All Hands on Deck

Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And He healed every kind of disease and illness. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to His disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask Him to send more workers into His fields.”

Matthew 9:35-38

As I read this story from the gospels, I imagine Jesus looking at the crowds, staring into their faces, feeling their pain and brokenness, tears streaming down His cheek as the depth of their lostness grips His heart. And maybe that’s just me projecting. We know Jesus wept, but we don’t see any mention of tears here. Yet as I sit here, looking out my window, reflecting on this generation of teenagers, I find myself emotional. Tears fill my eyes. Confused and helpless  and sheep without a shepherd seem to be a profoundly accurate description of this generation. I recently shared that Sonlife was pivoting in 2022, making the strategic decision to return to a primary focus on youth ministry. There are many logical reasons for this, but if I can speak from the heart for a moment, I want to speak the hard truth out loud.

We are losing this generation. And we can’t afford to give up on them. They are confused and helpless. They are the least churched, least Christian generation in our lifetime. There is brokenness, hopelessness, everywhere you look. Addiction, anger, depression, isolation, polarization, identity confusion and emptiness abound. They are sheep without a shepherd.

Where have all the shepherds gone?

Youth ministry is no longer appealing to Bible college students. Everyone wants to be a church planter. College youth ministry programs have fewer and fewer students enrolled. Youth pastors are fleeing their post. Churches are eliminating the youth pastor role from their budgets. Student conferences that once flourished have all but vanished. Youthworker conventions that used to draw youth pastors by the thousands for encouragement and equipping have shuttered their doors.

At a time when the harvest is greatest, when the church in North America needs an “all hands on deck” mentality, we have taken our eyes off of the harvest that is right in front of us. Students are hungry for hope, for meaning. They are looking for a cause worth giving their life to. They don’t just need Jesus. They want Him. And they don’t even know it.

What are the conditions that make the spiritual harvest great? It was precisely because the people Jesus encountered were broken, confused and helpless that the harvest was so great.

Jesus modeled an awareness and engagement of the harvest that we desperately need today.

Jesus was among them. He saw them. He had compassion on them.

Jesus cared for their physical and emotional needs. Jesus brought Good News to them.

Jesus invited others to join Him in the harvest work. He prayed for others to join Him in the harvest work.

Jesus recognized that the harvest He saw required all hands on deck.

Last summer, as I stood among a few hundred high school students in the mountains of Colorado hearing them share their hearts, many with tears, of the deep conviction they felt to return home and bring the Good News of Jesus to their friends, the Spirit of God whispered, “It’s time to double down on this generation! Sonlife must return to its roots of a primary focus on youth ministry!’ Tears were streaming down my face in the mountains that night, just as they are today. Brokenhearted, I echo Jesus’ assessment. The workers are few!

When was the last time you wept with compassion over this generation? I’m asking Jesus to break your heart and wet your cheeks with tears over the confused and helpless that are right in front of you. Let’s weep over the harvest together, and then let’s pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest to send more workers. Father, raise up a massive wave of youth workers for this harvest whose hearts ache and feet move to bring the Good News to this generation!

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash