When I talk about community pastoral work with other believers, there’s one question I get more than any other. It’s not how to prepare, what books to read, or how to evaluate seminary choices. It’s not what to say to a new widow, or how to be at the bedside when someone is in their last hours. As they hear the stories of what God is doing — the alcoholic that got sober and is working toward a senior shotput championship, the single mom that needed new tires, the felon that designed my first business card, the young lady punishing her own sins by serving as as the sexual plaything of a malevolent man, the gay man who’s frustrated by his progressive friends’ unwillingness to actually do anything to improve the city, while the Christians are working their fingers to the bone — almost every single person has the same question: where do you find these people?
I never know what to say.
I know the literal answers: the severe weather shelter, a failing coffee shop, the cafe on the corner, a local massage therapy school, a church that’s focused on meeting the needs of the homeless population. But that’s not what they’re asking, is it?
They’re asking where I find this special class of people that are ready and waiting to be ministered to, as if there were some secret place to find them. And that’s absolutely the wrong question. It’s not where I’m looking; it’s how I’m looking. Lost people are everywhere; the harvest is heartbreakingly plentiful.
Jesus once taught this exact lesson. He was taking the Twelve through Samaritan country, and they had to stop to buy food. Jews have no dealings with Samaritans if they can help it; I’m sure it made a bit of a splash when an obviously diverse group of twelve Jewish men walked through town. How many people did they walk past to get to the market? Five? A dozen? Two dozen? How many merchants did they interact with to buy what they needed? How many people did they pass on their way back out to the well?
Of course, you know the story: while they’d been in town, Jesus accosted a lone woman who came out to the well to draw water in the heat of the day. She believed in Him, and when the disciples came out, she went back into the village to tell everyone about the Man she’d met by the well. As the inhabitants of the town began to come out toward the well, Jesus tells His disciples — with, it seems, some irony — that they should pray for God to sent laborers into the harvest, because the harvest is so plentiful.
Don’t miss this point: the harvest Jesus is talking about is the population of the town He’d just sent the disciples into.
Jesus had one shot at interacting with one person, and He got the whole town out to the well. The disciples walked past who knows how many people passing through town to market, interacted with the merchants, and walked back through town on their way out, and all they got was lunch. They were there, but not as harvesters. They weren’t on task.
Where did Jesus find all these people? They were there the whole time.
Better question: what did Jesus do differently? A little further into the story, He tells us: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.” (John 8:28)
The harvest is right in front of you. Listen. Listen to them. Listen to God. Say and do what He tells you. I promise you, the Lord of the Harvest knows how to send you as a harvester.