Tuesday, July 05, 2022

The labourers are few

The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; 
therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest 
to send out labourers into his harvest.
(Matthew 9:37-38)

I don't know of a church of any size that complains they have too many workers for what they are trying to do. The activities of larger (100ish) and middle-sized (50ish) fellowships are often staffed by a core of dedicated members, while others don't get so involved. The problem is even more acute when it comes to small churches (25 or less). If a small congregation has a pastor he is going to have top help out with a whole lot of stuff, especially if his fellow church officers have full time jobs on top of their church responsibilities. Yes, he must prioritise 'prayer and the ministry of the word', but not to the neglect of  pastoral visiting, youth work, taking school assemblies, admin, taking a turn on refreshments duties and so on. Plus, pastors should be active and engaged member of their local communities, serving as school governors, or whatever. 

Being a small church often means only having enough people to keep a modest programme of organised activities ticking over. You can forget about whizzy new initiatives featuring the latest evangelistic fad. OK, the toddler group or children's work could be ditched to make room for a new thing, but that would probably alienate those who attend the toddler group, or whose children enjoy coming to Friday Club. And so the church withdraws into ever decreasing circles, losing touch with the very people who may come to a 'new thing' if invited. Sometimes just managing to keep going with the help of God is an achievement in itself. 

Especially when you are labouring away in an unfashionable market town in the South West of England. Many Evangelical Churches within reach of a Uni seem to be packing them in. Ditto those based in multi-ethnic communities. Where you have a predominantly white British demographic such as in Wiltshire, not so much. It's not as if people in the South West are by and large 'too posh to pray' types for whom the eye of a needle is a tad on the narrow side. There are pockets of real deprivation in the South West that go unnoticed by tourists sampling the local delicacies (pasties, cream teas, Wiltshire ham and scrumpy). See this article by Rakib Eshan,  It's grim down South.  The stats for my home town of Westbury, Wiltshire can be found here:  Westbury Community Area

The hardest nut to crack when it comes to education England is the underperformance of disadvantaged white British children. The achievement gap between white British 'Pupil Premium' kids and others from more affluent homes was wide enough before the pandemic. Due to school closure it is now a mighty chasm. I would venture to suggest that a similar nut needs cracking when it comes to evangelising the UK. But there are limits on what smaller churches can do in terms of running organised activities to reach their local communities. We need help. But unlike in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers there is no sign of  Gandalf and the Riders of Rohan charging down the valley to join us in the fight. 

Evangelicals tend to avoid living and working in places like Westbury, Wiltshire. Evangelicalism is largely middle class and the middle classes often pursue careers that require a degree. Blue collar towns don't offer much in the way of those kind of jobs. But unless Evangelical Christians are prepared to live in towns such as Westbury they are not going to be able to engage with their neighbours and work colleagues in the area. Sometimes they do move here, but then attend a more middle class church elsewhere. The trouble is, it's unlikely the people they have got to know will travel with them to a nearby town or city if invited to a meeting. Small townies tend to be 'somewheres' with a strong sense of place, rather than 'anywheres'. That is even more true for villagers. And so while smaller churches are steadily tapping away at the nut and tiny fissures may appear, cracked it isn't 

If you want to be part of a rapidly growing church plant, or an overnight church revitalisation programme, small town ministry probably isn't for you. Things tend to happen slowly in small towns. Westbury has been waiting for a bypass for decades. Similarly it can take many years for a church to break down barriers and win people's trust. Even when that does happen the impact may not be seen in terms of extra folks attending services on a Sunday. The people most open to the gospel may not be a family with a professional dad and a stay at home mum and their young children, but an older couple whose advanced age and health problems militate against them coming along to meetings. It may have take years of pastoral care and meeting their practical needs before they become open to faith in Christ. 

That said, at least Westbury has a Grace Baptist Church, which is twinned with a fellowship in the village of West Lavington (see here for the Providence & Ebenezer website). Warminster, a few miles down the A350 has no Independent Evangelical or Grace Baptist Church at all. It would be great to see one planted, but who's going to do that? 

What's to be done, then? Small churches in small towns or in village locations need to keep on keeping on, doing what they can with the resources available to them. We are told, "let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9). Yes, we need more workers too. Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:37-38). Above all we need a mighty outpouring of the Spirit upon gospel churches of all sizes in these days, "Revive your work, O Lord in the midst of the years!" The hammer of the word in the power of the Spirit can crack any nut. 

By the way, I've noticed that church leaders serving hard up communities often have a thing with wearing hats. Mez McConnell has his beanies. Steve Kneale is seldom seen not sporting a baseball cap. Not to be outdone, here's one of me wearing a bucket hat. 


  1. Tom Yates5:17 pm

    Absolutely concur with your assessment Guy. The Lord bless your faithful labours.

  2. Angus J10:17 am

    With my sub-editor hat on, I'd like to mention that for the sentence which includes "...age and health problems mitigate against them coming along to meetings." to make sense, 'mitigate' should be 'militate'.

    I belong to a church which has more workers than it knows what to do with because it is a 'professionals-only ministry' church and volunteer workers are generally disdained. But I don't think I would be able to move to Westbury. Sorry.

  3. Anonymous9:42 pm

    Welcome read. Thanks Guy.

  4. Good spot, Angus. Corrected. Oh well, you'd be welcome to sub-edit my blog from afar.