By Dr. Stan Norman
President, Williams Baptist University
Jesus continued going around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.
— Matthew 9:35-38
Whenever we read these words from the Lord Jesus regarding “workers for the harvest,” we typically think of clergy – pastors, worship leaders, evangelists, missionaries, etc. For those of us heavily involved in church life, this often is our default – to think of “harvest workers” as those called by God for vocational, ecclesial-focused ministry. And in many ways, this is a correct assumption to make – those who serve in vocational ministry ought to be called by God to serve as workers for the Lord’s harvest.
As noted, this belief is right – just not completely right. I also believe that “harvest workers” can include, and I would contend must include, farmers, bankers, doctors, construction workers, stay-at-home mothers, app developers, engineers, attorneys, graphic artists, CPAs, factory workers, auto mechanics, musicians, nurses, coaches, and so on. The Lord’s admonition is that the “abundant harvest” requires the preparation of men and women to serve in all venues of our world with a biblically-grounded, Christ-centered worldview, equipped for gospel ministry in the particular harvest where God has sent them.
In his book, Every Good Endeavor, retired pastor Dr. Timothy Keller observes that the people God most often uses to affect transformation in the marketplace are not necessarily vocational ministers, but faithful followers of Jesus who work in these diverse contexts. Keller underscores this point in his summary of a sermon preached on the life and influence of the Old Testament patriarch Joseph by English Anglican minister Dick Lucas. In this sermon, Lucas noted if you were to go to a book table at a church and see a biography with the title The Man God Uses or The Woman God Uses, you would immediately think it was the story of a missionary, teacher, church leader, or specialist in some sort of spiritual work. Lucas points out, however, that what you have in the story of Joseph is the account of a highly successful secular official. He says, “In the long term, I think being a preacher, missionary, or leading a Bible study group in many ways is easier. There is a certain spiritual glamour in doing it. . . . It is often hard to get Christians to see that God is willing not just to use men and women in ministry, but in law, in medicine, in business, in the arts. This is the great shortfall today.”
On so many levels, both Lucas and Keller are right. Those of us in vocational ministry often either forget or ignore the truth that many of those that God has used mightily throughout human history are men and women whose ministries were expressed in the broader domains of our culture: education, politics, business, healthcare, entertainment/media/sports, etc. These areas are harvests, ripe and ready for called and prepared workers to serve our Lord in gospel ministry.
The Bible is filled with examples of “marketplace ministers,” workers involved in the work of “marketplace fields,” places ripe for harvest. Already mentioned was Joseph, whose vocation was essentially a political leader, second in command only to the Pharaoh of Egypt. Joseph’s primary duties included leadership and supervision of economic development initiatives. Abraham’s work was raising and selling livestock. David’s jobs included being a shepherd, a soldier/military leader, and eventually, king over the nation of Israel. The Bible gives honor and recognition to craftsmen, notably Bezalel, who used his gifts in the construction of the temple. Other examples include Nehemiah (city administrator and planner); Daniel (political official in the Babylonian court); Esther (queen of a nation and political leader); Amos (prophet, rancher, orchardist); Luke (physician); Simon Peter (commercial fisherman); and Lydia (manufacturer of textiles). Many other examples could be cited, but we clearly see the value the Bible places upon men and women serving the Lord in various vocations.
Not only does Scripture highlight the importance of understanding our places of work as our place of ministry, but it also gives honor and value to the types of work we do. The Bible stresses the importance of the work of the mind as well as the work of the hand. In particular, God Himself models for us the value He places on the work of our hands. In the Old Testament, our God plants and tends a Garden. In the New Testament, our Lord works as a Carpenter. The types of work represented by these and many other biblical teachings underscore the truth that the blue-collar worker and the white-collar worker both have work valued by God and both work in fields of ministry, ripe for harvest.
Another reality that shapes our understanding of preparing workers for the harvest comes from the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. This biblical tenet teaches that all followers of Jesus are made into priests by the Holy Spirit when they are born-again. What this means is that all Christians are priests, belonging to a priesthood, with a calling and vocation of priestly service unto the Lord. As Baptists, we do not believe that priestly duties are reserved for a special group or unique class of Christians. We believe that all those who confess Jesus as Lord belong to His priesthood. All Christians have priestly duties assigned to each that encompass ministry within the church and extend that ecclesial ministry into our field of harvest. In other words, as Christians, we are priests serving in the board room, the classroom, the exam room, and the conference room. We minister as priests when we serve our customers, when we collaborate with our co-workers, and when as share the gospel with our employer on the job site. Our vocations are transformed by the Holy Spirit into platforms for ministry. We become workers in the harvest.
This is the reason that schools like Williams Baptist University exist. We were founded upon the belief that we teach and train ministers for gospel ministry in the local church. We were also founded to teach and train men and women to be exceptional in their vocations as servants of Christ. WBU exists to train all types of workers for all types of harvests in all types of fields. Jesus declared that the harvest is ripe, ready for workers. All of us have work to do in the harvest.
Based upon these observations, I believe our Williams Works initiative has multiple perspectives. Our Williams Works initiative provides an affordable way for students to receive an outstanding, Christ-centered education, and to graduate debt-free. Williams Works also provides learning experiences that teach our students how to work – to learn a Christian work ethic. And finally, the Williams Works program has the goal of helping our students to understand that their work is their ministry; that the Lord has prepared them to be workers in the harvest; and that their work is their calling and mission for gospel ministry in word and deed. The mission of Williams Baptist University is to prepare workers who work, workers for the harvest.