lonely burnout. Jesus has two key ideas which help us have victory in ministry situations.
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 David could implement to help his small group thrive. David listened intently and his heavy spirit started to lift. Our team of leaders started to play a crucial role in David’s life. They started 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 work or in a neighborhood Jesus never intended for us to address the difficulties of ministry alone. We’ve covered this before in articles like Two by Two and What Makes a Church Strong. 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 a team of encouragers. He needed people to walk with him and love him well. Jesus tells us that this is our new commandment. We need to prioritize obedience to the scripture and love of each other over growth within ministry. John argues 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.” Somehow worldly people are able to perceive our identity as God’s disciples from 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!
I could see David needed more than just a team of encouragers. David needed someone to get in the trenches with him. David needed the Church to travel with him to help him where he was at. David needed the second key idea in Christ’s ministry model. He needed a brother to display Christian love within his ministry.
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 boys. He was reaping the 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 apostles sent Paul to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles they partnered him with Barnabas. 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 emphatic 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.
The world needs to see God’s love displayed for the sake of their salvation. Each of our ministries needs to see God’s love displayed before them. When we share this culture of love it becomes contagious and captivating for the outside world. This was Christ’s intention when he sent his disciples two by two into peoples homes. Since God’s love was displayed when his disciples loved each other, he sent them to dwell in people's homes, rather than telling the people to go to Church 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 with our friend groups.
David needed this sort of friend 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 others ministries.
This can be a difficult to implement. Jesus’s way requires solid Christian friendships. It requires Christians ready to labor in other people's ministries. All that can be difficult to come by. This is why Jesus told us to pray to 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. That point changed the way we did ministry.
Lets pray together: Jesus I want to obey your command to love my fellow Christian. Show me opportunities to invest in other people’s ministries. Show me opportunities to display your love before others. I ask you, Lord of the Harvest, to send more workers into the field. I know you see the lack of workers within the harvest and I bring my desperation, my bitterness, my exhaustion before you Jesus. I know if I ask you you will be faithful to send help. I rely on you as my hope Jesus…. (Continue praying as you feel led)