TOO OLD TO GO
Several years ago, while preaching at a church planting conference in Spokane, Washington, I had the opportunity to field some questions from the preachers who attended the conference. A question I heard for the first time that night but have heard many times since was, “Where do we get the pastors for these new churches?”
In Matthew chapter twenty we find the parable of the Lord’s teaching concerning the late coming laborers. The story Jesus tells is about the owner of a vineyard that was looking to hire laborers to work in his fields. He found some in the early morning and he found a few more at the mid-morning. After observing others standing idly in the market, the owner of the vineyard said unto them, “Go ye also into the vineyard.” The owner in our parable continued to hire into the sixth hour or noon, and then the ninth hour, and finally the eleventh hour, or we could say the very last hour of the workday. The point of the Lord’s parable was to cause His disciples to see the vineyard from the Master’s paradigm. From the Master’s perspective many were idle in the marketplace and many had been idle all day, but the Master was relentless in seeking laborers for His vineyard.
We have searched our congregations for yielded young people that are willing to give their entire lives to the service of the Lord. For many of us, our search for laborers for God’s vineyard ceases at the youth auditorium door. Yet, God is also looking at those whose day is almost over.
History records that one of the greatest Baptist church planting revival’s that ever took place in our nation was kindled because of the call of a 49-year-old preacher, Shubal Stearns, to the work of planting a church in Sandy Creek, North Carolina. Over the next 16 years Pastor Stearns and his church sent out men from their congregation that had been saved, baptized, and trained to plant 42 daughter churches. Over the next 50 years, it is said that over 1000 Baptist churches could trace their history back to Pastor Shubal Stearns and the Sandy Creek Baptist Church. Because of his willingness to surrender his will to the Lord, God used Shubal Stearns to see churches started in North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia. The men sent out from Sandy Creek Baptist Church were also the very first to bring the Gospel as well as see churches planted in the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas. I wonder if there were folks that believed at the age of 49, he was too old to do the work of church planting. Thank the Lord for a man almost in his 50s that did not see his age as a barrier to God’s call and commission to plant Sandy Creek Baptist Church. What we know today as the Bible belt can be traced back 250 plus years to the call on the life of a 49-year-old preacher to plant with 16 souls the Sandy Creek Baptist Church.
One of the glaring oversights in the average church today is the almost singular focus on young people as the exclusive source of laborers for the Lord’s harvest fields. What a blessing it is to have our teenagers challenged through Christian camp services, Christian school chapels, youth conferences, and Bible colleges to surrender their lives to the call of God for ministry! Are young people the only ones that God is calling today?
While I praise God for the scores of young people that respond to the call of God on their lives, I can’t help but wonder why we’re not seeing more men that are well out of their teen years surrender to God’s call. Many men who have already established themselves in life with a career and family are sadly overlooked as potential laborers and future pastors.
When you take a closer look in Scripture at the men God called into the ministry you very quickly come to the realization that many of the men God called were men already well beyond their teen years.
Abraham was 75 when he left Haran to answer God’s call to sojourn in the land of promise. Moses was 80 when he heard the call from the midst of the bush on the backside of the desert. Joshua was 80 when God called him to lead God’s people into the Promised Land. Noah was 500 when he began building the ark, while Caleb was 85 when he declared, “I want that mountain.”
Luke was called from the life of a physician to the life of church planting companion to the Apostle Paul. Of all the co-laborers we find surrounding the Apostle Paul on his church planting journeys not one of them, beside Timothy, is referred to as a youth. God calls folks from every age and season of life, and no age is beyond the reach of God’s call to service. Why are we not seeing our 20, 30, 40, and even 50-year-old couples surrendering to enter the harvest field of the Lord of the harvest?
I’m convinced that we are not seeing this untapped pool of laborers finding their way into the harvest fields of our world because we have a faulty view of who God calls. Would to God that every pastor and church would ask themselves these important questions:
1. Do we have a myopic focus on the youth of our churches to the exclusion of others who God may be calling to His service?
2. Do we have a fear of losing our choice co-laborers if this biblical model is encouraged from our pulpits?
3. Do we have the fear of losing our much-needed resources that could be used in our own Jerusalem ministries if we encourage and send forth our own established families?
4. Do we overlook older ministry prospects because our own paradigm is that God called us while we were still in our youth?
What does the Word of God instruct us to do concerning the issue of more laborers?
We must continue to look. John 4:35 says “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.”
We are to pray. “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:38
We are to yield. “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” Isaiah 6:8
“As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.” John 17:18
Since God commands us to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send laborers, should we not expect that God might choose some of those laborers from our very own congregations to go to the regions beyond? Maybe one of the reasons we are not asking God for more laborers in His harvest field is because we are afraid that God might call some of our best members.
The Lord is still sending laborers into His harvest. I believe with all my heart that the Lord is sending more laborers then are yielding to His call on their lives. May we never allow our own personal paradigm and prejudices to keep us from being the instrument God wants to use to challenge the thousands of believers from every season of life to yield to the call of the Lord of the harvest!
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PASTOR MARK IRMLER
Pastor of Crown Point Baptist Church in Simi Valley, CA