Pray for workers
*This article first appeared in the 2011 edition of the Ќηρυξαtε magazine
“Tell me why you started studying to become a pastor.”
I ask this question of each first-year seminary student in a one-on-one interview. The answers always fill me with a sense of awe and joy as I think of how our gracious God works in our lives. Some—a rare few—have been convinced from earliest childhood that they’d like to be pastors. They recall playing church as four year olds and preaching to their toys. For most, the thought first entered their minds as a gentle nudge from a grandparent or parent, or a word from a pastor or a teacher in one of our Lutheran schools, “You know, son, I see gifts in you that the Lord could really use!”
As they recount their individual paths to ministry, it always impresses me to hear how varied and different they are. Some—again, a rare few—have never wavered in their conviction. This is what they want; this is what they’ve always wanted. For most, the trajectory to becoming a pastor looks a lot more like a roller coaster than a straight line. An early desire ebbed, then was rekindled by a recruiter from Martin Luther College, or by a weekend spent with a local pastor who wanted to give a taste of ministry, or by a mission trip to Antigua, Ukraine, or the Dominican Republic. For some it was the environment of a prep school. Over and over again they speak of how steady encouragement from friends, relatives, parents, pastors, and professors kept them on track when they were tempted to give it all up.
The fact should be obvious, but it still is worth stating: very few high school freshmen know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. The same could be said of most high school seniors when contemplating their college choices. Yet the decisions they make now affect what the ministry of the church will look like eight and twelve years from now. If recruitment becomes just a fad among us—something we do only when we suddenly notice that there are far too many pastoral vacancies in our churches—then it is bound to falter and fail in its purpose.
Recruitment, as I’ve learned from these interviews, is a matter of Christ’s steady love, expressing itself over many years and in all our lives as we walk together. It is love shown by many on behalf of relatively few, but what a huge difference it makes! Because of it, the lost are found, the troubled are comforted, those oppressed by guilt are set free, and those sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death rise to a new and eternal life.
That’s why Jesus, with the same great compassion that led him to the cross, points us to those masses who still wander without a shepherd to guide them. He wasn’t just speaking of his own times when he said, “The harvest is plentiful.” The Church will always be a little flock in comparison to rest of humankind. So with all the urgency of his love for a world of lost sinners, he says, “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.”